David Blatt lost the Cavaliers’ locker room. Well, that’s not accurate, because to lose something you must have once had it. Blatt never had LeBron James, never really was given a chance by LeBron, and without him the battle would never be won. Blatt came with a big ego, and lacked the personal skills of someone like Steve Kerr (a respected former player who followed a popular coach and did it perfectly) to help him win over LeBron and the rest of the team. Plus, Blatt made some poor coaching decisions (ones we saw LeBron overrule, most famously in the playoffs last season). LeBron was blowing off Blatt’s play calls this season, and if the team’s star isn’t listening to the head coach, the rank and file will follow suit.
Blatt was fired on Tuesday, replaced by Tyronn Lue.
But he was almost fired back while your Christmas tree was still up, reports Chris Haynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
This season, Blatt almost didn’t make it past 2015. The 29-point road trouncing at the hands of the Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 26 was close to being his next-to-last game. If it wasn’t for a unimpressive win over Phoenix two days later, Blatt would have been shown the door the following morning, cleveland.com has learned.
It was not just LeBron who wanted Blatt out and Lue in (although his voice carries the most weight), reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.
“Ty wanted the job from the beginning, and LeBron wanted him to have it,’’ an industry source told The Post. “There was a division within the players, but J.R. [Smith], [Iman] Shumpert, even [Kevin] Love sided with LeBron. Kyrie [Irving] was supportive of Dave, but there were a group the last two weeks trying to get him fired.’’
The Cavaliers are 30-11 and are arguably the third best team in the NBA (the Thunder would want to have that argument), and no coach this successful has ever been fired mid-season. But there may be no more win-now team in the league than the Cavaliers, and while they have won 11-of-13 those two losses are to the Spurs and Warriors, showing the Cavs exactly how far from contending they really are.
With that the players got what they wanted, GM David Griffin pulled the trigger Friday.
The question is now will the players buy into the system, willingly make the needed sacrifices, and play smarter and harder for Lue? Can he put players like Kevin Love in better positions to succeed, and will LeBron and Irving willingly sacrifice the touches needed to compete for a title.
This removes an excuse — the players have to take their game to the next level, to make those sacrifices now, or we will know it’s not the coach that is the issue.