Several NBA coaches have spoken out against the firing of David Blatt, who was dismissed from Cleveland despite leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals in his first year and to the No. 1 seed in the East midway through his second. Heck, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said he felt “embarrassed” for the league that the Cavs would fire a coach with Blatt’s record.
There’s certainly some self-preservation in Carlisle’s comments, but there’s also a lot of truth.
“Well, I think especially in coaching circles, there’s just this sense – and you hear coaches say it all the time – you don’t get fired for losing anymore in the NBA; you get fired for winning,” Adrian Wojnarowski, editor of The Vertical for Yahoo! Sports, said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “You’ve seen it in a lot of jobs the last few years with Scott Brooks and David Blatt. Now, there’s points where organizations think they’ve gone as far as they can go with a guy. That happens. But listen, I think everybody saw what went on with LeBron at the very head of this for a year-and-a-half, which was really an open disdain for the coach. He wasn’t discreet about it. He didn’t hide it. If you were sitting in the lower bowl of the arena, you could see it. You didn’t need to have a press pass or be on the bench. You heard it in his public comments. You saw it in how he dealt with him. Certainly behind the scenes it was evident. It made it hard for David Blatt to ever really get a foothold in Cleveland – because as you know, if the star player doesn’t buy in, the rest of the locker room, especially when it’s someone of the stature of LeBron James, they’re going to follow the lead of your superstar. And when he’s arguably the best player in the league or one of the two best players in the league, it’s going to be hard for the coach to sustain a long run there. But I think around the league, there’s just a feeling of – I don’t know if ‘disappointment’ is the word – but it’s certainly a bad precedent for the coaching fraternity.”
Blatt’s firing, however, hasn’t scared Tyronn Lue, who has wasted no time voicing his opinions. In fact, Lue told his star players to worry less about their brands and to get in better shape.
“I think in a lot of ways, Ty Lue is empowered because LeBron and this team is so on the defensive that they don’t want to be coached or that they didn’t allow the last coach to coach or they made it difficult for him, those guys got to go the extra mile,” Wojnarowski said. “LeBron, he’s been on the clock since he got back to Cleveland, but last year with the injuries and everything, he gets nothing but credit and deserves immense credit for getting that team deep into the NBA Finals. But this year with that group, they’ve got to figure out how to make it work. They’re good enough to win. It’s on them now. It does give Ty Lue some leverage to publicly admonish guys, and you’ve seen him start to do that.”
Lue, 38, signed a three-year, $9.5 million deal with the Cavs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll coach them for the next three seasons. He needs to win – and win now.
“The contract just means you’re going to get your money when you get fired,” Wojnarowski said. “That doesn’t mean they won’t fire you next year. I’m never a big believer that you need to have years on your contract for security. But I do think he does have a hammer in that LeBron is trying to convince people he’s a very coachable player and has been a coachable player.”
Wojnarowski saw parallels between James’ time in Miami and his return to Cleveland. When James took his talents to South Beach, he did not warm up to Erik Spoelstra right away. In fact, he even spoke to Pat Riley about it, but Riley’s message, more or less, was get over it. James won two titles under Spoelstra, discovering a post-up game and learning to guard all five positions in the process.
Toward the end of his Miami tenure, however, James craved more of a say in the organization.
“That was part of what brought him back to Cleveland,” Wojnarowski said. “It was part of the decision. But he was at his best in Miami when there was a lot of structure, accountability and a clear figure in Erik Spoelstra who was coaching that team.”