The rumors have circulated for a while — LeBron James would prefer a different coach than David Blatt for the Cavaliers. LeBron has denied that — not convincingly — but you don’t need rumors, just watch LeBron’s body language and level of interest during timeouts when David Blatt is holding court. LeBron is mentally elsewhere.
Blatt knows if he wants to be the Cavaliers coach beyond this season, he needs to win LeBron over. He needs the charismatic leader LeBron on and off the court the Cavaliers thought they were getting but hasn’t been a regular sight in Cleveland.
Blatt also knows that he can’t win a power struggle with LeBron, so he’s just trying to win him over. Blatt talked openly about that with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
Blatt has played it level and cool with James, it seems, letting the superstar dictate the terms of the relationship. Blatt hasn’t tried to overreach, nor battle him in public or private. It is a fight no one coach could win, nor survive. Blatt’s strategy seems simple: Over time, sell James – sell all these Cavaliers – on a vision for victory.
“It is a process,” Blatt told Yahoo Sports. “It really has to come first from the professional side. Man to man, we’re OK. We don’t go out drinking together, but we’re fine man to man. But professionally, LeBron wants to win. And he wants from me, from any coach, a vehicle to help him win.
“Sometimes, it’s tougher. Sometimes, it’s less so. He’s one of the great players of all time. He’s been in the Finals four straight years and five times overall. He’s got his own opinions and he expresses them. At times, he can be stubborn. But what I know from him, what he wants from me, is a vehicle to help him win. And beyond that, nothing else is really important.”
When you hear the whispers, it’s about how the players like lead assistant Tyronn Lue better, that they trust him. Lue played in the NBA. Blatt trusted Lue too, handing over the reins to the defense — and that is the end of the court where the Cavaliers are struggling. Part of that is personnel, they don’t have the roster to be a great defensive team. However part of it is effort, and while it’s coming on the side of the ball Lue overseas it is Blatt who takes the heat for it.
Blatt has assessed his situation correctly — if LeBron thinks Blatt can lead him to victory he will play nice. However, watching LeBron’s effort, particularly in defense, makes you question if he is even willing to give Blatt a shot. That’s not fair to Blatt, but it’s the reality — LeBron has the power in this relationship and this organization. Which means if he wants a new coach next season, the Cavs most likely have one.
Blatt is not accepting that as inevitable. He sees that what this team needs right now is a winning streak to ease the pressure and make the questions go away — something that will not be easy with the Clippers, Bulls, Thunder and Trail Blazers among the next seven games.
Things are not going to get easier for the Cavaliers. But they have time. They just need to give Blatt a real chance.