WASHINGTON: NBA superstar LeBron James denied any involvement with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ decision to fire coach Dave Blatt, saying on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) he was “surprised and caught off guard” by the move.
The Cavaliers dumped Blatt in favor of associate coach Tyronn Lue despite leading the Eastern Conference at 30-11.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin said James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, “doesn’t run this organization” and said his watching players and Blatt interact told him it was time to make a move.
“This was one choice I didn’t need to ask anyone about,” Griffin said. “I know what something that’s not right looks like.”
Griffin said it was “unfair” to imply James had any role in the choice.
James said he was not concerned that people might think he influenced the decision.
“That’s not my concern,” James said. “I found out about it just like every other player on this team at 3:30 yesterday … I think (Griffin) was right on everything he said … Like it or love it or hate it, we got to respect it.”
Blatt was hired as the Cavaliers coach in 2014 just weeks before James said he was leaving the Miami Heat to return to his home-region club with the goal of winning an NBA title. The Cavaliers reached last year’s NBA Finals but lost to the Golden State Warriors.
“For me, I can’t get caught up and worried about what other people are thinking,” James said. “I stopped doing that a long time ago in my career.
“The only thing I can worry about is how I can get these guys better prepared and we can play better basketball.”
James has had a solid relationship with Lue and often talks strategy moves with him during games.
“We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old, but at the end of the day, he’s still the coach and I’m underneath him,” James said. “He will coach me and push me, and I’ll listen to everything he has to say and go from there.
“Don’t try to make it a story of why me and coach Lue are so tight. I think it’s a lot of coaches and players that are close in this league. It just happened to be me.”
Lue, who played in the NBA for 11 seasons, is in his second season with the Cavaliers after being hired as the associate head coach in June 2014. He was previously an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Me and ‘Bron were friends before when I played. We had a great relationship then,” Lue said. “But what you guys don’t understand from what you see is that when the players are coming and talking to me as an assistant coach, like, I’m the defensive coordinator.