Cavaliers general manager David Griffin tried to pin David Blatt’s firing on lackluster results on the court.
So, what was it?
Far from it.
This is my 14th year covering the NBA. Before I covered the NBA, I covered colleges for a while, where I covered several coaches who went on to be relatively big-time coaches.
And on every team and every coach I’ve ever covered, I’ve never seen a coach dynamic with a team like I saw with David Blatt.
And I don’t know the way he handled the Russian national team. I don’t know the way he handled his teams in Greece. I don’t know how he handled his teams in Israel, in Russia, in Italy, everywhere else he went.
All I know is what I saw, and I saw a guy who completely was unable to get even a modicum of respect from a majority of his players.
And I also saw star players and veteran players – not just LeBron, OK. We know LeBron had issues with him. But basically any player that had any sort of veteran status in the league, more than Joe Harris and Matthew Dellavedova – all the veterans didn’t like him, either. He wasn’t able to win over about anybody.
Blatt clearly had a problem with how he spoke to people. Despite being a first-time NBA coach, he insisted at pointing out his vast experience at every turn. He thought that would get him respect that wasn’t coming from NBA veterans.
That’s on him.
LeBron also could’ve done more for Blatt. Players’ follow the star’s lead, and LeBron set the tone of undercutting Blatt. Teammates noticed. (They also noticed how Blatt responded, further eroding the coach’s standing.)
Of course, LeBron wasn’t obligated to defend Blatt to his teammates. LeBron can make his own judgments. If he didn’t believe in Blatt, LeBron didn’t need to carry the coach’s water.
Blatt had to earn that respect. It wasn’t – and shouldn’t have been given – just because he held the title of head coach. Players are increasingly and correctly asserting their own worth. A coach is just part of a collective trying to win – not a supreme leader to be feared and worshipped. LeBron, one of the most accomplished players in the league, understand that more than most.
He won’t have to deal with another LeBron, but this is a good lesson for Blatt if he wants to continue coaching in the NBA. He needs to reevaluate how he builds trust with players.
All NBA teams could also learn from this. How well a coach and players get along matters only so much. The Cavaliers were incredibly successful under Blatt, who did an alright job managing the action on the court. As long as there isn’t an outright mutiny – and Blatt avoided that – players’ talent reigns supreme.
But eventually, personalities matter, and it seems the Cavs just got tired of dealing with Blatt’s.