MVP vs. MVP.
Rookie Head Coach vs. Rookie Head Coach.
Aussie vs Aussie.
However, there are two other guys who’ve had a huge impact in getting their teams to the Finals. I’m talking about the Executive of the Year, Cleveland’s David Griffin, and the guy who won that award, Golden State’s Bob Myers.
When the EOTY votes were released at the beginning of May, most were surprised by what they saw. Myers had received 13 of the 30 first place votes cast, ahead of Griffin with 8.
Ok, so the Warriors had won a league best 67 games, but Griffin’s body of work over the past 12 months cannot be denied. He signed LeBron James (isn’t that enough?) last summer, traded for Kevin Love, hired David Blatt and then brought in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov mid-season; effectively re-building the Cavs’ identity and depth on the fly.
The Cavs came into this season with unclear expectations. With James on the roster, you always expect to contend, but surrounding him with two players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love who had never been to the post-season, tempered the immediate ‘championship or bust’ talk.
After struggling early and also losing Anderson Varejao (surprise, surprise!), it was clear they didn’t have the mix quite right.
“Clearly, we came into the year talking about our need for rim protection before [Anderson Varejao] got injured. I think it’s very clear we have a real need for more size,” Griffin told ESPN in January. “I think relative of what we need to do to improve, certainly we can address some talent issues. But more than anything else, we need to address our fit and our size.”
Griffin had shown interest in Mozgov for some time. He had tried to acquire him last season, before hiring David Blatt (who previously coached Mozgov on the Russian National Team). He had mentioned his interest to James last summer, to which The King responded simply “Get him if you can.”Griffin finally got his man in January and addressed those other issues by making the in-season trades with New York and Denver.
The result? Well, the Cavs clicked almost straight away. They went 34-9 from January 15 onwards in the regular season, finished as the #2 seed and then blitzed through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, losing only twice. The play of Shumpert, Smith and Mozgov were key in providing support to James on both ends of the floor and with Love out and Irving limited, they may not have advanced without those guys.
As for Blatt, no rookie Coach has ever faced as much scrutiny. He was hired before James returned to the Cavs and once the King was added, Blatt lost his NBA adjustment period with immediate expectations.
Blatt is, and always has been, a player’s coach. He had tremendous success in Europe, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to last year’s Euroleague Championship, and Internationally with the Russian Olympic Team.
Mozgov’s acquisition also helped, not only making Blatt feel more comfortable, but by virtue of Mozgov singing Blatt’s praises to his new teammates. LeBron, who often bonds with his big men, listened. Despite an outside appearance earlier in the season of friction between he and James, it was clear after clinching the East Title that they’re very much on the same page.
Either way, Griffin deserves tremendous credit for going against convention and bringing in a non-NBA guy, sticking with him through some adversity and trusting his instincts.
Yet Griffin did not receive any formal accolade this season. He will get little credit for the Cavs’ success. “Have LeBron, will advance” is how most will view it; especially in the weak Eastern Conference. There are also those who believe James is the real GM of the Cavs.
Clearly Griffin was handed an immense gift last summer; the best sports car on the market. Of course, he could have stopped there. Instead, he bought every accessory possible to ensure it was utilised to its maximum potential and the City of Cleveland got the most out of it. For that, he deserves tremendous recognition, cos remember, nothing is easy in Cleveland.
On the West Coast, Myers was faced with a conundrum of his own last summer.
Mark Jackson had done an admirable job in developing this young Warriors group who had made it to the post-season two straight years. However, to put it nicely, Jackson and the organisation did not get along. This was not just limited to the front office, coaching staff and players. Per certain reports, Jackson clashed with a large majority of Warriors employees.
Jackson and owner Joe Lacob had differing views on his coaching staff and despite winning 51 games, the Dubs let Jackson go.
Their coaching search nearly netted them Stan Van Gundy, but Kerr was the guy they wanted all along, as detailed in the Mercury News shortly after his hiring was announced.
However, I can’t help but wonder based on that account, how large a role Myers played in the courting of Steve Kerr. Kerr and Lacob had been friends for 20 years; Kerr was a West Coast guy with no ties to New York, the Warriors had a vastly superior roster and the Knicks were trying to low-ball him with their offer.Kerr’s decision was made easy in the end and, while Myers was there for all of those meetings, it’s clear that Lacob played a huge part in bringing Kerr to Oakland.
Why is this important? Well, Kerr’s hiring is probably the single biggest move the Warriors Front Office made this entire season.
Yes, they won 67 games and clinched home court through the playoffs, but that has more to do with the coaching of Kerr and the all-worldly play of MVP Stephen Curry, the development of Klay Thompson into an All-Star and the defence of All-NBA Defensive players Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, than any recent roster moves.
Aside from helping Lacob bring in Kerr, Myers signed Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa to add backcourt depth, which proved pivotal in the playoffs, even if neither made a huge regular season impact. Myers also extended Klay Thompson last summer but failed to move David Lee at the trade deadline. He can take credit for drafting Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, but those picks were made back in 2012.
There is one other big move that Myers made this past off-season, or rather didn’t make; he resisted trading Klay Thompson in discussions around acquiring Kevin Love.
The Warriors liked the idea of adding a second all-star alongside Curry, but didn’t want to mess with team chemistry or part with Thompson’s emerging talent.
While Myers was open to considering it, he ultimately concluded (with some assistance from Kerr and Jerry West) that the addition of Love would not offset the subtraction of Klay.
Thompson went on to become that second All-Star alongside Curry, while Love struggled to adjust to a new environment where he was no longer the top dog.
That non-move was more important to the Dubs’ success than any other move (Kerr’s hiring aside) that Myers made. The truth is, Myers deserves credit for that.
Ironically, the Warriors will face Kevin Love’s new team in the NBA Finals. Love, of course, will be watching from the sidelines while Thompson (assuming there are no lingering effects from his Game 5 clash with Trevor Ariza) will be splashing 3s alongside his Splash Brother.
Myers may have won the official hardware, and he may very well walk away with a ring next month. But Griffin boldly reshaped his team’s fortunes this year and if the Cavs somehow walk away with the title, he can be satisfied knowing he has the hardware that really counts.
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