I’m coming around to the idea of Chauncey Billups as the Cavaliers’ president of basketball operations.
With a caveat.
It depends on who is hired as the next general manager.
Plucking Billups out of his role as an ESPN analyst is an outrageously risky move that could end LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland after next season. Billups, the ex-Detroit Piston, has no front-office experience. James wants organization in his organization and any hint of dysfunction could portend another parting between James and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.
It would be just as justified in the summer of 2018 as it was in the summer of 2010.
Gilbert is tip-toeing on the precipice of disaster by parting ways with general manager David Griffin on Monday, not only because the Cavs have been to three consecutive NBA Finals and won one championship, but because of what is at stake 12 months from now. But Gilbert can still build a front office he trusts and James and the players believe in if he hires a seasoned GM to assist Billups.
In the short term, it might cost Gilbert more than he would have paid Griffin, unless he finds an up-and-comer who could move on once Billups learns the intricacies of his position. Knowing Gilbert’s track record — with four GMs gone since 2005 — that premise would probably be fine with him.
Cleveland.com reported that Gilbert met with Billups on Tuesday.
But the Cavs are not going to manufacture the miracles Griffin wrought without help for Billups, at least initially.
Even if Billups is not Gilbert’s choice, I can see the scenario working if he wants a respected former player. But in most cases, that ex-player is going to require a leap of faith, not just from Gilbert, but from James and the rest of the Cavs.
I have been mulling for weeks the idea of Gilbert pairing coach Tyronn Lue with someone Lue knows from his past. I just had the wrong friend in mind. While such a plan wouldn’t give Lue more power, it would give the Cavs united leadership and a close bond, a team of men at the top to carry the Cavs forward, perhaps until Gilbert is ready to get out of the basketball business.
That’s not to say Lue and Griffin didn’t appreciate each other. Lue often praised the moves Griffin made with no real assets with which to work.
Perhaps I like a pairing of Lue and Billups because to an extent it replicates the friendship of Indians manager Terry Francona and Tribe president Chris Antonetti. When Francona was hired, he stayed for a time at Antonetti’s home in Goodyear, Ariz., and said he was so comfortable he was walking around the house in his underwear.
It fostered a feeling of family and also a sense of not wanting to let each other down. That’s the same kind of atmosphere the Cavs players have, perhaps one they had with Griffin as well. It could be replicated, perhaps deepened, with a Lue-Billups partnership.
There are still obstacles to continued success going forward. James needs more help to beat the Golden State Warriors. According to Cleveland.com, Griffin left behind the parameters for trades for Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, so deals might still be orchestrated during Thursday night’s draft by Gilbert and/or assistant GM Koby Altman.
Not to be forgotten are ominous comments recently made by James. In his latest Uninterrupted video, released before Game 4 of the Finals, James said that his mother Gloria and wife Savannah did not want him to return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. They were upset about Gilbert’s Comic Sans letter to fans in the wake of “The Decision,” where James said Gilbert, “bashed me and disrespected not only me as an individual, but disrespected my name.”
While James convinced his mother that he could return to Northeast Ohio and try “to build something that’s bigger than our name,” there might be lingering animosity. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Monday night that James was not happy. James tweeted, “If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland! Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1.”
Richard Jefferson told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin that the Cavs were “shocked” by Griffin’s departure and compared him building a team to break Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought to the accomplishments of GM Theo Epstein, who ended the baseball curses of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.
Gilbert might not calm those emotions by hiring an inexperienced president of basketball operations. If Gilbert is intrigued by a leader like Billups, he needs a savvy executive to sit alongside him. Considering what has happened since Monday evening, that’s no certainty.
Marla Ridenour is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal.
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