David Blatt never grasped that NBA coaches often serve at the pleasure of the talent on their roster. The trick is to get players to do what a coach wants, while making the players think it’s their idea.
Cleveland – I don’t feel sorry for professional sports coaches who get fired, particularly ones who have $5 million due them for doing nothing.
That’s the going-away present David Blatt will receive for his foray into coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, who fired him last Friday despite a first-place record in the Eastern Conference.
Blatt isn’t a bad coach, but he was always the wrong coach for this team the minute LeBron James decided to come back and play in Cleveland once again.
Replacing Blatt with his former top assistant, Tyronn Lue, may not be the right move to guarantee the Cavs an NBA Championship.
But it’s not the wrong move, and it never will be.
Blatt had to go for the Cavs to have the best chance of ending Cleveland’s pro sports world championship drought that dates to 1964.
I know Blatt won about 70% of his games.
I know he had the Cavs off to a 31-11 start.
And I know he got them to the NBA Finals a year ago.
So I know the numbers say Blatt did a good job.
I also know there’s a book called, How To Lie With Statistics, and that’s what you’re doing to yourself if you think Blatt was going to get this team to recognize its potential.
I will admit Blatt’s failures aren’t primarily his fault.
They’re the fault of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who never should have hired Blatt 20 days before James made the decision to return in the summer of 2014.
Blatt might have shown the expertise that made him successful in Europe had he coached a young team built around Kyrie Irving, Deon Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.
But when LeBron came back, and the roster turned from young players in development to veterans on a title quest, Blatt needed to carefully navigate a minefield he instead stomped through with boots two sizes too big.
When he should have been humble and self-depricating, Blatt was egotistical and ultra-sensitive.
When he should have been diplomatic, he was combative.
And when he should have been tough on James and Irving, he was cowardly and deferential and lost the rest of the team.
I can give you plenty of examples, but I’ll give you just two.
Last year….Kevin Love…max player…not a max player.
This year…Tristan Thompson….360 games….wait until 360.
Blatt always picked the wrong hills to defend and the wrong ones to surrender.
He bristled last year when a reporter asked him about underutilizing, “a max player like Kevin Love.”
“Kevin is not a max player,” Blatt snapped.
Technically, Blatt was correct, in that Love wasn’t being paid maximum money for his experience.
But, “max player,” is as much a description of an NBA player’s worth as it is of their actual salary.
Blatt, because he didn’t like the insinuation he wasn’t getting the most from his talent, insulted Love rather than own his own failure.
That’s just one example of how tone deaf Blatt was to what NBA players value.
He never grasped that NBA coaches often serve at the pleasure of the talent on their roster. The trick is to get players to do what a coach wants, while making the players think it’s their idea.
Blatt never got that, and so he is gone.
Of course, the blame has since fallen on James, who supposedly orchestrated the whole thing from his perch atop the Cavaliers’ organization.
It’s funny, Peyton Manning is headed for his fourth Super Bowl under his fourth different coach, but no one calls him a coach-killer.
James, who’s had two coaches fired in season during his career, instead is routinely branded with that label.
Both team’s Manning has played for have ordered every personnel decision around giving him a supporting cast to maximize his potential.
When the Cavaliers do the same for James, it’s somehow a negative, indicative that he’s running the franchise into the ground.
Is James blameless in all the ancillary drama around the Cavaliers?
Of course, not.
Had he gone all-in with Blatt early last season, the rest of the Cavaliers would likely have followed.
But complaining about James’ sense of entitlement now is to try jamming the genie back into the medicine dropper.
I know exactly what LeBron James is.
But I also remember when winning 33 games was the high-water mark for the Cavs during James four seasons in Miami.
I’ll happily carry all of his baggage to an upper-floor penthouse before I’d go back to slumming it with the NBA’s homeless out of the playoffs entirely.
Bruce Hooley is a former Troy Daily News sports editor and the host of #Hooley at 8 p.m. Monday on on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel (311/1311 HD).