This past Friday, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to move on from head coach David Blatt after just 19 months on the job. The move by the Cavaliers to fire Blatt has brought with it some raised eyebrows and applause alike as it has caught many people by surprise. At the time of Blatt’s firing, the Cavaliers were 30-11 this NBA season which is good enough for the best record in the Eastern Conference. But after Blatt’s first month on the job, he had been dealt more than what he initially expected.
In June 2014, Blatt was hired to be the 19th head coach in Cavaliers franchise history. At the time the Cavaliers were coming off of their fourth consecutive losing season and Blatt’s job simply appeared to be getting Cleveland’s young core of point guard Kyrie Irving, shooting guard Dion Waiters, and power forward Tristan Thompson to all be on the same page and develop in order to get back to the playoffs for the first since small forward LeBron James left to join the Miami Heat in 2010.
But little did Blatt or anyone that was associated with the Cavaliers know that James would opt-out of his contract with the Heat in 2014 to return to Cleveland. And as soon as James returned to the Cavaliers, the expectations in Cleveland for this team went through the roof. Along with James returning to the Cavaliers, power forward Kevin Love was acquired from the Timberwolves, which along with Irving would give Cleveland their version of the “Big Three” that would hopefully give the organization their first NBA Championship in franchise history.
However when the Cavaliers hired Blatt to be their head coach, they brought in a guy that had never played in the NBA, nor did he coach in the league as a head coach or as an assistant. For more than two decades, Blatt was a head coach in the Israeli League where he was a five-time league champion. But Israeli Basketball isn’t on the same level as that of the NBA, and Blatt’s inexperience was on display rather quickly into his tenure with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers began the 2014-2015 NBA season with a 95-90 home loss to the New York Knicks. And in a very surprising move, Blatt called a team meeting following the loss which was rather alarming due to the fact that it was the first game of the season. The Cavs would struggle to get on the same page as they began that season with a record of 19-20. Waiters style of play didn’t lend itself to being on the same page with that of James and thus the youngster was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. However the Cavaliers would rebound to win 34 of their final 43 regular season games to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference en route to winning their second Eastern Conference Championship in franchise history.
But by the time that the NBA Finals rolled around last June, the Cavaliers were the walking wounded as Love was lost with a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs while Irving went down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 1 in the finals. Cleveland still gave a spirited effort, but they fell to the Warriors in six games. And during the Cavs postseason run, more of Blatt’s inexperience showed up.
In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers trailed the Chicago Bulls in the seven-game series, 2-1, and they were staring a 3-1 deficit in the face. With the game tied at 84 late in the fourth quarter, the Cavs had an opportunity to win. But during a timeout, Blatt constructed a play that called for James to deliver the inbounds pass. James disagreed with the play and a new one was drawn up with him taking the final shot. James connected on the baseline shot as time expired which tied the series 2-2, and Cleveland would go on to defeat the Bulls in six games.
Recently Blatt let it be known that he didn’t see the importance of monitoring a player’s minutes and opting to rest players during games on consecutive nights. James might have been quiet publicly on this matter, but at the age of 31, he knows the importance of pacing himself during the season; especially since he has appeared in the last five NBA Finals.
But with that said the Cavs had a chance to move on from Blatt over the summer when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be the guy that would and could lead this team to an NBA Title. However James publicly endorsed Blatt to remain as Cavaliers head coach last summer and in doing so, Cleveland missed an opportunity to bring in a head coach such as Mark Jackson or Avery Johnson who had previous NBA experience. And although that the wins have been there for the Cavaliers this season, this team has lacked team chemistry.
Blatt’s firing has now paved the way for Tyronn Lue to get his opportunity to lead the Cavs. Unlike Blatt, Lue played in the NBA and he’s been an assistant coach in the league as well, but he’s never been a head coach. Lue was immediately given a three-year deal from the Cavaliers which makes you wonder if this move had been in the works for some time.
Lue’s first order of business must be to get James, Irving, and Love all on the same page which is something that still hasn’t fully happened which makes the success that this team has recently enjoyed that more surprising. But even as an assistant, Lue appeared to be someone that the players on the Cavs respected more than Blatt as I am not sure if their now former head coach was ever able to relate to them. The Cavaliers are a deep team that needs to concentrate more on ball movement instead of simply having four guys standing around waiting for James to make something happen which will need to be one of their keys to success.
And regardless of whom the Cavs coach is, this team is more than likely going to win the Eastern Conference this season, but they’ll be solely judged by what they’ll be able to do in the NBA Finals. Last Monday, Cleveland was on the wrong side of a 34-point home loss to the Warriors where they appeared to be lifeless at times. And overall, the Cavs don’t match up well with either the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs who are the two teams that they’ll more than likely face in the NBA Finals should they get there. The Warriors and Spurs each excel at team basketball which starts with ball movement and being on the same as these are two things that the Cavs are currently struggling with. For Lue, he can reflect on the lessons that he learned from head coaches such as Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Jeff Van Gundy, who he played for during his NBA career as he looks to lead this team.
The Cavaliers should also look to cut some of the dead weight on this team in the form of shooting guard J.R. Smith. The Cavs acquired Smith from the Knicks last season who at times appears to be a player that has a very low basketball I.Q., and it is tough to win with guys like that on a team as they can become a cancer.
The Cavs were going to be one of the best team in the Eastern Conference anyway, but you should now see a more spirited team as Blatt’s dismissal was a wakeup call to each player on the roster even though he was never the man that should have been leading this team in the first place.