NBA title out of range for Cavs

By TOM WITHERS

Associated Press Writer

INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers aren’t chasing a championship this spring. They’re pursuing a coach.

This time, methodically.

No longer NBA title contenders, Cleveland is in the initial stages of an expansive, open-minded search general manager Koby Altman hopes will lead to finding the right coach for his young team, which is coming off a 63-loss season.

“We have to preach patience and we have to continue to grow this thing and we have to find a leader that’s obsessed with that process of growing,” Altman said Friday while outlining the type of candidates he’ll interview. “We’re tasked with doing that. We’re excited about the next steps. We’re done in April for the first time in four years, so we have a lot of time.”

At this time a year ago, the Cavs were preparing to make another deep playoff run. They made the Finals for the fourth straight year, but fell short in June against Golden State and then suffered a more devastating blow when LeBron James left a month later. The team endured severe growing pains this past season, which included a coaching change and countless injuries, but Altman believes better days lie ahead.

“The future is bright,” he said.

His task is finding the right coach to lead the Cavs into it.

Altman plans to cast a “wide net” in his search for the fifth coach since 2013. He and his staff are paring down a list of potential candidates that will include former head coaches, current assistants — including some on playoff teams — as well as college coaches of both sexes. Head coaching experience is a plus, but not essential, and he’s not limiting the search to candidates with whom he has a previous connection.

Already, names are beginning to surface, including several assistants who have ties to the Cavs.

Denver’s Jordi Fernandez, Utah’s Alex Jensen, Orlando’s Steve Hetzel, Atlanta’s Chris Jent, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts and Dallas’ Jamahl Mosley all spent time working for Cleveland. Altman intimated continuing the Cavs’ rebuild with a person already familiar with the organization would be beneficial.

Luke Walton could now be on Cleveland’s radar after he parted ways with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Altman said he would be “open-minded” when asked about San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, the league’s first full-time female assistant.

The timetable to find a coach? As long as it takes, Altman said.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” he said. “We want to make sure we get to know these candidates really, really well and flush this thing out. Make sure it’s the right fit for the front office, for our players, for the fan base. We want availability, grinding and all that kind of stuff. We want to make sure that’s the right fit and we’re the right fit for them, too.”

When Altman gets toward the final stages of the process, he said he may consult with Cavs players. Altman said his primary objective is landing a coach dedicated to development.

“It’s important that we find a leader that’s in it for the long haul, that really wants to be a part of Cleveland, our city and this team and help us grow every day,” he said. “I think we have to be obsessed with this process of getting better and not so much results-driven — and that’s the person I need to find.”

The Cavs finished with the league’s second-worst record and are positioned to add a major piece in the draft. Obviously, winning the lottery and getting Duke’s Zion Williamson would solve numerous problems. However, choosing first isn’t everything, and Altman is confident the Cavs already have enough solid players to attract quality coaching candidates.

“We are going to draft a high-impact player, regardless of where the Ping-Pong balls land, and all those things together are a big part of us being an attractive destination,” he said. “But I will say this: We’re not going to sell our job. The person that is right for this job is going to really, really want to be here. That’s going to be the person we hire.”

Altman again praised Larry Drew, who took over in October and kept the Cavs competitive until the end. Drew isn’t part of the future, but Altman said he left a lasting imprint.

“The great thing that I can be proud of this year is our attitude,” Altman said. “We had a great attitude. It wasn’t heavy. It wasn’t dark, even through all the losses. We had great attitude, great work ethic, and so I think we can build on that.”

Griffin to Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Pelicans have reached an agreement in principle to make former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin New Orleans’ new executive vice president of basketball operations, three people familiar with the situation said Friday.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because contract negotiations are ongoing and no announcement has been made.

Griffin will take over for former Pelicans general manger Dell Demps, who was fired in the middle of his ninth season with the club.

— a few weeks after All-Star Anthony Davis’ trade request in late January.

Griffin’s agreement to join New Orleans, which was first reported by ESPN, puts him at the center of the club’s effort to find the best deal for Davis. Griffin also could decide the fate of Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who has two years left on his contract.

The 45-year-old Griffin was the Cavaliers’ GM from 2014 to 2017, during which LeBron James returned from Miami to Cleveland and the Cavs won an NBA title. The highlights of his tenure included a trade that brought star power forward Kevin Love to the Cavs. But Griffin’s contract was not renewed after the 2016-17 season and James joined the Los Angele Lakers in free agency a year later. Griffin also worked in the Phoenix Suns’ front office from 1993 until 2009, a stint that overlapped with Gentry’s time as both a Suns assistant and head coach.

Griffin was among six people interviewed by the Pelicans to replace Demps, including interim general manager Danny Ferry, Golden State assistant GM Larry Harris, Brooklyn Nets assistant GM Trajan Langon, Houston Rockets assistant GM Gersson Rosas and interim Washington president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard.

Now Griffin will attempt to transform a franchise that went 33-49 this season and has slightly better than a 25 percent chance of landing a top four pick in the NBA draft lottery on May 14.

Trading Davis also could fetch a high draft choice, if Griffin chooses to go that route.

Gentry has a regular-season record of 145-183 with one playoff appearance last season and one playoff series victory — a sweep of Portland before losing in five games to eventual champion Golden State.

Although the Pelicans struggled this season, Gentry was commended by his players for his professionalism amid difficult circumstances.

“He’s kind of been the guy who has let us grow,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off the best season of his 10-year NBA career. “I know he has for sure let me grow. He’s given me responsibility … and when he saw me succeed in it, he asked for more.

“Sometimes there’s coaches that you kind of feel like they’re holding you back as a player and kind of restrict you, but I feel like he kind of just lets you go and figure it out yourself,” Holiday said earlier this week. “He’s always been like a partner instead of like a dictator, and I feel like for professionals like ourselves and the guys in the locker room, we really respect that.”

Davis, who averaged 25.9 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 56 games, made his trade demand with 32 games left in the season and wound up missing 17 of those games, sometimes for rest and at other times was listed as out with back spasms, including for the final seven games.

When he did play, it was rarely for much more than 20 minutes a game.

The Pelicans will have a number of other pressing roster matters as well.

Starting forward Julius Randle and starting point guard Elfrid Payton both will be free agents. Randle is coming off of the best season of his career — averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. He credited the Pelicans with fostering his development and said he’s open to coming back.

Payton, who is from the New Orleans area, said playing in his hometown exceeded expectations and that he would like to be back. Payton missed much of the season with injuries, but also put together a historically significant string of five straight triple-doubles this spring.