Will firing Blatt fix the Cavs?


Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major. Contact him at [email protected].

Richie Mulhall

It’s getting difficult to keep track of all the coaches being fired in Cleveland these days. I’m starting to think all my columns will revolve around coach firing.

Three days ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the sudden, jaw-dropping decision to fire head coach David Blatt after a season and a half.

Despite boasting an Eastern Conference-best 30-11 record, the Cavs ousted Blatt and decided to promote and re-sign assistant coach Tyronn Lue.

Now where do I begin with my opinion of this poignant personnel move by the Cavs? I guess I should start with the “why.”

Why fire Blatt?

When it was announced Friday – a day when the Cavaliers didn’t even have practice – that Blatt had been sacked, fans scratched their heads in puzzlement, NBA officials face-palmed in embarrassment, coaches shook their heads in disappointment and players shrugged in apparent confusion.

I guess only a Cleveland team could fire their coach after a 30-11 start to its campaign.

So why did the Cavs fire Blatt, a coach that took the Cavs to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James abandoned (cough-cough, left) Cleveland back in 2010?

Chris Haynes from the Cleveland Plain Dealer said it best, citing “player accountability, mismanaging, a building frustration and the absence of hope” as factors that led to Blatt’s release as head coach of the Cavs. Haynes hit the nail on the head with his article.

As San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich recently said, “Circumstances often dictate what happens to certain coaches that have nothing to do with their record.”

Such is the case for Blatt, a coach who had absolutely no control over the team. This could be traced back to last year, when James constantly stepped in to overrule Blatt’s game-time decisions.

You can count on your hands (and toes if you’d like) how many times in a given night James would undermine Blatt’s instructions with his own. I recall one instance a few weeks ago when there were just minutes left in a close game and Blatt wanted Kyrie Irving on the floor instead of Matthew Dellavedova. Instead of listening to Blatt, though, James waved Irving off and kept Dellavedova in the game. 

And Cavs General Manager David Griffin says James doesn’t run this organization. Right. Can you imagine a coach like Popovich yelling at James as if he were just another player and telling him what to do? James wouldn’t have it.

Lack of leadership

The fact of the matter is that the Cavs lost faith in Blatt’s leadership. This has nothing to do with records or talent because in terms of talent, the Cavs have it, arguably more than anyone. But the team still didn’t seem to click under Blatt. With Blatt, Cleveland could get by in the Eastern Conference, run the table and maybe even return to the Finals for a second straight year based on just talent alone. But talent can only get you so far, as evidenced by the Cavs’ last two meetings against the Golden State Warriors.

The record doesn’t tell the tail of the turmoil and animosity that was going on behind the scenes in the locker room, which ultimately led to Blatt being fired. A legend in Israel, Blatt became nothing more than a figurehead coach and, frankly, a pushover in Cleveland. His approach did not translate well to the NBA.

Now, I will admit Blatt shares the blame for the situation. As the leader of the team, he should have stepped up, grown a pair and commanded the team like Popovich does in San Antonio. But it’s difficult to command and control a locker room that has no respect for you. A basic eye test of the relationship and encounters between Blatt and his squad had alluded to locker room dissension for a long time. It was only a matter of time before King James and company ran him out of town.

In film sessions, Blatt would reportedly be reluctant to criticize players’ mistakes, especially when it came to the Big Three. His blatant attempts to stay in good graces with marquee players frustrated them to the point where they no longer respected his leadership. At halftime in the middle of the closest games, the camera would cut to the Cavs’ locker room to illustrate Blatt attempting to give a fiery speech to an uncaring, unenthusiastic and uninspired team. As a head coach, you must hold your players accountable, even the self-proclaimed king of Cleveland.

No one was paying attention to Blatt, though, and it showed in games. The second loss to the Warriors, though, proved to be the boiling point.

The Cavs came out flat as ever the second time around against the Warriors. The offense, or lack thereof, appeared languid and the team looked defeated by halftime, which is why they suffered a devastating 132-98 loss.

James and Irving were off (combing for just 24 points), Love was a nonfactor in the rotation, ball movement was slow, execution was poor and the team failed to get role players like J.R. Smith involved in the action.

Blatt and his team could dispose of the bad and mediocre teams with ease, but faltered in the face of elite competition such as the Warriors and Spurs.

What does the future hold for Lue?

Just as the Cavs quit against Golden State, they quit on Blatt. So Griffin’s thought process was to hire a coach that could improve the morale in the locker room and get the most out of this roster.

One of the gripes against the Cavs was their inability to get Kevin Love involved. Love, who was one of the Cleveland’s major signings before last season, has looked like a kid who lost his mom in the mall this season.

In an offensive system in which Timofey Mozgov doesn’t have a clue what’s going on around him, Irving launches contested three-pointers from distances he has no business shooting from and James plays his patented isolation, one-on-one basketball, Love has yet to find his niche.

Almost half of the 2015-2016 season is over and the Cavs still haven’t figured out the Love conundrum.  As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote, “this team has been built on the premise of three stars sharing the load and distributing the attention.” That hasn’t been the case with Love, though. If Love is supposed to be a cornerstone to this team, he didn’t show it under Blatt’s direction.

James, who has allowed multiple coaches to take the fall for his shortcomings in the past, said he is underneath Lue and that he will listen to him and allow Lue to coach him. But we’ll see what happens. Given all the competing egos in the locker room, are the Cavs even a coachable team? Can Lue connect with these players and create a cohesive unit that Blatt failed to rally and achieve?

James said he has a close relationship with Lue and has always wanted to play for a former player coach, but has never had a commanding coach like Popovich to tell him what to do. He is used to calling the shots, and if James gets his way again this time, it might not be long until Lue joins Blatt in the unemployment line.

Fans will assess anything less than an NBA Championship at the end of the season as a failure on the part of both Lue and the team.

Richie Mulhall is a sports columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].