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Monday, October 29, 2018

Cavaliers Put the "Diss" in Dysfunction

Only in the bizarre world of Cleveland sports would Tyronn Lue get fired while Hue Jackson keeps his job (though Jackson was then fired the next day). Lue is the only coach who has led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title and he is the first coach to lead a major professional sports team from Cleveland to a championship since Blanton Collier coached the Cleveland Browns to the 1964 NFL title. The Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals for three straight years under Lue's direction. Yes, Lue's Cavaliers had LeBron James on the roster but Lue demonstrated that he had the ability to push James while also getting maximum production and effort from the rest of the players.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fired Lue on the heels of unprecedented success much like Gilbert fired Mike Brown, who was a contributor to San Antonio's championship culture and has now found a home as a contributor to Golden State's championship culture.

Cleveland is in many ways the national capital of sports dysfunction. The Cleveland Browns have been a national joke--though no Cleveland resident or fan finds the punchline the least bit amusing--for the better part of the past 20 years but the franchise succumbed to new depths under the (mis)direction of Hue Jackson, who set the bar so low you would have to dig a subterranean tunnel for weeks to find it. The Cleveland sports media has often sunk as low as the city's sports franchises--remember, these are the "geniuses" who helped run Bill Belichick out of town not long after he led the Browns to the last playoff victory they would experience for nearly a quarter century (and counting)--but Doug Lesmerises hit the nail on the head when describing Jackson's reign of error:
In the long, dysfunctional history of the Browns, what Jackson perpetrated on this city for 40 games, 36 losses and 33 months was an abomination.

A few months ago I sat in Jackson's office and he vowed the Browns would win. I told him I'd write it when it happened. He promised I'd be writing it.

Instead, we're here.

Hue Jackson has been fired. No coach has ever deserved it more...

Jackson didn't have a winning roster for his first two seasons. But he didn't have a 1-31 team. As I said before, he took a losing team and made it historically awful. He took a difficult job and made it impossible.

Now, with a competitive team, he was doing the same--underachieving again.

There are problems in Cleveland. Ownership is a problem. The receivers are a problem. The offensive tackles are a problem. The game plan from the coordinators are problems.

Every single problem Jackson faced for 2 1/2 seasons, he took and made it worse...

Every news conference was a chance for Jackson to stake an unnecessary claim or pledge an unneeded promise. He chose bold words, and never backed them with actions.

It's why the man wound up in a lake.

That will be a lasting memory from this dark time in Cleveland football history.

But Jackson's greatest legacy will be his everyday failings, the time after time he sat before a microphone and spouted platitudes no one bought.

Browns fans had to watch their team lose on Sunday. And then they had to watch Jackson explain it and excuse himself on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
You might think that Jackson is the worst coach in NFL history but--technically--he is only the second worst of all-time: Jackson ranks 218th in winning percentage out of the 219 NFL coaches who coached at least 40 games. The only coach worse than Jackson was the Eagles' Bert Bell, who enjoyed tremendous job security since he also owned the team. However, I am willing to put an asterisk by Bell and award the "honor" to Jackson, as I don't think I have ever had the misfortune of watching a more poorly coached professional sports team than the Browns have been under Jackson--and that is saying a lot considering the past few coaches who preceded Jackson.

Jackson should have never been hired and he should not have survived a 1-15 season so that he could personally orchestrate an 0-16 disaster of historical proportions of coaching ineptitude.

Lue may not be Red Auerbach or Pat Riley or Phil Jackson but he sure is not Hue Jackson. ESPN's Jalen Rose described Lue's termination as "rude." That is a good word for it and another good word to describe the Cavaliers' ownership/front office is clueless. The Cavaliers did not learn anything about Lue or the roster during the team's 0-6 start that they did not know during the summer. Lue did not suddenly forget how to coach and he did not suddenly pick a fight with the front office or the owner. If issues existed, then a functional sports franchise would have addressed and corrected those issues in the offseason. That is what the Browns should have done with Jackson and, if the Cavaliers did not believe that Lue is the man to run the show in the post-James era, that is what the Cavaliers should have done with Lue. Firing Lue now just creates even more chaos for a team that needs stability--unless this is Gilbert's way of tanking while creating a facade that he is trying to win.

Kevin Love, the best player on the team after LeBron James' departure in free agency, has missed two games due to injury, may be out for a month and was clearly hobbled/limited when he did play. If everything broke right, this could be a .500 team but early in this season of transition with Love injured the Cavaliers are rightfully one of the worst teams in the league. Phil Jackson and the ghost of Red Auerbach could not turn this team into a winner right now. First, Love must get healthy and then the rotation players must learn in time how to function together effectively without James.

Lue was James' handpicked successor to David Blatt, who should never have been hired in the first place but whose firing was oddly timed (see a pattern here?). That makes James' public comments supporting Lue all the more intriguing, as James noted that Lue knows where to find him. The person who probably feels worst about Lue's firing is not Lue--who will now get paid to not have to deal with Dan Gilbert--but rather L.A. Lakers' Coach Luke Walton. When so inclined, James axes coaches like he is George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. You can be certain that if the Lakers do not start performing up to James' standards/expectations then (1) James will not shoulder any blame and (2) Walton's head will be moving toward the chopping block. The rule of life with James is he is responsible for everything good that happens and blameless for everything bad that happens. If you disagree, just ask Mike Brown, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and David Blatt.

It is interesting to observe players and coaches after losses.

Some are very consistent about accepting blame. On those rare occasions that the New England Patriots lose, Belichick invariably says that the team needs to do everything better and that this starts with him as the coach, that he needs to coach better. When the Oklahoma City Thunder lose, Russell Westbrook declares that it is his fault and he becomes angry if any media members even suggest that he needs a better supporting cast, even though that was clearly the case two years ago when the Thunder disintegrated within seconds of Westbrook taking even the shortest breather.

Others are very consistent about not accepting any responsibility at all. I would never want to go into battle with someone who lacks personal accountability. That failing was a major flaw for Hue Jackson and I wonder if it is the reason that a long list of star players--including Kyrie Irving and Paul George--have made it clear that they do not want to play with LeBron James. James is indisputably a champion and an all-time great but those facts will be small comfort for Walton if things do not improve quickly in L.A. Do not buy for one minute the notion that James will be patient, because nothing in his track record suggests that he operates that way.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:48 PM



At Monday, October 29, 2018 11:31:00 PM, Blogger Kaos said...


Long time reader here. First, I will start by saying that I absolutely love reading your blog and love the insightful, precise and intelligent analysis.

I just had to comment after seeing the pattern repeated so many times in the past with James.

I've followed James' career for as long as I can remember; he and Bryant were the main reasons I started watching.

I completely agree with your assessment of James. I cannot think of a more polarizing (for lack of a better word) player in today's time.

The following may seem a bit harsh, but this is a lot of pent-up frustration and Lord knows, he has been praised and lauded to death ad nauseum by the mainstream media. I still am a big fan (more so than any other player,) based purely on his skill and talent and unrecognized potential (yup, I don't think enough is made of "what could have been" had James had more of a winning mentality, and in my view, he has definitely underperformed given his talent.)

My adoration of James probably peaked just before he left Cleveland for the first time.

He was a real leader back then: Taking responsibility for losses, not throwing teammates, the coach or the organization under the bus, playing hard all the time and leading by example.

After the disastrous "Decision", though, something changed. First, he didn't become the leader of the team till Wade told him to take charge (such good friends and it took a year of playing together to realize this?). Second, we saw how players like Bosh (and later, Love) had to completely sacrifice their games to play effectively with him. Third, we saw the beginning of a trend of surrounding himself with name-brand talent, even more effective as scape-goats when they are recognized players.

Enough has been said about his blatant quitting in multiple playoff series that does not merit repitition. That alone was enough to knock him off the top-5 for me. On talent and stats, yes. In terms of impact on winning and team culture, definitely not.

After the return to Cleveland, we saw all the same habits make a return with one notable addition: a precipitious drop-off in effort. This manifested in two ways: acting like the regular season didn't matter and ignoring the defensive side completely so he could focus on playing more minutes but less effectively. This makes it hard to blame him for a loss but the reality is that most players around the league can play way more minutes if they start conserving energy and picking and choosing when to give effort. No coach would accept that from a role player but James was untouchable in Cleveland. Also, as you've astutely pointed out in articles about tanking, winning/losing cultures percolate down to all players. Perhaps, James can flip a switch, but that's not true of every player so he never bothered to instill such a winning culture. This could not be more evident than TT's recent comments showing how complacent these players are.

You've already covered how he handicapped Cleveland with his contract games when compared to the luxury afforded to the Lakers.

My personal feeling is that James will not win a championship anymore. His only chance is to "wait-it-out" and hope that Durant leaves, Curry declines and he is able to get another star to play alongside him all before James himself begins his declines. Tough call. Other star players don't want to play with him (is there a bigger sign than this?), he's focussed on non-basketball activities and he's joined a team that is nowhere near contention with a coach he can easily blame.

As a fan, it's been difficult to watch this and wonder what could have been.

At Tuesday, October 30, 2018 5:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to say that James won't be able to passive aggressively control the Lakers as he did with the Cavs but who knows what the Lakers will do in their desperate attempt for playoff relevance. This is the first team James has played for where he isn't bigger than the franchise and it will be interesting to see what impact that has on his leverage. Pat Riley had modest success in managing James' ego and it will be entertaining to watch how the LeBron James/Magic Johnson relationship plays out.

At Tuesday, October 30, 2018 8:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your support.

LeBron James is the most baffling and frustrating superstar I have ever seen. He is indisputably smart and talented but his actions are sometimes hard to understand.

At Tuesday, October 30, 2018 8:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If the Lakers keep losing, it will be interesting to see how much power James has and how he chooses to wield that power.


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