Right as the news broke that the Cavaliers had fired David Blatt, Brian Windhorst tweeted the funniest basketball tweet of 2016.
The idea that LeBron would ever not have final say, let alone a place at the table, in deciding whether or not to keep Blatt is hilariously misleading, since he’s already sort of the team’s GM anyway. That it came from Windhorst, who’s covered LeBron since he was in high school, tells you all you need to know about the intended spin of this report. All kinds of reports about Blatt’s tenure and dismissal are coming out today, and regardless of their valence on LeBron James, they all paint a picture of a coach in far over his head.
Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news yesterday afternoon, and his column is barely about Blatt at all. He has a long history of laying into LeBron (which Draper chronicled over at TNR) and this one’s no different. Here’s the only thing he says about ‘Blatt: Head Coach’ in the entire piece:
Blatt made mistakes in his transition to the NBA, struggled sometimes to gather the nuances of a complex game of matchups and situations. He had coached in the Euroleague for two decades, and had to sell himself on a new coaching staff, a new roster and the generation’s best player.
Woj reports that LeBron, Rich Paul, and his Klutch Sports agency settled on Mark Jackson as their preferred coach. When Dan Gilbert refused to hire Jackson, the group apparently decided Lue (who, interestingly, is not with Klutch Sports) was their guy. The way Woj lays it out, Blatt’s downfall was imminent from day one, not because of his abilities as a coach, but because of a conspiracy by LeBron to turn the locker room:
From the beginning, the Klutch Sports campaign to puncture Blatt’s standing as head coach had been as relentless as it was ruthless. James is one of the great leaders in pro sports, and he directed the Cavaliers how he wanted them: in complete defiance of Blatt.
James had the Cavaliers existing in open rebellion for more than a season now, with no Pat Riley in the organizational shadows to scare everyone into compliance.
It’s true that LeBron has unprecedented organizational leverage, but the implication that he was calling for open rebellion to the active detriment of the team is sort of ridiculous for such a competitive player. The Cavs were up 2-1 in the Finals last season and LeBron was more or less serving as coach. As much as he pushed for Blatt to leave, basketball reasons played a massive part. It wasn’t just a power struggle thing.
Here’s a whole raft damning details from the Blatt era from Chris Haynes over at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
During the first portion of the 2014-15 season, film sessions were a topic of discussion among the players. Blatt was reluctant to criticize star players even when they clearly messed up a play. This became routine. It got so bad that I’m told that Lue finally intervened, stood up and demanded that somebody rewind the footage so that he could get on members of The Big 3.
During team scrimmages, players competed aggressively but bit their tongues as Blatt frequently blew his whistle to call ticky-tack or phantom fouls for his go-to players. One player said sometimes Blatt didn’t even have a whistle and would yell at the top of his lungs to stop play and call a foul if one of his stars acted as if he was hit.
That’s something you do to coach around a petulant but talented high school junior. Woj may respond here that LeBron just wants his way and Blatt was coaching in deference to that. But Erik Spoelstra had to push LeBron to become a power forward, which LeBron bought into and rode to two titles. Anyway, here’s more from Haynes:
Word circulated to cleveland.com that Blatt had trouble drawing up plays out of timeouts. He would freeze up and waste precious seconds, one player said. He would even draw up plays for players who weren’t in the game, another player said.
But this predicament wasn’t Blatt’s fault. He didn’t sign up for this roster. He was brought in to be a teacher and help mold a young Kyrie Irving, a younger Andrew Wiggins and a young, fiery Dion Waiters. He had to adjust on the fly while coaching one of the most talented rosters in the league.
This last part is critical to understanding where it went wrong. As much as Blatt tried to carry himself like a veteran, he was a first timer, a risky hire who was brought in to coach a team of young guns, not a Finals-bound behemoth. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and teams are reportedly after him already. Maybe with a young group of athletic players like the Timberwolves, we can finally see if his vaunted offensive acumen is real.
Photo via AP