Less than halfway into the season, there’s already a coaching controversy in Cleveland. David Blatt has supposedly lost the locker room after a disappointing 19-14 start for a team that was supposed to be a powerhouse. There’s talk that he may be on the way out, to be replaced by LeBron James favorite Tyronn Lue.
Cavs general manager David Griffin hit back at the rumors and gave Blatt a vote of confidence on Sunday, via Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick:
To be sure, the beginning to Blatt’s tenure with the Cavs has been a disappointment. And the coach is not completely blameless, but it doesn’t fall entirely on him, either. It’s just a bad situation for him.
When the Cavs hired Blatt, they thought they were signing him up to guide a rebuilding team built around Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. That’s the kind of situation a coach like Blatt, with no NBA experience, needs to be in to be successful. The Timberwolves talked to Blatt before Flip Saunders hired himself, and that would have been the ideal spot for Blatt.
Blatt’s job changed over the summer, before he’d even coached a game: James’ decision to return home and the trade of Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Kevin Love completely shifted the franchise’s priorities. Rather than being a young, rebuilding team, they were suddenly in win-now mode. No matter how good a coach Blatt may be, throwing him into a situation where there are championship expectations right away isn’t ideal. It brings to mind the Nets’ 2013 hire of Jason Kidd 10 days after he retired from playing. Brooklyn traded several draft picks for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, firmly cementing their window of contention as “right now.” Hiring a rookie coach for a win-now roster was a mistake, but Kidd has proven to be a good coach with the young Bucks team he’s leading this year. Blatt is far from a rookie coach on the global stage, but he’s never coached in the NBA before and never had to manage superstar personalities like James, Love and Kyrie Irving.
It’s easy to draw parallels between Blatt and the scrutiny Eric Spoelstra faced in LeBron James’ and Chris Bosh’s first year in Miami, but the similarities aren’t exact. For one thing, Spoelstra had already coached the Heat for several years and built up a track record as a well-regarded coach. He also had the support of Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley, two voices strong enough that even a force of personality like James couldn’t overrule them. He essentially ran the show in Cleveland, and playing for a coach with actual authority was an adjustment. But Spoelstra’s coaching acumen and ability to command the respect of the entire locker room, including the superstars, played a major role in the Heat’s success, making four straight Finals and winning two titles in 2012 and 2013.
Blatt has no such authority in Cleveland. Make no mistake: LeBron is the most powerful person in the organization. There’s no Pat Riley, a legendary coach and GM with the championship track record to force him to fall in line. If James wants Blatt gone, eventually he will be gone. For now, it doesn’t seem like that will happen during the season, but barring a turnaround this season, there’s a good chance he won’t be back for a second season. And that’s too bad.