Much has been made of the highly publicized LeBron James Kyrie Irving split one summer ago. What led Irving to demand a trade that ultimately sent him from the Cavaliers to the Celtics, and who if anyone is to blame? Few people can speak to the situation with as much insight and clarity as former Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin.
Griffin was a guest of Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman on the Good N’ Plenty Podcast on CLNS Media and says that even though a lot of people blame Kyrie, nothing about him leaving Cleveland was personal.
“Kyrie and LeBron didn’t have drama as individuals,” said Griffin. “They could laugh and joke and make fun of each other just like everyone else did on the team. But there was more and more friction in the process in terms of how we go about winning games. It became really evident to Kyrie that he wasn’t going to have the template from which to find out how great he can truly be because he wasn’t going to have the ball enough. And when you’re trying to be point guard who makes everybody better that can be complicated. So I think once we won the championship it became clear to him that maybe he was going to need to do something else. And once I was gone, I think it became clear to him that he probably wanted to execute that plan sooner rather than later.”
Griffin was both the VP of Basketball Operations in 2011 when Cleveland drafted Kyrie, and was later the acting GM when Lebron signed back to Cleveland in 2014. The question many people wondered when Kyrie asked out is ‘why would Irving choose to leave the greatest player of his generation and a chance to compete for multiple NBA titles?’
“Not everyone wants to play with the best player of his generation either. People have had the opportunities to join forces and didn’t,” Griffin told Goodman. “If Kyrie envisions himself as an Alpha and LeBron is an Alpha, the worst thing you can do is say you can do this and then sink us (Cavaliers) from within. If you can’t be over yourself enough to be part of winning and that’s all you care about just say so and there’s no judgment here but don’t sink us from within. I gave Kyrie a lot of credit for just saying ‘listen I think theres a better expression from my game somewhere else.’
Griffin is an unabashed Irving supporter. He told Goodman that he’s very close with Kyrie and “cares deeply” about him as a human. But when it came to Irving’s future Griffin believes that Kyrie didn’t just want to leave, he had to.
“It’s not that he [Irving] didn’t feel he could (play second fiddle to LeBron) he couldn’t. Nobody could have become a ball dominant play creator that makes people better in the presence of the single most efficient ball dominant play creator in history.” said Griffin. “Kyrie had to do this for the sake of himself as a basketball player and it had much less to do with his relationship with LeBron. But, it’s not as sexy a story, so we focus on the relationship as though somehow it would matter more if they hated each other. Ok lets pretend that they did, and they don’t, but if they did now what? Why is that more interesting than someone recognizing they have true greatness in him and wanted to find it?”
In hindsight Griffin understands now why welcoming LeBron James back to Cleveland might have had a negative impact on Irving. But the former Cavs boss feels he didn’t really have a choice.
“Obviously if LeBron decides he wants to come home you’re taking LeBron, you want LeBron. But, that meant Kyrie went from being ‘the man’ on a team he recruited every member of to he is now going to be second fiddle to the greatest player of his generation. Well that’s a radically different life experience for Kyrie. Because all we were doing (prior to LeBron arriving) was going through “the process” without the rhetoric. So we had been building very mindfully to create this space and to create this treasure trove of assets. That’s all he [Kyrie] had been there for. So to go from ok, kid flip the switch you’re gonna play with the greatest player ever you have to win a Championship this year. That’’s not easy. I don’t think people understand the totality of how profound that would have been on a great young player who still hadn’t figure tout how to be the reason you win games.”
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