Since June 1, when the NBA Finals kicked off, things haven’t gone so well for the Cavaliers. They got spanked by the Warriors in five games, then made a surprise move — one that apparently displeased LeBron James — by parting ways with general manager David Griffin.
The departure of Griffin, who helped build Cleveland squads that made three straight trips to the Finals, including the franchise’s first championship, was swiftly followed by reports of an intriguing possible replacement: Chauncey Billups. However, the former point guard announced Monday that he was withdrawing from consideration for a job as the Cavs’ president of basketball operations, thickening the cloud of uncertainty and dysfunction hanging over the team.
“I have great respect for [owner] Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I greatly appreciate the discussions we had regarding their organization,” Billups said in a statement to ESPN. “As I have conveyed before, ultimately I would like to lead a team’s basketball operation and be a part of a successful franchise.
“But presently, the timing just isn’t right to delve into that role in Cleveland. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on broadcasting and my other business endeavors.”
Billups, 40, has been a basketball analyst for ESPN since 2014, when he ended his 17-year NBA career. He also returned to the hardwood Sunday, as a member of a team in the BIG3, Ice Cube’s new three-on-three league. The rapper/actor, who had strongly implied in June that Billups had accepted a job with the Cavs, was happy to trumpet Billups’ decision to remain a player and not become an executive.
It is unclear how close Gilbert was to offering Billups a chance to run the Cavs, but the two had met to discuss the job and several reports had indicated that the 2004 Finals MVP was the front-runner for it. Now the team, which is being run by assistant GM Koby Altman, will have to pivot to another candidate amid speculation that Billups didn’t like something he saw in the situation.
A possible red flag for Billups could be the future of James’ own employment with the team. The four-time MVP, whose return to Cleveland in 2014 sparked the recent run of success, can be a free agent in 2018, and he is rumored to be interested in taking his talents to Los Angeles, or possibly another destination to end his storied career.
ESPN’s Marc Spears reported that Billups did not consult with James while mulling the Cleveland position and that James’ status “had no bearing” on his decision to withdraw from consideration. According to Spears, Billups said that “the timing and fit” weren’t “good,” while USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt reported that Billups had received a raise from ESPN.
Billups, who also interviewed for the Hawks’ general manager job last month, may have been leery of the constraints facing the Cavs’ front office after the team has been loading up for extended postseason runs. Cleveland has little salary-cap room with which to work, few players other than Kevin Love to dangle in enticing swaps and it could lose a top 10-protected pick in 2019 or 2020 to Atlanta.
The Cavs could be a possible destination for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, a former teammate of Billups’ in Denver, but Cleveland would have to find a way to make a trade work. Having fired team president Phil Jackson, the Knicks have their own front-office vacancy, and Griffin is reportedly among the candidates.