April 23, 2014

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Cavs: Acting general manager Griffin confident he can change fortunes

CLEVELAND — David Griffin doesn’t view himself as a stop-gap measure. Nor does he feel like he’s auditioning to get his new job on a full-time basis.

The way the acting general manager of the Cavaliers sees it, he’s simply got a job to do and will do it to the best of his ability.

David Griffin

David Griffin

If he does that, he strongly believes he will show he deserves to be the long-term successor to Chris Grant, who was fired Thursday after 3½ years as GM.

“I have full latitude to do this job,” Griffin said Sunday prior to a game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Quicken Loans Arena. “I have (ownership’s) support to do this job.

“I will not be taking calls as a secretary. I will be the general manager of this team. What that means moving forward is, candidly, very irrelevant to me.”

The 44-year-old Griffin, who spent 17 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, came to the Cavs as vice president of basketball operations in September 2010.

Four days after taking over Grant’s duties as GM, he vowed to continue trying to build a successful team this season, rather than deal away contracts in an attempt to get a better draft pick.

“I don’t see how you get better and win more games selling,” Griffin said. “We’re going to buy to the extent it makes us better for the long haul.

“I don’t think we’re going to do anything that’s an act of desperation. We’re willing to buy the right assets at the right prices. We’re dedicated, from top to bottom, to getting better. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

An outgoing and positive person, the red-headed Griffin immediately echoed the beliefs of owner Dan Gilbert, who said upon firing Grant that the Cavs have the talent and coaching to succeed.

“I think we have the group of kids to do that,” the acting GM said. “I know we have a coaching staff that comes to work every day with the spirit of finding a way. We will find a way and this team will succeed.

“We’ve got really good kids,” he added. “We don’t have impediments to success.”

Griffin, who began his career under the free-speaking and free-wheeling Jerry Colangelo and Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix, answered every question at length during his introductory press conference. He seemed totally at ease and, like a seasoned politician, stressed positives surrounding a team that entered the Memphis game with a 17-33 record.

“I want to see us smile more,” Griffin said. “I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember there’s passion in this. We’re not robots.

“We don’t have to look cool,” he added. “We have to look like we’re in love with this. That’s what I want us to be.”

Griffin went on to say his greatest strength was “empowering people” and giving them a sense of belief, things he said he learned from Colangelo, Fitzsimmons and former Suns GM Steve Kerr.

“I’ve watched this work,” he said. “It’s what I know. It’s what I believe to the core of me. It’s what I am.”

Cleveland coach Mike Brown spoke highly of Griffin, saying the acting GM has “a great mind and he’s very charismatic,” but remained consistent in his belief that the players and coaches will determine whether the Cavs turn their disappointing season around.

“Chris (Grant) didn’t play any minutes for us,” Brown said. “I don’t see (the GM change) helping us. We’ve got to play better and execute better.

“Everybody wants to have fun in this business and smile and so on and so forth,” he added. “When you’re losing and there’s expectations … it’s tough.”

Griffin said he addressed the Cavs as a team and spoke to “a good many” of the players individually. He repeatedly referred to those players as kids, pointing out the Cavs’ average age was 23.8 prior to acquiring Luol Deng in early January.

“We have truly good human beings who are about the right thing,” he said. “I say kids because I feel like an old man now. But I think we’ve got guys who come at this from the right place.”

That wasn’t apparent too often during the first 50 games of the season.

The Cavs had a heated team meeting that nearly led to a physical altercation after getting blown out by Minnesota in November, guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters haven’t meshed well and 2013 draft picks Anthony Bennett (No. 1), Sergey Karasev (No. 19) and Carrick Felix (No. 33) have struggled mightily.

The offseason acquisitions of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark haven’t panned out, though Grant managed to turn Bynum into Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

“We’ve reacted the way young kids do,” Griffin said. “But don’t let this get lost in the shuffle: These are incredibly talented kids.

“No great player is at his best unless he’s happy,” he added. “What we need to do is get people to believe in each other again.”

A lack of talent and poor coaching are not responsible for Cleveland’s struggles, Griffin maintained. That, he said, will be proven once the Cavs begin to play as one.

“We lost our way somewhere,” Griffin said. “We’ve lost it in terms of faith in one another. (It’s) not our talent, not our coaching. That’s not failing. We’ve lost our ability to believe, ‘The next guy has my back.’”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.