CLEVELAND: At his first press conference, David Griffin sounded more like a psychologist than the Cavs acting general manager.
The irony is that the man he replaced, Chris Grant, is the one with the psychology degree (University of San Diego, Class of 1994), while Griffin pursued political science (Arizona State, Class of 1995).
Griffin, 44, was impressive in the 17 minutes he spoke before the Cavs defeated the Memphis Grizzles 91-83 in overtime Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena. While he didn’t rival Jim Tressel at his introduction as Ohio State football coach, Griffin did inject a little of Tressel’s run-through-a-brick-wall inspiration.
“We’ve lost our way somewhere,” Griffin said. “We’ve lost it in terms of our faith in one another. Not our talent, not our coaching, that’s not failing. We’ve lost our ability to believe that the next guy has my back. We’ve lost it relative to the front office. We’ve lost a little bit of our mojo everywhere.
“Ultimately what I’m good at — if I have a skill — is empowering people and making them believe in themselves. I want to do that for people and I want other people to do that, too. This is a culture of we. It’s not a culture of me. And somewhere along the way we lost that.”
After hearing Griffin, what Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said when he fired Grant Thursday made more sense. Gilbert said that a general manager did more than acquire and draft players and that the Cavs “needed a shift in certain cultural aspects and a different environment.”
Some of the toxicity of that environment has spilled out in recent comments from former Cavs center Andrew Bynum when he signed with the Indiana Pacers and by nine-year veteran forward Luol Deng, acquired by the Cavs in a Jan. 7 trade, in a story in the New York Daily News.
“The atmosphere over there wasn’t the one that kind of promoted positive energy,” Bynum told Indianapolis writers last week.
If a change in atmosphere was what Gilbert wanted, he found the man to promote positive energy in Griffin. Cavs coach Mike Brown said Griffin has a “bright mind” and is “charismatic.”
As believable as he was, Griffin almost took his mission into guffaw territory when he said he wanted to see the Cavs “smile more.” Cynics might raise an eyebrow, although such an environment is desperately needed.
“I want to see us enjoy this,” Griffin said. “I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember there’s passion involved.
“We need to love coming to work every day because the people that come here every day have passion for this and they deserve to see our passion, too. We don’t have to look cool. We have to look like we’re in love with this.”
Griffin sounded like he was ready to sit some Cavs down in front of Tony Soprano’s shrink Dr. Melfi and have her dig into their innermost feelings. Getting them to open up might not be easy. He said before the Deng trade the Cavs had an average age of 23.8 years.
Griffin suspects the Cavs weren’t prepared to handle the great expectations of being a playoff team.
“One of the things that sometimes you don’t see every day is conversations with the players about where they feel they’re at right now. What hopes and fears they have that aren’t being met, and giving them a little bit of confidence in themselves,” Griffin said. “These are young kids. These are guys that have incredible talent. They’ve never been in a situation where they came into a year with expectancy. That can be difficult sometimes.
“We’ve reacted in a way that young kids do. But don’t get this lost in the shuffle. These are incredibly talented kids, and reminding them of that and what their role is in this whole thing is something I’ll have an opportunity to do.”
Griffin said he became captivated with the psychological part of the game while with the Suns, especially under former general manager Steve Kerr, an ex-Cav who is now a TNT analyst. The Suns went to the Western Conference finals three times when Griffin worked under Kerr.
“I was really, really blessed to be around some fantastic, positive people, people who built ensemble casts around people who make other people better….” Griffin said. “Steve Kerr is one of the truly great human beings I’ve ever been with, and the spirit he brought to that job…
“I’ve watched this work. It’s what I know. It’s what I believe to the core of me. It’s who I am.”
Perhaps the positive messages and the support Griffin will deliver, along with the fear factor from Grant’s firing, will make a difference. The Cavs are 2-0 since Grant departed. But there is no guarantee Griffin will hold his new position past this season. With the trade deadline on Feb. 20, Griffin takes over at a crucial juncture.
As much of a mess as the Cavs have been, they need Griffin to serve as more than their trusted confidant and biggest cheerleader. They need him to be a savvy executive as well.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.