Former Cavs GM David Griffin says building around LeBron James was 'miserable' and he knew he would leave as soon as they won the 2016 championship

David GriffinAP Photo/Gerald Herbert

  • Former Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin described how building a roster around LeBron James made him "miserable" in a story with Sports Illustrated.
  • Griffin didn't enjoy the pressure of building a championship contender around James and said the process was "inorganic and unsustainable."
  • From the moment the Cavs won the 2016 championship, Griffin said he knew he was going to leave the team. He parted ways with the team in 2017, saying he "didn't love the game anymore."
  • After two years as a broadcaster, Griffin joined the New Orleans Pelicans as the executive president of basketball operations in April 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said that his time as general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers was once filled with excitement, but took a drastic turn when LeBron James joined the team.

Griffin became the team's GM in February 2014 and James rejoined the team that July.

In a story with Sports Illustrated on Thursday, Griffin spoke about his experience leading a team centered around James. Having James on the team was at one time a celebrated thought, but after the pressure set in, Griffin said it was overwhelming.

"The reason is LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame. And that's not fun for people," Griffin said. "They don't like being part of that world."

Season after season, anything less than a championship wasn't good enough. Griffin needed to build a championship-caliber team around James that required a hefty cap sheet that resulted in the team losing $40 million.

"Everything we did was so inorganic and unsustainable and, frankly, not fun. I was miserable," Griffin said. "Literally the moment we won the championship I knew I was gonna leave. There was no way I was gonna stay for any amount of money."

Throughout the process, James communicated with Griffin because he knew Griffin would help him win, but the conversations weren't always easy.

"You've got to be willing to have very difficult conversations with LeBron," Griffin said. "I always was, which is why we had a great relationship, because I would tell him what he needed to hear and he respected that I was telling him that for the right reasons."

The challenges Griffin endured resulted in a championship in 2016. It also resulted in him privately crying in a broom closet in Oakland after the victory.

Griffin said he "didn't love the game anymore" because of his fixation on the outcome. His sole goal was to deliver a championship.

LeBron James and the Cleveland CavaliersEzra Shaw/Getty Images

Griffin said he felt that James and the team lost its energy and passion in 2017, saying James wasn't "the same animal" about winning after 2016.

After parting ways with the Cavaliers in 2017, Griffin became an analyst for NBA TV for two years before joining the Pelicans in April.

After the team landed the No. 1 pick to draft Zion Williamson, they traded Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers (to partner with James) and has continued to add players to rebuild the roster in impressive fashion.

Read more: Anthony Davis has been traded to the Lakers and LeBron James

Griffin said his time away from Cleveland has helped him to find himself and put himself in a position that is more authentic to who he is as a leader.

"We're going to put a different energy in the universe. It's going to attract who it's meant to," Griffin says. "You won't get everybody, but that's OK. Get the right ones."
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