Cavs Drama: They Fire David Blatt, Hire Tyronn Lue

An awkward tenure just got the oxygen pulled. David Blatt, who was hired to coach a young Cavaliers team, including first round pick Andrew Wiggins, even though he had never coached a NBA game, was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tyronn Lue is the new head coach, offered a multi-year deal. (The firing was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).

In a lot of ways, Blatt got the short end of the stick. He was never supposed to guide a championship level roster. He was supposed to bring his European based schemes to the NBA and mentor and mold a young team as they went through growing pains. But he had to adjust on the fly when Lebron James decided to come home. James successful attempts to makeover the roster the way he thought it should be, rather than what the NBA trend was moving towards, floor spacers and versatile wings, was a flaw that haunts the Cavs to this day. LeBron’s influence on the front office decisions, specifically getting rid of Wiggins when a Wiggins-Kyrie Irving backcourt would be dominant, is proof that he should stay out of such matters, but there was no way the Cavs were going to say no to LeBron twice. So here they were with a neophyte coach who had no NBA experience trying to help LeBron James cement his legacy and add to his title haul, as well as deliver the city of Cleveland a championship.

Blatt’s crimes had multiple layers. He had no idea what to do with Kevin Love. Conceptually, he struggled to design a three star system where each star fed off each other. The Cavs glaring deficiencies of overusing LeBron and Kyrie in iso ball with a lot of dribbling was not only boring to the eye but it didn’t work against the top teams that move, pass, cut, space the floor and score in a multitude of ways.

Whenever a coach gets fired the perception is it was all his fault. That perception is always a lie. The Cavs had a lot of games when they played like they didn’t give a damn. Their energy was bad. Monday’s humiliation by the Warriors illuminated their inability to want a game more than their opponent. The Warriors played harder. They cared more. They did the little things champions do while the Cavs tried to iso their way back into the game. J.R. Smith did the Cavs a favor by getting thrown out. He brought energy while the rest of the team was sleeping. It was more evidence for the prosecution on why this dog can’t hunt.

When David Blatt was hired, the Cavs made Tyronn Lue the highest paid assistant in the NBA. That assistant is now in the deep end of the pool. It’s sink or swim, starting tomorrow night against division rival, Chicago Bulls.

Tyronn Lue inherits the same roster, no changes as of yet. The players love him. But players always love the assistants.  The highest paid athletes as a collective unit in the league, have a do-over. That’s never happened to a team with NBA championship goals this late in the season. Someone remarked, the Cavs don’t look right. Something is wrong with them. Was David Blatt that something? Or is the disease in the marrow?

This is a LeBron James team but it’s apparent LeBron can’t carry this team where he wants it to go. He needs help and not the Kevin Love telling LeBron to look in the mirror type of help. The Cavs had a team meeting on Tuesday and it wasn’t surprising Blatt’s head rolled on Friday. It was the same m.o. the Rockets used. Team meeting. Kevin McHale gone.

David Blatt’s two year tenure was good, but with LeBron James and a ton of Dan Gilbert money, it wasn’t good enough for David Griffin, on track for a 60 win season.

David Blatt, Regular Season W-L Win % Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
2015-16 30-11 73.1% 108.1 (4th) 102.1 (4th)
2014-15 53-29 64.6% 111.1 (3rd) 106.3 (18th)

“Are we all in on this? Are we trying to achieve something as a unit or a collection of individuals? To be truly elite we have to buy in a set of values we believe in that becomes our identity. We have not yet developed this identity. Each step forward is two steps back. Pretty good is not what we are here for. This decision is going to be measured entirely by where we are in a better position to bring championship to NE Ohio. We have a locker room that overcomes adversity well. We have only been galvanized when expectations are not high. That is not a winning formula. I’m not leaving it to chance. I am more than confident that he (Tyronn Lue)  has the pulse of our team. He is a conduit for coaches and staff members. He’s been with tremendous coaches. Our most glaring need is role delineation and team sacrifice. We need team buy in and team first habits.” (David Griffin)

David Griffin denied LeBron James had any input in the decision. He consulted no one, if you believe him. Griffin said the players understand what is at stake but also liked David Blatt as a person. But before letting all the players off the hook, Griffin portrayed the players in his written statement as being individualistic and selfish.

“LeBron doesn’t run this organization. This narrative that we are taking direction from him is just not fair.”

David Blatt released a predictably humble statement:

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’d like to thank (owner) Dan Gilbert and David Griffith for giving me this opportunity and am honored to have worked with an amazing group of players from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love through our entire roster. I’d also like to express my extreme gratitude to my coaching staff. I am indebted to them for the professionalism, hard work, loyalty and friendship. I am proud of what we accomplished since I have been the Head Coach and wish the Cavaliers nothing but the best this season and beyond.”

Tyronn Lue will get a honeymoon period. He’s never been a head coach but before his assistantship with Blatt he was Doc Rivers assistant. Lue was always on the fast track to a head coaching job.

Lue’s playing career was about hustle and going at it hard. He won titles with Kobe and Shaq. He had an 11 year career playing for 7 teams (Lakers, Wizards, Magic, Rockets, Hawks, Mavericks, Bucks). He was a role player who averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists, withj a career PER of 13.2.

His most famous moment came in the 2001 NBA Finals, Game 1, when Allen Iverson was torching everyone with a Lakers jersey and a desperate Phil Jackson called upon Lue to stop the bleeding. In practice, he had imitated Iverson, because he was little and had speed. Now, having to face him, Lue sucked it up and kept Iverson, who at that point had already dropped 30 points, from scoring until late in overtime when Iverson had his classic, step-back jumper and Lue fell to the ground trying to guard him. Iverson stepped over Lue, glared at him like, really, trying to guard ‘The Answerso not cool” and the 76ers won the first game of the NBA Finals in an upset. (They would lose the series in 5 games).

Lue, once again is being asked to save something. There is no Kobe and Shaq to bail him out. Just LeBron and Kyrie. And a bunch of role players who haven’t looked very interested. Lue will get a pass the rest of the season. After all, he is a first year coach. But next year, he’ll get the David Blatt treatment. All eyes will be on him.

photo via llananba