It’s befitting that this column was written immediately following Oscar night, 2017. The NBA, too, is no stranger to incorrectly handing out awards.

Since assuming his current role with the Cleveland Cavaliers in May 2014, general manager David Griffin has been the best general manager in basketball over these last three years, and it’s not close. Of course, he’ll never get the credit for it.

Everybody knows “LeBron James is the GM of the Cavaliers”. Tony Kornheiser will tell you that. Twitter will too. The dudes you hoop with at the park will tell you the same. Even the media members who vote for Executive of the Year must believe King James is pulling all the strings because Cleveland’s head personnel man has been blatantly screwed out of this award two straight years.

Just as well. David Griffin, or “Griff” as he’s commonly known, would probably rather fixate on his next move rather than rest on laurels garnered from past acquisitions.

A slew of factors play into this, obviously. Griffin has been the benefactor of a fortuitous ping-pong ball or two, and working for an ownership group that has put no limit on spending is mostly beneficial, although that comes with its own bag of astronomical expectations. The Cavs were also a middling (at best) 33-49 team in the East when Griffin took over following the 2013-14 season. There was no shortage of room for improvement. Having the capacity to make the correct moves even under these circumstances though is impressive, especially when a restless LeBron James is breathing down your neck 24/7.

Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are the only two holdovers from that ’14 Cavs team— every other piece has been moved into place at Griffin’s direction (he did have to resign both players to extensions too). It’s only when you break down Griff’s year-by-year maneuvers can you truly appreciate what he’s accomplished, both during season and over each summer.

Griffin’s Major Moves 2014-15: Cleared significant cap space to create the ability to bring in high-profile talent. Resigned Kyrie Irving, selected Andrew Wiggins #1 overall in the NBA Draft, signed LeBron James, then traded Wiggins for All-NBAer Kevin Love, all before training camp. Unloaded Dion Waiters in a pre-deadline deal that netted J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov.

Griffin’s Major Moves 2015-16: Resigned James, Love, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert, then signed Richard Jefferson and Mo Williams before the start of the year. Fired David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue midseason when the team was in first place in the East. Acquired Channing Frye in a midseason trade for Anderson Varejao (among other pieces). These moves resulted in the Cavs first NBA championship in team history.

Griffin’s Major Moves 2016-17: Extended Tyronn Lue’s contract, then resigned James, Smith and Jefferson last summer. Elected not to resign Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova. Traded for Mike Dunleavy Jr. over the summer, then traded him during the season — along with Mo Williams, a draft pick and cash — to Atlanta for Kyle Korver. Signed Derrick Williams for dirt cheap, then signed Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut after they received post-trade deadline buyouts.

There’s unsung nuance behind these moves, such as Griffin trading a 2017 first round pick to Portland to get back Cleveland’s own 2018 pick which had already been dealt to Portland years before, subsequently affording Cleveland the ability (by league rules) to ship their 2019 first rounder to Atlanta in the deal for Korver. Or that by signing Deron Williams and Bogut, who were teammates in Dallas to start the year, the Cavs in essence traded nothing to the Mavericks in exchange for their services.

Sidebar: Here’s Griff’s recent wizardry broken down further by Jason Lloyd of The Athletic via Adi Joseph of USA Today. TPE means Traded-Payer Exception, which the Cavaliers have from the Anderson Varejao deal last year:

When compared to his peers since his arrival, Griffin stands alone. RC Buford of the San Antonio Spurs, winner of Executive of the Year in 2016, hasn’t dealt with half of the scrutiny (whether self-imposed by his star, or otherwise) Griffin has. Though he managed to lure LaMarcus Aldridge away from Portland, Buford did little else by way of trades, free agency, the draft or D-League call-ups to improve this perennial basketball power that was knocked out of the playoffs in the second round last year. The Golden State Warriors’ Bob Myers won the honor the year before, although he was mostly recognized for work he had done in previous years. Myers did can Mark Jackson, replacing him with Steve Kerr, and hijacked Kevin Durant from the Thunder. But even that falls short of Griffin, who helped pave the way for a LeBron/216 reunion, and stunned the basketball world when he ditched David Blatt and his 30-11 record in January 2016 in favor of an unproven Ty Lue.

Both Griffin and Myers have guided their franchises to two Finals trips and one championship in the last two years. However Griffin’s team was in the lottery the year prior, while the Dubs were already a 50-win playoff team.

Sidebar: If you want to hand out a “best executive of the last 10 years award”, Buford may be your man. Just not over the last three years.

Through it all, Griffin has received little to no credit for being the architect behind Cleveland’s first championship team in 52 years, primarily because of the perceived influence of LeBron. Ironic, if only because James’ mere presence is at least as much of a burden as it is a blessing. Negotiating with #23 hovering your shoulder is no easy task— it forced former Cavs GM Danny Ferry into making several hasty transactions in the name of the “win now or else” threat James (whether intentionally or not) imposed on the franchise during his first stint in the late 2000’s. The threat of James’ impending free agency in 2010 was actually the Cavs top hindrance to acquiring top talent.

To this day, everyone is quick to criticize Cavs management for the inadequate job they during the first LeBron era of not putting enough pieces around him, specifically All-Star quality players. Yet those same people (aka everybody) rushes to hand LeBron all the credit for assembling the juggernaut that stands before us today. These two ideas are clearly mutually exclusive, regardless of what the general basketball public would care to believe. This group also doesn’t account for the team’s reactions to LeBron’s public overtures.

LeBron openly lobbied for Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith to receive hefty contract extensions; it took awhile, but both got their money. But would entering into a contract stalemate with two of James’ favorite teammates really be worth the risk of damaging a recently mended relationship with the LeBron/LRMR camp if Griff and the Cavs’ position wasn’t genuine?

After Griffin pulled a sharpshooting rabbit out of the hat with the Korver deal, LeBron’s response to the media was to bypass discussing the move in-depth, opting to instead lament not having a suitable backup point guard. If LeBron was really calling all the shots, the Cavs would’ve immediately sprung into action and added the first guard they could find. Griffin though, unflinchingly patient and cerebral, waited seven weeks until after trade deadline buyouts yielded a former two-time All-NBA Second Team floor general looking to make an impact on a title contender. In the meantime, Griff also brought in Derrick Williams on two 10-day contracts, who is averaging 10.1 ppg on .571 shooting off the street bench in seven games with the Cavaliers.

It’s reasonable to assume David Griffin often feels caught in the middle of a power struggle between James and Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert. To this point, Griffin has done everything either of these two highly wealthy and powerful men could’ve asked for, and more. The term “conflict mediator” doesn’t automatically come with the territory of GM, but listen to how LeBron changed his tune after meeting with Griffin following his infamous “We need a fucking playmaker” rant.

“Can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got, and we got to go out and play,” said the four-time MVP.

Running a team is one thing. Running a team while also managing the ego and aspirations of one of the five greatest players of all-time is quite another. Griffin has done both masterfully since the spring of 2014.

Yes, he’s mortgaged his team’s future in the short-term in order to hang banners— he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it. Yes, the team payroll is astronomical— he’s improved the Cavs on the cheap during the 2016-17 season. And yes, LeBron may have forced the issue a bit to bring the best out of those around him (he has a knack for doing that, you know), in this case his front office. The fact remains David Griffin and his team has earned the explicit trust of their players, coaches, and their employers. Striking while the iron is hot is less an idiom than it is a promise in Da Land.

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