Amico: Griffin would be best pick for Knicks

Sam Amico

Before LeBron James and his second coming, David Griffin single-handedly changed the culture in the Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room.

A lot of the masses who cover the team today may not know about Griffin before James. Most of those people weren't around, or just didn't care.

To many of those people, after all, LeBron James is basketball. Cleveland is just a city, and the Cavs are just a uniform. When James leaves, those members of the media will, too.

That's why the story of Griffin before LeBron is often forgotten, or simply never told.

It goes like this:

Griffin took over as general manager for Chris Grant, fired late in the 2014 season. The change came after a game in which the Cavs lost at home to the Los Angeles Lakers ... and the Lakers had so many injuries and disqualifications, they finished the game with four players.

And yes, the Cavs still lost. That was the state of things back then.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert canned Grant the next morning. Griffin was the assistant GM, taking over as the interim.

He talked about the Cavs' need to start finding joy in the game again.

"I want to see us smile more," he said at his introductory press conference. "Basketball is supposed to be fun."

The Cavs were a young team at the time, with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters offering only glimpses of hope. Mostly, the Cavs were a team surrounded with drama -- beginning with Irving, who despised playing in coach Mike Brown's ugly offense.

Griffin wasn't necessarily a huge fan of Brown the coach, but Griffin couldn't make a coaching change without the full-time GM gig. Nor did Griffin want to rock the boat. He simply wanted to build it.


Griffin spent a lot of time in the locker room, talking with the players. Unlike Grant, who often threatened to trade guys who weren't playing well, Griffin built up players after a bad game.

He kept a positive vibe going. There was undoubtedly more smiling, more camaraderie among the players, and higher levels of comfort between the players and front office.

People were starting to believe -- the players, the coaches, the fans, the owner. A sense of purpose and confidence replaced discord and depression.

At the very least, the Cavs played hard. They didn't always win, but they enjoyed the game again. You could see it on the floor, you could sense it behind the scenes.

Griffin got the full-time GM job after the season, and his first action was firing Brown and his clunky brand of basketball.

You know the story from there.

David Blatt was hired as coach, and the Cavs won the first pick in the draft and selected Andrew Wiggins.

Then LeBron returned and everything had to be recalculated.

Griffin went from a man charged with building a young, athletic and exciting roster, to a GM who would now oversee a team with nothing but championships on the brain. '

And it all happened in about a month's time.

But Griffin rolled with it. He never appeared overwhelmed. Instead of shrinking under the pressure that James' presence always brings, Griffin seemed to gain more confidence in the role as time went on.


In his first season, Griffin knew Wiggins could be turned into Kevin Love. He knew he couldn't keep trotting out Irving, Thompson and Waiters next to James. He knew LeBron needed a good mix of veterans he trusted, and youth that could grow around him.

Eventually, Griffin built that team, and the culture never really changed. Granted, James handled the locker room and Griffin was no longer needed within those walls. But Griffin still held a special bond with the players, including James, who wanted Griffin to return.

In the end, Griffin and Gilbert had finally had enough of each other, agreeing to a surprising split at the end of the Cavs' third run to the Finals.

It was mostly based on a difference of approach on how to run the team -- but perhaps also over a few dollars, as Griffin's contract was set to expire.


Gilbert likes to make a splash; Griffin has always been conservative, methodical. The personalities were bound to clash -- and they finally erupted.

But no one, not even Gilbert, denied that Griffin did the job that was asked. He built something from almost nothing, and it started before James returned.

Today, the New York Knicks know all about the need for a change in culture, following the mess that was Phil Jackson's reign as team president.

Like Griffin and the Cavs, Jackson and the Knicks are no more.

But Griffin and the Knicks could be the perfect match. The Knicks seem to at least be considering the possibility, as they reportedly will interview Griffin for Jackson's old job.

Griffin will go down in Cavaliers lore with a really long title -- GM of the First Championship in Team History. It's a title he deserves, a title he earned, a title for which the Cavs and their fans will forever be grateful.

And now, the Knicks would be wise to bet that Griffin could do something similar for them.