Can Koby Altman Make LeBron James and Cavaliers Smile Again?

The Cleveland Cavaliers finally got a permanent General Manager on Monday, when Koby Altman was promoted to replace David Griffin.

Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner, opted for continuity after Chauncey Billups rejected the job, claiming Cleveland had lowballed him on salary demands. Altman has been with the franchise since 2012, and he was Griffin’s assistant last season during the run to the NBA Finals that ended, for the second time in three years, at the slick hands of Golden State Warriors. Since Griffin departed in June, Altman has been serving as interim G.M.

The Cavaliers remain a theoretical championship contender and the most likely winner of the Eastern Conference but Altman will not be permitted a honeymoon. Top and center of the list will be to squeeze the best possible return for Kyrie Irving, the All-Star point guard who has reportedly demanded a trade away from Cleveland.

Irving wants to run his own team, away from the orbit of LeBron James. The Cavaliers can expect a heady array of talent in return for Irving, perhaps including one of the 2017 draft’s best players in De’Aaron Fox. The challenge is to convince James that a supposed championship contender has not just entered rebuilding mode because James doesn’t have to hang around forever. The 32-year-old can test free agency next summer by declining the final year of his contract, a player-option deal. The decisions Altman and the Cavaliers make now are going to ripple outwards into 2018, and James is going to note them carefully.

"Koby Altman has led our front office group through this transition period, impressing many inside the franchise and outside the organization, as well," Gilbert said on Monday. "We are very excited that he will now be officially leading the basketball side of our franchise. Koby has the credentials, knowledge, experience and instincts to be an outstanding general manager. In addition to these positive attributes and outstanding relationships around the league, Koby will inspire and impact the best possible culture throughout the organization.

"We are going to see a capable and passionate leader who will also cultivate new ideas and innovation. The speed of the game is ever faster on the court and in the front offices around our league. I am confident that Koby is equipped and prepared to lead and succeed in this dynamic environment."

Win the Irving trade, keep a reportedly “frustrated” James happy, and make sure the Cavaliers contend again this season. Gilbert didn’t say any of those things explicitly but he didn’t have to. His new G.M. may have the hardest job in basketball this summer. Good luck.