So David Blatt Wasn’t The Problem After All

As coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, David Blatt amassed an 83-40 (.674) record over the course of one and a half seasons.  His firing on January 22nd of this year came after 41 games. The Cavs were 30-11 (.732). They were the best team in the East. Five months later, after  making the Finals, the Cavaliers front office is not out the clear. Despite their success, they were shortsighted in letting Blatt go. He got an unfair deal. He never had an honest chance at showing he belonged in the NBA.

There was no historical precedence for Blatt’s firing. At the time, no real tangible basketball reason could be explained for letting him go. Respected coaches such as Rick Carlisle and Stan Van Gundy condemned the move amid a chorus of other objections from the media and NBA execs.

The case against the firing was mostly built on the fact there was no apparent reason to fire a coach when the team was 30-11.  The decision appeared rash, as if Cleveland was not thinking things through, and was instead, acting impulsively to please one player (LeBron James).

However, the grounds weren’t entirely baseless. Tyronn Lue, Blatt’s replacement, is more than capable of leading the Cavaliers to a title. What remains the problem is the timing of it all.

After five months, the timing still does not make any sense.  As LeBron said after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, in which the series with the Raptors was a 2-2 tie, it was not an “adverse situation.”

There was never any doubt who would play the Warriors in June.  There was also no clear reason to believe the Cavaliers could beat the Warriors, Thunder, or Spurs as they were currently constructed, with a thin bench, even as they had the league’s highest payroll.

The Cavs did not need to increase the anxiety in The Land by firing Blatt when they did. But his firing was written on the wall when LeBron James came back to Cleveland.

The reasons for Blatt being let go are varied and wide-ranging, but they are all based around the central theme of the LeBron James’ return to Cleveland.  His return made Blatt’s hiring impractical.

Blatt was hired so that he could grow the team around Kyrie Irving and whoever was brought in with the pick that became Andrew Wiggins.

LeBron’s arrival marked the beginning of a new timeline for the Cavs and jump-started their championship push.

Regardless of what happened in the organization after Blatt was initially hired, the Cavs never committed to him.  Even days after his hiring, the Cavs threw a massive $6.5 million deal at his eventual successor to become an assistant because they didn’t want to lose him to Doc Rivers.  This only added to the awkward situation Blatt found himself in, which only worsened as the year went on.

The story behind last year’s Finals run for Cleveland followed a script.  LeBron took a two week break and after David Griffin traded for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs took off.  They now had the depth, in addition to the superhuman abilities of LeBron James, to dispatch everyone in the East with relative ease.

The Cavs continued their winning streak well into the post-Blatt firing.There wasn’t the awkwardness of Lue calling timeouts for Blatt anymore or anyone questioning his ability to call plays or make adjustments.  What remained was simply LeBron’s desire to play for a coach who was both an ex-NBA player and someone he got to choose.

LeBron should not be called a “Coach-Killer” for what happened.  His presence earned Blatt a trip to the Finals in his first year as an NBA coach.  It also made it impossible for Blatt to carve out his own role in an organization whose championship desires and hopes have never been higher.

Still there are long-term repercussions of the Blatt decision.  Without Blatt, there is no scapegoat for falling short in the Finals this year.  If they lose to Golden State tonight, it will be because the players assembled can’t beat the Warriors 4 times in 7.  They can’t even win two games.

This could make for some difficult and drastic changes this summer that could have been avoided if they had kept Blatt the whole year.

photo via llananba