I understand that the box marked "some assembly required" is different for an NBA team than for an NFL team, but hear me out. Finks was architect of the Minnesota Vikings teams that went to four Super Bowls in the 1970's, and he put together the Chicago Bears team that won the Super Bowl in New Orleans in January, 1986. That history was critical when Tom Benson hired him to turn around a laughable organization that never had a winning record in 19 years of existence. John Mecom’s practice of hiring astronauts and cowboys to run the show produced more laughs than victories. It could only have been worse if they’d been subjected to 24 hours of Twitter, Instagram and ESPN lampooning every move the franchise and its players made.
Then Finks came in, made the right moves and ushered in a new history of Saints football, and Griffin suggests he could do the same thing with the Pelicans. Inheriting only Kyrie Irving, between 2014-17 Griffin presided over the return of LeBron James then orchestrated key trades for players such as Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, Timofey Mozgov and even J.R. Smith, who had washed out in New Orleans. In three seasons, the Cavs went 161-85 during the regular season and advanced to three NBA Finals, beating the Warriors in 2016 for the Cavs’ first NBA title in franchise history.
Critics might say that LeBron wanted to come back to Cleveland anyway so Griffin's main accomplishment was answering the phone when he called. Having negotiated contracts for 20 years, I know it took a lot more behind-the-scenes maneuvering, cajoling and threatening with LeBron's agents, Klutch Sports, before a deal eventually was done. Those same agents are the ones that Anthony Davis hired last summer, apparently to get him out of New Orleans. Griffin knows them, has a record of doing complicated but successful deals, and that goes a long way.
How Griffin navigates though the Davis mess will be the true test of his ability, whichever way it goes. He either will extract a Herschel Walker-type of ransom that will lay a foundation for winning or he will satisfy Davis that he knows how to surround a star with enough talent to win consistently and sign him long-term.
The only thing I disagree with now is Griffin’s suggestion that Alvin Gentry will remain as head coach. Gentry deserves praise for keeping the team together and competing during the Davis imbroglio, but he is not a guy who has proven he can give you a championship team. As a head coach for all or parts of 16 seasons, Gentry’s record is 480-553. His teams recorded winning records in only two full seasons, the best being his 2009-10 Phoenix team that finished 54-28 but lost in the conference finals to the Lakers. On the other hand, Finks brought in Jim Mora, who had won championships in two of three USFL seasons.
But give Griffin time. If he truly is heir to the Finks mantle, the moves he makes in his first year will show it. Then, if he chooses, he will have his pick of top NBA coaches who want to work for a stable ownership and a GM who knows how to build a championship contender.
Jim Miller's new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.