NBA Rumor: Cavaliers Front Office

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Gilbert’s job is to evaluate each level of this organization and determine the best path forward. There’s been dot-connecting when it comes to Knicks executive Brock Aller rejoining the franchise. He started as Gilbert’s personal assistant 16 years ago and climbed the organizational ladder. Clearly respected by Gilbert, Aller would be a logical option if Altman doesn’t remain. Then again, Aller recently sold his Independence home and is about two weeks away from making a full-time move to New York after commuting throughout the season. Aller isn’t angling for anyone’s job. He’s pulling for Cleveland’s current front office to succeed.

“He’s definitely gonna take over,” said one source, who does business constantly with Cavs’ basketball operations. “His dad’s not able, and he’s the next in line.” “Gilbert’s son is running the show behind the scenes,” said a second league source. “Grant’s trying to take a bigger role,” said a third source with knowledge of the Cavs’ operations. “But (he has) zero experience.”

The Cavs vigorously refute this, but even their pushback against it is nuanced. They say the “culture” Dan Gilbert created is still very much in place, and he remains at the center of it. They say he has “great ideas,” and they insist Dan, not Grant, is the boss. “His presence may not physically be in Cleveland like it was prior to (the stroke), coming into 30-plus games a year or whatever it was, but his presence in the business, in the culture, and kind of how we’re operating, he’s absolutely still the author of all those things,” said Nick Barlage, who serves as president of Cavs’ business operations.

Gilbert isn’t the stereotypical entitled, bratty rich kid. Those who know him gush about his manners and how eager he is to learn. “Just a good dude,” said one Cavs player. “He’s not what you’d expect,” said another source who has known Grant for years. “I’ve always found him to be extremely polite, very intelligent and very respectful. He was always a good kid.” “He’s a quick learner and pursues what he doesn’t know,” said Barlage, who oversees the Cavs’ business operations. “He has a natural curiosity that takes flight from a foundation of a very humanistic and normal approach. That’s a tribute to how he has been raised and who he is as a person.”

When it comes to the question of his future inside his father’s organization, and whether he’ll one day take over, Grant insists he is not “on a linear path” to assuming his father’s seat. He humbly points to his age, his inexperience and a full life he has yet to lead. In other words, he doesn’t know if this is even a job he wants. “That’s not my everyday focus,” Grant said. “I’m not making decisions and planning my life based on that. There are a lot of things I want to do. I’m sure there are a lot of things I don’t know that I want to do that, hopefully, I’ll end up doing. But in terms of staying engaged and helping impact and being involved (with the Cavs), that’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

But when Knicks president Leon Rose took over in New York, tasked with leading the perennial Eastern Conference doormat back to prominence, Aller was his first call. Rose needed a smart, forward-thinking executive, one with a knack for successful team-building, savvy salary cap management and long-term planning. Rose needed someone he could trust. Their relationship went back years because of Aller’s growing role within the Cavs while Rose ascended the ranks and became one of the league’s most powerful agents — even representing LeBron James early in his career.

While losing him is a blow given the amount of responsibility he had, essentially serving as Altman’s right-hand man, the Cavs are comfortable with their internal options when the Aller move to New York eventually becomes official. I’m told the plan is to stay inside the organization, reshuffle responsibility and give one or two executives a bigger role. The person who steps in for Aller, whether it be Jon Nichols or Jason Hillman or someone else, won’t have the same experience. So, it could be a choppy initial transition, but the Cavs have been through these departure before.

Through Altman’s vision, the Cavs also added to the performance staff, hiring Mark Kovacs as senior director of sports science and health. Kovacs most recently served as Chief Executive Officer of the Kovacs Institute, a performance facility and consulting firm focused on optimizing human performance by the practical application of cutting-edge science. As CEO, he oversaw the Kovacs Institute’s direction, testing protocols and athlete monitoring programs. His clients included national sports federations, the NCAA, major professional sports leagues and leading universities.

Now the bar hasn’t only been lowered, it has been removed completely. “We’re going to compete next year,” Altman said. “I don’t know what that looks like, I don’t want to put a timetable on it. I don’t want to use the ‘P’ word like you killed me for before. “I do know that we’re going to have the kind of grit and grind work ethic that guys are going to want to be a part of. We will see. We will see where it all shakes out. We have to be committed to everyday growth and not so much the win-loss outcome.”

“Since 1994, Cleveland has shared countless unforgettable moments at this arena,” Cavaliers Chairman and Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert said. “From hosting world-class music acts to multiple NBA Finals games, the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has been the epicenter of entertainment in Cleveland for decades. Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in the evolution of this incredible facility, as not just one of the world’s premier sports and entertainment venues, but a hub of technology that is leading the charge in innovation, efficiency and fan experience.” The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by Gilbert, Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner, Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse CEO Len Komoroski and Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman. They were joined by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

The Cavs only won consecutive games once all season, and that was in March, under interim coach Keith Smart. The year before, when they went 29-53 under Lucas, they reeled off winning streaks of four, three and two games. “He didn’t get let go because we wanted to lose more games,” Paxson said. “Those are never easy decisions. I love Luke because when I sat down with him and told him we were letting him go, he said, ‘well, am I still going to get paid?’ And I go, ‘yeah.’ He goes, ‘thank you very much.’ But he was respectful about it and he understood. It was going to be a tough job for whoever had it that period he was there.”

Drew also came out before Thursday’s game and said talks with the Cavs about restructuring his deal to be the interim coach “are moving forward in a positive direction.” This was news to some of the people involved with the talks. Drew had twice publicly aired his grievances against the front office for failing to extend his contract or give him more money to take over for Lue. So, if anything, Drew did the team a square by saying there was progress. Took some of the pressure off.

I asked Cavs owner Dan Gilbert about Drew and he said “I leave that up to Koby Altman and I’m confident they will get it worked out.” Altman won’t discuss negotiations that are apparently ongoing. I know Altman did not want to bring in someone else to coach the rest of this season, so it is indeed possible they do something to make Drew happier about his situation. As I said the other day, Drew’s only recourse is to apply pressure by publicly complaining and winning. Or, he could quit.

Smith said after shootaround Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts that it’s hard for him to put on a Cavs jersey every day, but he will help young players who seek him out even as he’s been dropped from the rotation. “They asked me if I wanted to be around the team and if I didn’t I could leave and go home and do whatever,” Smith said. “I can’t do that to these fans, I can’t do it to the city. To come from where I came from, from pretty much nothing to Cleveland and the way the city embraced me, the fans embraced me, the relationship I have with them, I can’t do that to them. It’s not about me, it’s not about who wants me here and who doesn’t want me here, for me it’s all about the fans.”

Joe Vardon, then of Cleveland.com, reported that Smith’s camp was told this summer he likely would not play this season. But Smith is still upset with what he perceives as a lack of communication, perhaps wanting to hear it directly from General Manager Koby Altman. “I don’t mind taking a back seat or sitting down or if you don’t want me to play, I don’t mind that. But at least communicate that to me,” he said. “To feel like you’re going to play one day, and then you just don’t play, coming from four Finals appearances, starting, winning a championship, and doing all these things. Sacrificing your body and injury and fighting through all of that to be, you can’t even look me in my face and tell me, that’s disrespectful to me.”

This story is based on interviews with a half-dozen people inside or close to the Cavs organization. The Cavs are 0-3 this season and already struggling with two seemingly incongruous priorities they set for themselves before camp started last month: to stay competitive in the East and to develop young talent. The front office is still committed to winning this year rather than tearing down, a source said, and views what happened Sunday as not representative of who the Cavs will be this season.

The front office wants Lue to play younger players. No one has specifically ruled out a spot for Smith, and once when I pressed general manager Koby Altman about it, he said “this is what camp is for.” It’s just, well, Osman and Hood and Clarkson and Sexton are going to be on the floor. The Cavs even told Smith’s circle over the summer that playing time might be tight for him. Lue could certainly bring Smith off the bench and play him alongside Korver like he did at times last year, but Lue said “I don’t like that as much.” Lue always preferred to split Korver and Smith, but if Hood and Osman are the starters, either Korver and Smith will be playing together or, well, one won’t be playing much.
3 years ago via ESPN

Could they have gotten more in the trade for Kyrie Irving last summer? Should they have done whatever it took to land Paul George from Indiana, regardless of whether James was willing to commit long term? “You go back, and you always scrutinize everything you do as a general manager. That’s why we don’t f—ing sleep at night,” Altman said. “But I don’t think this was anything we did right or wrong. This is what he wanted to do for him, as a personal preference or a family decision. And I’m OK with that. I have to be OK with that.”

I like Koby personally. I think he’s incredibly intelligent. To come as far as he has as fast as he has is proof, considering he was coaching in the Ivy League six years ago. But he was third in command last season in Cleveland and was rushed into a job for which he wasn’t prepared because over the years, those who know Gilbert well insist he has considered the GM role less and less important. That might have been his biggest miscalculation in all of this. Now a franchise that boasted the postseason slogan the last few years of “All-In” instead hedged its bets last summer with the team’s two most important players.

Lue said team owner Dan Gilbert also had that conversation with him. So, it was unequivocal, Lue’s coaching tenure with the Cavs was going to be on pause until he addressed the issues he said he’d been dealing with for more than a year. “It was just kind of, it was tough because of course you guys see it first,” Lue said. “I don’t come back to the bench and then you’re tweeting and doing all that stuff and it becomes kind of national. And after that kind of happened, the Chicago game, I just thought that when Koby and Dan and those guys talked to me, it was the best thing for me. Having LeBron’s validation, just being like, ‘I got it. Take some time off, get yourself ready for the playoffs. I’ll take care of the team. I’ll make sure everything is good,'” Lue continued. “And he’s playing at a high level, so he’s a man of his word.”
3 years ago via ESPN

Altman thought back to a conversation he had with Heat general manager Andy Elisburg three or four weeks prior to the trade deadline, sources said. Elisburg made his way through the Cavs’ roster alphabetically, rattling off the names he could see the Heat making an offer for. When he got toward the back end of the Cavs’ roster — W is the fourth-to-last letter, after all — he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, and you have a 2-guard that we have a little bit of history with.” Altman told Elisburg at the time that he was contemplating a major overhaul, which could change Wade’s role on the team. Elisburg filed the information away, informing Heat president Pat Riley of the dialogue. On the morning of the trade deadline, at just past 9 a.m., Elisburg heard from Altman again. Would they want Wade back in a Miami uniform?
3 years ago via ESPN

With the Heat on board, Altman had two people to talk to: first James, then Wade. Much like Lue’s approach with Wade starting or not to begin the season, Altman wanted to leave it up to Wade: stay in Cleveland with a reduced role or return to the franchise that drafted him and made him the star he is today. “Absolutely. It should be his decision,” James told Altman, according to sources. Wade understood the direction the Cavs were going and appreciated the option. Miami was an easy choice.
4 years ago via ESPN

And the struggles became more acute as Irving and the Celtics excelled. The grumbling got louder as the Cavs’ losses piled up. James privately began to complain about how other all-time greats in the tail end of their primes played for franchises that added Hall of Fame-level talent to support their championship aspirations. The Chicago Bulls got Dennis Rodman for Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers got Pau Gasol for Kobe Bryant. The San Antonio Spurs got Kawhi Leonard for Tim Duncan. The All-Star whom the Cavs got for James wasn’t impressing him. Or other players on the team. As one team source put it, when asked about Thomas in the week leading up to the trade deadline: “I’m all for an underdog story, but you usually expect some humility to be a part of that story.”

James, per sources, wasn’t expecting huge deals by the Cavs at the deadline, maybe a small one or two, before being informed the night before the deadline that there were big possibilities in the pipeline. He obviously was, and is, very close with Wade, respected Rose’s work in getting healthy again and enjoyed Frye’s personality. He didn’t dislike Thomas, but they obvously didn’t mix well on the floor. It’s clear that James is once again engaged. He’s vocal with his new teammates and his splits — which were awful in January — are back to their norms. But he says that was an independent decision of his, not a reaction to the work Altman did.
4 years ago via ESPN

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN. The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more of a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber. The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.
4 years ago via ESPN

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Koby Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN. It was a big difference from David Griffin, who was in constant communication with James in their three seasons in Cleveland together. Altman had his reasons, however. For one, he and his fiancée welcomed the birth of their first child, who experienced health complications, and Altman was there for his family as a father. Also, unlike in years past, the Cavs had two first-round draft picks to prepare for in the 2018 NBA draft. Altman’s scouting duties were more involved than Griffin’s were in the past. The fact that Altman went to James prior to the trade deadline for a sit-down meeting to loop in his superstar about the potential deals the Cavs would swing, as earlier reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was seen as progress.

But if he stays, it gets crazy expensive, as Brian Windhorst laid out at ESPN: “Focusing on the future, if LeBron James remains and accepts a new max contract or picks up his option and the Cavs re-sign Rdoney Hood — who will be a restricted free agent — they will break all current records. It is hard to predict the market for restricted free agents. This summer is especially challenging because teams are expected to tighten spending. If James stays and Rodney Hood remains with Cleveland and lands a long-term deal that starts at $12 million or more, the Cavs would likely crest $300 million in total spending based on the contracts they have on their books. That would include roughly $150 million in luxury tax alone.”
4 years ago via ESPN

Six months after his promotion to GM, Altman’s marching orders were these: Bring on younger, athletic players under contract or control beyond the 2017-18 season and work to soothe a splintered locker room. In ESPN’s conversations with those involved in the final hours of completing the three trades, a common theme emerged: One way or another, Altman planned to make dramatic changes to the roster. Whatever incarnations of deals emerged and re-emerged, the Cavaliers organization was sure of this: Isaiah Thomas had to go, Dwyane Wade deserved to make a decision on his own and, ultimately, Cleveland couldn’t give LeBron James reason to leave so easily in July.
4 years ago via ESPN

When Altman visited with James in the Cavaliers’ practice facility a week ago, he let him know that there were still talks alive with the LA Clippers on a Jordan deal. What’s more, there was significant progress: Altman had ownership approval to send the Clippers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and the Cavs’ 2018 first-round pick for Jordan. The Clippers were willing to accept the trade, but on one significant condition. Clippers general manager Michael Winger explained to Altman that LA didn’t want another shooting guard. He hoped to find a third team that would take Shumpert and his $21 million with draft compensation, and have the Clippers get a center back. Altman and Winger agreed to make more calls to try to find a third team to make the deal work. Winger wondered whether Altman would let him talk to Shumpert’s agent about a possible contract buyout, but Altman wanted trade talks to be further along before granting that permission.
4 years ago via ESPN

He also knew that he needed to circle back and connect with James again. The Cavaliers’ charter flight would be leaving soon for Atlanta, and he wanted one more face-to-face meeting. This time, he told James of the trades they were completing — and asked for his blessing to offer Wade the chance to return to Miami. Wade’s role would be minimized in Cleveland, and Altman wanted to afford him the respect of letting him return to his old team. Altman had called Heat GM Andy Elisburg with the Wade idea. He ran it past president Pat Riley. Sure, they told him. We’ll bring him home. Let us know.
4 years ago via ESPN

Once Altman raised the idea with Wade and his agent, Leon Rose, there was no hesitation. Soon, all of the deals were done. Thomas, Frye and Shumpert were headed West, Wade had gone home and now everything had changed in Cleveland. Finally, Altman and his staff stood to let out a yell, hug and high-five. Whatever happens, they knew this: In one of the most impactful trade deadline days ever, Koby Altman and the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t prepared to extinguish an era. Twenty-four hours had changed everything.

The gap between LeBron James and the Cavaliers is widening. As the losses mount and the team’s uninspired efforts persist, July 1 and the start of free agency hangs over this franchise as a day of reckoning. How did we get here? How did James’ storybook return to Cleveland spoil so quickly? Less than four years ago, James was proclaiming “I’m back!” to a packed football stadium on the University of Akron’s campus as fireworks illuminated the night sky. Now this union is in danger of collapsing again. The root of the problems can be traced back to two key issues: David Griffin’s removal as general manager and Kyrie Irving’s subsequent trade to the Boston Celtics.

James recruited Jamal Crawford last summer to come to Cleveland, but instead they ignored him and signed rookie Cedi Osman. James told the Cavs not to trade Irving regardless of how disgruntled he appeared. Irving was under team control for two more years, and James was adamant he had no leverage. “Bring him to camp,” James told the Cavs. He was confident he could repair whatever damage Irving felt was done to their relationship. But Irving made clear to Gilbert and the Cavaliers he wanted out of Cleveland because he did not want to play another minute with James, one source told The Athletic. Given how close Irving and James were to the ends of their contracts, the Cavs chose to move Irving while they believed he still had peak value.

The pivot away from James’ wishes has been noticeable, particularly since this is a franchise that since losing him in 2010 has been willing to do — and spend — whatever was necessary to get him back and keep him happy. James and Gilbert have no relationship. Neither do James and Altman, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Whereas Griffin would consult with James and keep him informed of major roster decisions, that is no longer happening. James doesn’t trust this front office, and there is no communication now between management and star player. It perhaps played a role in James yelling and cursing at multiple front office executives during the now-famous team meeting a couple of weeks ago that began with players questioning Kevin Love’s absence from a recent practice. Multiple sources confirmed James cursed toward at least two team executives during the heated meeting.

Sam Amick: There are some people in the league who would not be surprised at all if [the Cavaliers] are pretty quiet [at the trade deadline], and then maybe improve around the margins. I heard some stuff today—nothing juicy in terms of specifics—but just the idea that GM Koby Altman is certainly active and talking to a lot of teams, and trying to turn over every rock. So we’ll see. The Brooklyn pick is front and center, and the debate about whether or not they should give it up. I would be shocked at this point if they changed their stance and put that on the table. I think [the Brooklyn pick is] the Dan Gilbert baby he wants to use to rebuild if and when LeBron James leaves.

Now in their fourth season since James returned, is mental fatigue taking a toll on the Cavs? Sam Amick: It’s a whole lot more complicated than the fatigue factor, and it has everything to do with the layers of dysfunction that the Cavs are battling. Cavs general manager Koby Altman is trying hard to shed the contracts of Tristan Thompson (two years, $36 million remaining) and J.R. Smith ($14.7 million next season, team option worth $15.6 million in 2019-20 with $3.8 million guaranteed), two players who were re-signed in large part because of LeBron’s omnipresent influence. They’re all represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who built the agency with a huge assist from James. As it pertains to the Cavs’ interest in the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, a person with knowledge of that situation said Cleveland continues to offer only its own first-round pick and this kind of unwanted money in those stalled negotiations. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
4 years ago via ESPN

The Cavs’ players do not trust each other. It appears as if some of them don’t like each other. Two of them — Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye — were told they’d probably get traded two weeks ago but then weren’t. Their coach has been hesitant to shake up the lineup as he has failed to motivate his veteran team. Tyronn Lue’s performance has been questioned in recent weeks. His fidelity to playing certain lineups while abandoning others that previously were highly successful is so mystifying that it has launched conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, he is not at the center of the storm. This is all a whirlwind around LeBron James vs. the Cavs’ front office, which is to say it’s about James vs. owner Dan Gilbert.
4 years ago via ESPN

In the games since, LeBron James’ defensive effort has further wilted. His aggression has waned. His frustration has grown. And his leadership, which at times has been controversial in its style but never questioned in its intent, has faded. He is absolutely culpable; his past month has been one of the worst of his NBA life. This comes after the first two months of the season in which he was a leading candidate for MVP. Which makes his erosion all the more clear. And the Cavs are culpable for allowing the trust and the relationship with management to crack. The Cavs know crisis better than anyone — they’ve been immersed in it on and off for four years. But this is a different situation. Everyone can feel it.

As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported after Irving was dealt to the Celtics in August (the holdup being Thomas’ ailing hip), Gilbert was the driving force behind the trade—in large part due to how much he coveted the Celtics’ unprotected first-round pick from the Nets. Sure enough, Gilbert was spotted with Altman and several Cavs scouts at the Oklahoma-Alabama game Saturday, taking in a matchup of two top points guards in the draft, Trae Young and Collin Sexton.

As the Cavaliers try to save their season through potential trades, the big one they pulled off last summer doesn’t look so good right now. Kyrie Irving’s desire and request to leave the Cavs last summer are well documented. Wanting to leave LeBron James’ shadow and the culture James dominated in Cleveland, upset that former general manager David Griffin was gone and miffed that the Cavs considered trading him to Indiana for Paul George, Irving asked owner Dan Gilbert to trade him. Gilbert didn’t have to honor the request, though, as Irving had two years left on his contract.
4 years ago via ESPN

With a contentious team meeting apparently not enough to shake the Cleveland Cavaliers from their extended midseason slump, another loss finally convinced coach Tyronn Lue that it is time to shake up his lineup. JR Smith, who balked at his demotion earlier in the season when Dwyane Wade began the year as the starting shooting guard, told ESPN that he would hold no ill feelings and would accept a bench role now if it would help the team. He acknowledged that he isn’t playing up to his standards and wants the team to play better.

It wouldn’t be Keeping Up With The Kavs if we didn’t have a little ownership drama, now, would it? In the latest chapter of the dramatic operation that is the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s been reported that owner Dan Gilbert is looking to sell his majority stake in the Cavs. This would be yet another incredible turn of events for the Cavaliers who seem to find new ways to get into the news cycle despite the fact they can’t win any games right now. Gilbert owns a majority stake in the Cavs while former majority owner Gordon Gund is the team’s second largest share holder.

Tyronn Lue safe?

No one inside the organization suggested Saturday that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was preparing to fire the only coach who’s won a championship for this organization, and Lue will not make changes to his coaching staff. But some sort of reckoning could be coming. The 148 points allowed tied a franchise record that’s stood since 1972. Cleveland’s lost its last two games on national TV by a combined 58 points. The Cavs are nearly the NBA’s worst defensive team, and are 3-9 dating to Christmas.

The Cavs would consider trading it if the right player were available — a player who’s either elite or who has the potential to become elite and is signed for multiple years. That player may not be available. Paul George and the Thunder are getting it together. The Pelicans are playing better with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Cavs need a player who can dribble and shoot (sounds simple, but I’m serious), and after that, maybe a rim protector.

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