It was a shock to hear the news of the firing of Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt recently. After all, Blatt had an impressive first season leading the Cavs to a Central Division-best 53-29 mark, the Eastern Conference title – the Cavs’ first since 2007 – and the NBA Finals. This season, he was fired despite the fact that the Cavs had the best record in the East (30-11) and were well on their way to another Finals appearance.
Blatt is considered a great bench tactician with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and more than 20 years experience as coach. This is the reason why the Cavaliers sought him out and offered him the head coaching position in the summer of 2015. The Cavs pursued several “experienced” coaches instead of other “big-name” coaches since the team was supposed to be on full rebuild mode with 2014 No. 1 rookie pick Andrew Wiggins as the centrepiece and Kyrie Irving as the superstar. They finally convinced Blatt to leave Europe and start his NBA coaching career.
All this was happening before LeBron “The King” James became a free agent from the Miami Heat -a team he led to four NBA Finals appearances and two championships.
Overnight though, the Cavs traded Wiggins for Kevin Love and James went back to his hometown a hero. The young team that Blatt was supposed to coach turned into championship contender together with all the expectations and intrigue.
It was said that James and Blatt never got along from the very start. Blatt is a champion coach who thought that he would get instant respect from his All-Star players so he really never reached out to them. He expected them to play and execute according to his plans to maximize the talent already in Cleveland. In his first season, Blatt wanted to do his fast-paced Princeton offense but James and Irving were at odds as to who was the team’s playmaker. James would regularly also create his own plays, contravening Blatt’s. Blatt was even accused of freezing up during timeouts or calling botched plays. James simply didn’t have any respect for him. Things came to a head this season when Cleveland got blown out by the Golden State Warriors. At that point, it was reported that players were no longer listening to his instructions.
Enter assistant coach Tyronn Lue, who was allegedly favored by James and other Cavs’ players to take over the reins. The assistant turned head coach now has his work cut out for him, taking over a team with players that have the biggest egos in the world. Lue, 2-1 in his first three games, has instituted an up-tempo offense and has passed an early test by getting buy-in for his new sets that rely on speed and ball movement.
Still, Lue should be very wary since James has a reputation for being a “coach killer.”
Reports say that James had a hand in the firing of his former coaches namely Paul Silas, Mike Brown, and now David Blatt. A minority owner of the Heat also confirmed that James wanted the Heat to fire coach Erik Spoelstra after his last season with the team. He was allegedly rebuffed by President and coaching legend Pat Riley, which led to his return to Cleveland.
The jury is still out whether the Cavs’ move to fire a successful coach at mid-season will pay off. That would be decided come playoff time if and when the Cavs finally bring home a title. Winning the trophy means all these issues will be forgotten, another loss meanwhile would and should be placed squarely on James’ shoulders.