CLEVELAND — One year ago, David Griffin celebrated the biggest win in Cavaliers history.
He marked the anniversary Monday by walking away from the team.
Griffin’s three-year run as general manager with Cleveland is over after one championship and three straight trips to the NBA Finals.
After guiding the team through its most successful stretch, Griffin mutually parted ways with the Cavs as owner Dan Gilbert said the GM’s contract will not be extended once it expires June 30.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Griff for his leadership and many contributions during his time here, including most recently, his role in the franchise’s first NBA Championship,” Gilbert said in a statement. “We have no announcement at this time related to new leadership of the Cavaliers basketball operations group, but we are confident our current front office will continue to aggressively explore and pursue opportunities to improve our team in the weeks ahead.”
Griffin’s departure comes on the one-year anniversary of the Cavs’ dramatic Game 7 win over Golden State, capping a historic comeback that gave Cleveland its first major professional sports championship since 1964.
He’s also leaving three days before the draft and on the eve of free agency. Cleveland could have a busy summer as it looks to revamp its roster after losing to the Warriors in five games in this year’s Finals.
With Griffin out, the Cavs enter a critical juncture without a seasoned executive making the calls. The Cavs will try to improve their roster this summer as superstar LeBron James enters his final season under contract.
A team spokesman said Trent Redden, the team’s senior vice president of basketball operations, is also not returning. Assistant general manager Koby Altman remains with the team and is part of a group overseeing draft preparation and trade talks.
The Cavs have reportedly been contacted by the Indiana Pacers in a potential deal for All-Star Paul George, who will be a free agent after the 2017-18 season.
A few hours after Cleveland’s summer was thrown into chaos, James offered his support to Griffin on Twitter.
“If no one appreciated you Griff I did, and hopefully all the people of Cleveland!” James wrote. “Thanks for what u did for the team for 3 yrs! We got us 1 (trophy).”
The 47-year-old Griffin had been Cleveland’s GM since May 2014. He took over the role on a full-time basis after serving as an interim GM for three months following Chris Grant’s firing.
Griffin was in control during the team’s return to prominence after James came back following four seasons in Miami. Griffin orchestrated the trade that brought All-Star Kevin Love from Minnesota, and he bolstered the Cavs’ roster with other trades and crafty free agent signings.
However, perhaps Griffin’s biggest move was firing coach David Blatt midway through the 2015-16 season despite the Cavs being 30-11. Griffin didn’t think the Cavs were playing with the passion they needed under Blatt, and he promoted assistant Tyronn Lue, who led the Cavs to their first title.
Although the team scuffled at times during a disjointed 2016-17 season, James, who can opt out of his contract after next season, went out of his way to praise Griffin. James even campaigned to get Griffin an extension after he pulled off a trade to get Kyle Korver, one of the league’s best outside shooters.
But despite Griffin’s many successes, Gilbert decided they needed to go separate ways, ending a stretch of unprecedented accomplishments for the Cavs.
Griffin was the fourth GM to work for Gilbert, who bought the franchise in 2005 and has remained deeply engaged in all aspects of his team. That hands-on approach may have upset others, but Griffin seemed to find the right balance with his boss.
Griffin, though, did not get an extension after the Cavs won the title last year and he essentially worked as a lame duck during a sometimes turbulent 2016-17 season. Griffin was targeted by Atlanta and Orlando for GM openings, but Gilbert did not grant those teams permission to speak with Griffin during the playoffs. Those positions are now filled.
When another front-office vacancy in Milwaukee was recently filled, Griffin lost some leverage in his attempt to get a raise.
Still, there was hope Gilbert and Griffin could work out a deal, and the two met last week to discuss this past season and future plans.
They won’t be together.