On ESPN’s “The Jump” Thursday, Cavaliers and Lakers reporter Dave McMenamin said James’s camp was “shocked that this would come out in this fashion.”
James subsequently posted a somewhat cryptic tweet Thursday in which he said, “Enough is enough.”
James’s camp was said to have believed the four-time NBA MVP had “maintained a very positive relationship” with Griffin in the years following Griffin’s departure from Cleveland in June 2017.
James left the Cavaliers the following summer, joining the Lakers as a free agent. Griffin was hired in April as the New Orleans Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, and after landing the No. 1 overall draft pick and using it on Duke’s Zion Williamson, he oversaw a trade of all-star forward Anthony Davis to James’s new team.
In the SI feature, Griffin’s optimism about building a new culture in New Orleans was contrasted with his experience in Cleveland, where the pressure of helping James come through on his promise to bring the Cavaliers and their fans their first championship was portrayed as leading to a frustratingly myopic focus.
It didn’t help the atmosphere on that team, Griffin said, that “LeBron is getting all the credit and none of the blame.”
"And that’s not fun for people,” he added. “They don’t like being part of that world.”
The feeling around the Cavaliers changed dramatically, according to Griffin, after they managed to deliver James’s coveted championship to his native northeast Ohio.
James talked last year about how winning that title, particularly given that it involved an unprecedented comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, made him think, “That one right there made you the greatest player of all time.”
“I was ecstatic,” James said at the time. “That day, the first wave of emotion was — everyone saw me crying — that was all for 52 years of everything sports that have gone on in Cleveland.”
After that, “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning,” Griffin said.
The following two seasons saw the Cavaliers play markedly worse on defense as their win totals fell from 57 to 51 to 50. They still were able to make the Finals out of an underwhelming Eastern Conference, but Cleveland was nearly swept in two more matchups with the Warriors — who were able to add Kevin Durant — losing those Finals by an 8-1 aggregate.
“There was somebody better than me at keeping them on task after we won,” Griffin told SI. “I did a really [expletive] job of bringing enough urgency to the next year.”
McMenamin said he understood that Griffin had “reached out to LeBron’s camp” to suggest that “there’s some context missing” from the SI story. The response from James’s camp, according to ESPN, was that Griffin should “go on the record and explain it.”
Kendrick Perkins, an NBA analyst who played with James in Cleveland, defended the three-time champion.
Gilbert was described by SI as having “loomed” over Griffin’s efforts to win a title. At the same time, the contracts James chose to sign to remain in Cleveland, all of which were short-term deals, were said to have “held the franchise captive” and led to the signings of veterans who had championship experience, such as Perkins, rather than players who might have better fit Griffin’s vision.
“We won despite our culture to a huge degree. And I knew it. I knew what we weren’t doing,” Griffin said. “There were so many things during that period of time that I wanted to do differently. If you make everything about, ‘It’s a destination. Damn the torpedoes, I gotta get there,’ that might be the only time you get there.”
Of overseeing a less frantic team-building process in New Orleans, Griffin declared, “We’re going to put a different energy in the universe. It’s going to attract who it’s meant to.”
“You won’t get everybody, but that’s okay,” he added. “Get the right ones.”