Timing of Blatt Firing is OddDavid Blatt is not an NBA championship level coach. I said that from the start:
"How could he be? He has spent his whole career coaching basketball on the other side of the world, with different rules and inferior players. Blatt is a very good FIBA coach. That does not mean that he possesses either the strategic acumen or the right personality to lead a team to an NBA title."
Therefore, I cannot criticize the Cleveland Cavaliers for firing Blatt. However, the timing and the context are strange. The Cavaliers have the best record in the Eastern Conference and have won two games in a row after their embarrassing 132-98 loss to the Golden State Warriors. We have not learned anything about Blatt in the past week--or in the first half of the 2015-16 season--that we did not already know. General Manager David Griffin said that he replaced Blatt with lead assistant coach Tyronn Lue--who has been given the job outright and does not wear the interim tag--not based on the win/loss record but because Blatt is not creating a championship culture. If that is really the reason that Blatt was fired--and it is a legitimate concern--then Griffin should have fired Blatt after the Cavaliers blew a 2-1 lead in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Brendan Haywood, an NBA commentator who played for Blatt's Cleveland Cavaliers last season, gave a very insightful interview today in which he stated that Blatt is a nice man and a good coach but all of the players knew that he could not help them win a game against the likes of Gregg Popovich or Steve Kerr. Blatt does not understand NBA substitution patterns and he struggles to design effective end of game plays. Haywood said that the Cavs ultimately had to scrap Blatt's offense and run sets that Lue learned from his time working as an assistant for Doc Rivers. Blatt simply does not know the league well enough and, to compound the issue, he is very stubborn and stuck in his ways because he thinks that decades of minor league coaching in Europe qualify him to run the show in the most sophisticated basketball league in the world. Blatt is overmatched and anyone who understands NBA basketball could see it. Haywood also noted that Blatt would not call out LeBron James during film sessions but would criticize mistakes made by other players. Great players want and need to be coached hard and to be pushed. Julius Erving and Tim Duncan are two examples of great players who did not bristle when their coaches yelled at them, because they understood that if they were coachable then everyone else on the roster would fall in line.
If Griffin had fired Blatt last summer then he either could have replaced him with a veteran NBA coach or, at a minimum, he could have given Lue the opportunity to have a whole training camp to put in his system. I don't know if Lue is an elite NBA coach or not. Lue was a heady role player during his NBA career and there is a precedent for heady role players becoming championship coaches (Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr immediately come to mind) but Derek Fisher was a heady role player who hardly has taken the league by storm as a head coach.
Lue has been on Griffin's radar since Griffin made Lue the highest paid assistant coach in the NBA less than two years ago. If Lue is really a championship level coach, then the Cavs should have hired him in 2014 or 2015; a year and a half of cleaning up Blatt's mistakes has hardly made Lue any more prepared to run the show than he already was. Throwing Lue into the fire in the middle of the season looks like a panic move as opposed to a well thought out decision--or, it looks like a move made to appease the man who really runs the show in Cleveland: LeBron James.
Griffin's defiant assertions that he does not take polls before making decisions and that he did not seek LeBron James' opinion/approval are equally disingenuous and unsurprising. The Cavaliers don't change the toilet paper in the bathrooms at Quicken Loans Arena without having James' approval--and they don't have to ask his opinion about anything because James, through his minions, makes his wishes very clearly known. It is no secret that James does not respect Blatt and it is no secret that James signs short term deals with the Cavs to maximize his leverage based on the very credible threat that he will flee town if he does not get his way. James has every right to conduct his playing and business careers as he sees fit--but his greatest success as a player came in Miami when Pat Riley insisted that James respect his coach and did not let James' crew run roughshod over everyone in the organization.
James says that he left Miami to bring a championship to Cleveland but it is not a stretch to suggest that, after winning two rings in Miami, James grew tired of having to follow Riley's rules and preferred to return to a situation where he knew he could call all of the shots--and that is what he has done: LeBron James the general manager wanted Kevin Love instead of Andrew Wiggins and he wanted reserve forward Tristan Thompson signed to a huge deal. James the general manager wanted Tyronn Lue as head coach. James is the only player in the NBA who checks himself in and out of games on his whim without consulting his coach and that practice is likely to continue with his hand picked man/puppet on the bench.
So, when the Cavaliers are eliminated from the 2016 playoffs, if James blames the general manager for how the roster is put together or the coach for playing him too much/too little, let us hope that the talking heads who keep trying to put James in the same class with Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan make it clear that the blame belongs with James.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:45 PM