24 Jan David Blatt’s Ouster was Surprising But Expected
Call it contradicting, but David Blatt’s firing as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers was surprising but expected.
His was both a dream job and a curse at the same time and despite all the denials these past 15 months, his ouster was inevitable.
Not The Original Plan
When the Cleveland Cavaliers hired David Blatt in June 21, 2014, the plan was for him to run his Princeton Offense while developing a team led by #1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, the previous year’s #1 pick Anthony Bennett and resident superstar Kyrie Irving whom the Cavs signed to a six year max deal in July 1, 2014. Ten days after Irving signed, LeBron James announced that he was coming home to Cleveland. From there, the original long term plan had to be scrapped to make way for the King, no matter what. From there Blatt had to scramble and go out of his comfort zone to balance two things: winning and making LeBron happy. With them team he had, the former was easier than the latter.
The Early Signs
After struggling to a 19-20 start, LeBron James took a two week break to rest nagging injuries. The Cavs traded for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. The Cavs started winning and James looked good as new when he returned. Barely one quarter into his first game back though, a shoving incident seemingly showed who was really in charge in Cleveland:
Winning eclipsed that incident as Cleveland continued to climb the standing and everyone’s power rankings. Blatt was named Coach of the Month for March 2015 and the rumors of his removal died down. The Cavs went on a title run and despite missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love , they gave the Golden State Warriors a scare before yielding in 6 games. But an incident in Game 2 of their playoff series with the Chicago Bulls once again showed Blatt wasn’t in charge of the team:
That was one hell of a play by LeBron James, literally. King James didn’t just hit the shot, he drew up the play himself. Prior to that play, Blatt nearly cost his team the season when he called a tie-out when they didn’t have one. Luckily, Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue pulled Blatt back. Per LeBron:
“Obviously, we all know we didn’t have any timeouts at that time and we call one, we get a T. So, that’s why we’re a unit. That’s why we’re a team. And players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and we have to be able to cover for one another. And T-Lue did that by covering for Blatt, and I just try to cover for my guys on the floor. That’s why we’re a unit.”
Less than a year later, Blatt ain’t part of that unit anymore. It may have come as a surprise to some but we saw the early signs.
Not About Winning
Blatt leaves with a an 83-40 NBA coaching record. That’s the highest winning percentage of any coach in Cavaliers’ history. In fact, he is only one of four coaches in team history to have a winning record. In his first season as coach, he won 14 post-season games which is already good for third most in team history. Blatt took the Cavs to only their 2nd NBA Finals appearance in team history but that didn’t matter. This season, the Cavs are 30-11 and are the best team in the East. Even that didn’t matter too. David Blatt became the first coach to be fired while having the best record in his conference. He also became the third coach in 40 years to be fired after taking his team to the NBA Finals. This tells us that Blatt’s ouster wasn’t about winning. Said GM David Griffin on Blatt’s firing, via espn:
“What I see is that we need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit, a collective will. Elite teams always have that, and you see it everywhere. To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in. That becomes our identity.”
Pulse of The Team
Griffin believes that new coach Tyronn Lue has the “pulse” of the team. Incidentally, it was Lue who was the other person considered for the coaching job before Blatt was hired. It was awkward to see him sit on the same bench as David Blatt but the Cavs paid him a hefty ransom perhaps to be a coach on standby. Now the ball is in his hands. LeBron appears to have Lue’s back and that’s already an accomplishment for the new coach. But can he build that collective spirit with the rest of the team? And can he do what no coach has done in Cleveland basketball: win an NBA title?
History tells us that only three teams in NBA history won an NBA title after making a coaching change during the season. The Lakers did it in 1979-80 and 1981-82 while the Heat accomplished the feat in 2005-06. The odds tell us history is not on the side of the Cavs. But this isn’t about comparing them to history. It’s about them making their history. LeBron James may no longer have the only claim to be the best player in the NBA, yet he is still perhaps the most dominant force in the basketball court (even off it). If there’s a team who can change history, it won’t be the Dubs but the Cavs. If that ever happens, David Blatt will still be part of history even if it’s just as a footnote.