It’s no secret LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra were not on the same page their first season with the Heat.
Miami started 9-8, and reports swirled about friction between Spoelstra and the players. LeBron bumped Spoelstra while returning to the bench during a timeout, and speculation reached fever pitch.
It seemed Spoelstra might not make it through his first season coaching LeBron.
Cavaliers coach David Blatt is dealing with those same type of reports. He’s even getting near-identical quotes from LeBron about the star’s support.
LeBron on Spoelstra in 2010: “This is who we have.”
LeBron on Blatt in 2014: “What other coach do we have?”
But LeBron and Spoelstra made it through a rough start and won two championships together. By the time they reached the 2011 NBA Finals, they were all good, right?
It took awhile—Heat insiders will say that it took well into the 2011-12 season—but eventually James gained enough confidence in Spoelstra not only to allow Spoelstra to completely coach him, but to start parroting some of Spoelstra’s principles, from a leadership position, to the rest of the team.
If it took well more than a season – with Pat Riley standing up to LeBron in Spoelstra’s defense and Spoelstra proving himself a good coach – for LeBron to come around to Spoelstra, what chance does Blatt have?
There’s no Riley in Cleveland to defend the coach. LeBron wields more power with the Cavaliers than he did in Miami. Could you really see Dan Gilbert standing up to LeBron about supporting Blatt?
And, more importantly, Blatt has not proven himself a good coach. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation for an NBA rookie who’s suddenly coaching a team in the spotlight, one that has a unique collection of stars though not enough fitting role players to produce even a starting shooting guard. But his grace period to learn the ropes won’t last much longer.
LeBron is more mature now, and I’d bet Riley’s insistence on sticking with Spoelstra four years ago taught LeBron something about patience. That lesson likely gets Blatt a longer leash.
But if this provides any perspective on how difficult it is for a coach to gain LeBron’s support, Blatt has a tougher task ahead than we realized.