The Cavaliers made the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons under James’ leadership, but they only secured one championship.
LeBron James brings immense pressure to win wherever he goes, and former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin knows all about it.
James left Miami and returned to Cleveland at the beginning of Griffin's three-year stint as general manager in 2014, and according to Griffin, success is only measured by titles when you have James on your team.
"It’s not just the pressure with LeBron, it’s that the only mark of success each year was winning a championship," Griffin said Friday, via Sports Illustrated. "This wasn’t about being elite. This wasn’t about winning a round in the playoffs. LeBron’s presence means you must win championships."
The Cavaliers made the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons under James' leadership, but they only secured one championship in 2016. James was the driving force behind reaching that title, and expectations remained high.
"It was like you’re taking care of the legacy of Babe Ruth. Nobody knows who his general manager was, and nobody really knows if that general manager was successful or not. But because the Yankees won as many championships as they did, Ruth and [Lou] Gehrig and those guys’ legacies are what they are. It was something we felt responsible for. This is the greatest player of his generation, and if you’re not delivering championships you’re failing," Griffin said.
Griffin was tasked with building around James with top tier talent. Cleveland had already secured budding All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving through the 2011 draft before James' homecoming. The franchise also traded away 2014 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota to acquire Kevin Love, giving him two All-Star caliber teammates.
While James has been rumored to have tremendous impact on front office decisions, Griffin said James wasn't orchestrating moves behind the scenes while he was with Cleveland.
"I feel really bad for LeBron that people talk about that as much as they do," Griffin said. "It’s just an asinine assertion that he was a shadow GM. LeBron was one of many people on the team who we talked to, it just so happens he’s a basketball savant. You wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t talk to him about the pieces you might want to bring to the franchise."
James declined his player option in 2018 and signed with the Lakers during free agency. Los Angeles is outside of the playoff hunt, though the organization attempted to give the 34-year-old superstar the best tools to win by adding Pelicans star Anthony Davis before the trade deadline — but negotiations fell through.
When asked how he thought Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka handled the trade deadline, Griffin said, "I wouldn’t judge them or their process, but my personal preference is definitely to keep things in-house."