The Cleveland Cavaliers fired coach David Blatt Friday, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. CBS Sports NBA Insider Ken Berger confirmed the news. The move comes just four days after the Cavaliers were blown out by the Golden State Warriors in an embarrassing performance Monday night, and amid questions that the Cavaliers were simply not equipped to compete for a title with a star-laden roster.
Blatt had been hired prior to LeBron James’ decision to rejoin the team in free agency last summer, and was praised as an “offensive genius” coming in, yet the team consistently lacked a strong offensive scheme and primarily relied upon isolation play from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. There had been concerns since the tough start of last year that Blatt lacked the support of the locker room.
“I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’d like to thank Dan Gilbert and David Griffin for giving me this opportunity and am honored to have worked with an amazing group of players from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love through the entire roster. I’d also like to express my extreme gratitude to my coaching staff. I am indebted to them for their professionalism, hard work, loyalty and friendship. I am proud of what we have accomplished since I have been the Head Coach and wish the Cavaliers nothing but the best this season and beyond.”
The Cavs also released a statement:
Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin announced today that David Blatt has been released from his duties as head coach. Associate Head Coach Tyronn Lue has been named Head Coach. The current Cavaliers assistant coaches and staff remain under contract and will continue working with the team.
“On behalf of the organization, I would like to thank David Blatt for his efforts and commitment to this franchise,” said Griffin. “He spent the last year and a half battling intense scrutiny, working to mold a very willful group and we all recognize that is not at all an easy task.”
“But with that said, when you have the clarity of purpose that our ownership has instilled in this entire organization, decisions often make themselves. Every decision made is an answer to the following question: does it put us in the best position to deliver Championships to Northeast, Ohio.”
“So, today, we are elevating Tyronn Lue, from his role as Associate Head Coach to Head Coach. I am more than confident that he will have the pulse of our team and the buy-in required to enhance the habits and culture that will foster the kind of identity and results we must have.”
Blatt was named the 19th head coach in Cavaliers history on June 20, 2014. During his one and half seasons as head coach, Blatt compiled a regular season record of 83-40 and a 14-6 mark in last year’s playoffs.
“Over the course of my business career I have learned that sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do,” said Dan Gilbert, Majority Owner of the Cavaliers. “Our ownership group supports David Griffin’s decision. We would like to thank David Blatt for his work over these past two seasons where the Cavaliers transformed into a playoff team after a rebuilding phase. We believe Tyronn Lue is the right coach at the right time to put us in the best position to take the last but most challenging step to complete our mission to deliver Cleveland an NBA Championship.”
Per Berger, Tyronn Lue will take over as coach on a multi-year deal. Here’s what you need to know about the decision to fire Blatt:
1. This decision was coming for a long time: The worst kept secret in Cleveland was that the players did not have David Blatt’s back. There were constant murmurs of distrust and discord between the players and Blatt going back to the start of last season when the team slumped immediately out of the gate. Mike Miller (now with the Nuggets) even went so far as to say that Blatt was an “offensive genius” at the start of last season, but was among other players to reserve compliments, even after the team’s run to the Finals.
It was bizarre to recognize the vibe around the team towards Blatt, even with the Cavaliers within two games of a championship. That uneasiness was why the team’s decision to retain Blatt last summer seemed surprising, even after a Finals appearance. Instead, Dan Gilbert and GM David Griffin elected to stick with the same formula in the hopes that a full season together would change the course of the team.
Instead, the Cavs have been a relative disappointment. We say relative, because the Cavs are No. 1 in the East with a top-five ranking in both offense and defense, and they have reached those marks with Kyrie Irving having missed all but a month of the season. But this is all abotu expectations, and being No. 1 in the East and the odds-on favorite to make a second straight Finals appearance out of the East isn’t enough this season. It would be one thing if the team had underwhelmed but there was a good vibe; instead, with the team unhappy on the sideline and the results not living up to expected standards, this was the move, regardless of the record.
2. Tyronn Lue is the new coach of the Cavaliers: As mentioned, Ken Berger reports that assistant coach Tyronn Lue has been installed as the permanent head coach on a new multi-year deal. The move isn’t any more surprising than the firing of Blatt considering Lue was a candidate to get the job in the first place in the summer of 2014, having gone through multiple interviews before being installed as lead assistant under Blatt.
Lue is a former NBA player that has the trust and confidence of James and the team, a voice who the veterans will listen to and respect which is crucial given the massive leadership and preparedness issues the team has faced in key moments this season.
Lue is considered a high-level assistant and head coaching candidate, having learned offense under Doc Rivers and defense under Tom Thibodeau in Boston. His combination of coaching experience for championship-contending teams, along with an attitude and NBA familiarity that should resonate more with the players, makes him an ideal fit.
Would Tom Thibodeau have been a better hire? Maybe, but Lue has the trust of James and the other veterans on the roster, and the Cavs can’t afford more uncertainty and instability with less than four months until the NBA playoffs begin. However, this move does strongly look like the kind of decision that was made at the behest of James.
3. LeBron James reportedly was informed, but not consulted: This seems an awful lot like something James would have wanted to be involved in. The Cavaliers point blank, flat out do not make this move without knowing 100 percent that James would support it. So either James was in fact consulted in some fashion, or he had made his feelings so clearly known that they didn’t have to technically approach him about it.
James isn’t to blame for Blatt’s firing. James has been his usual brilliant self, and James has made strides in trying to change the narrative about he and Blatt’s relationship, even if that narrative was accurate all along. Even in moments of affection between the two after wins, it seemed like the kind of thing you do when you’re trying to force a relationship to be the way it should, instead of an organic extension of personalities.
James has constantly preached about what it takes to win a title and how the Cavaliers have been missing it. It’s not talent, they have that in spades. It’s not experience, even with younger players they have enough veterans to make a run. They’ve been missing an attitude and an approach, which is what James has harped on time and time again, even after wins this season. You have to wonder if that feeling was part of what led Cleveland to move on from Blatt.
4. The Warriors loss was the catalyst: The Cavaliers rattled off consecutive wins vs. the Nets and Clippers Wednesday and Thursday, but the conversation about the Cavs this week was all about the 34-point drubbing at the hands of Golden State. With an opportunity at home to show they were ready to hang with the champions, the Cavs were embarrassed in one of the most stunning losses this season.
This has become a bit of a pattern this season, in that teams following bad Warriors losses have gone into a funk. It took the Grizzlies weeks after a 50-point loss to get back to normal. Kevin McHale, who made the Western Conference Finals, was shelled by the Warriors twice and was fired. We’ve seen teams go through slumps following a bad loss to the Warriors. There’s an affect disorder that seems to infect them as these squads look at Golden State and realize how big the gap is between them and the Warriors.
5. The timing is still not good: The playoffs are four months away, which seems like a long time, but you’ve got the week-long All-Star break coming up, and by mid-March you want your stability and position in the league locked up. There’s not as much time as it may seem like and the Cavaliers just made a move toward drastic instability in a time when they need to really knuckle down and get through the slog of the season.
The move to hire Lue could bring a new mindset which could change everything, and there still could be a trade — even, conceivably, of Kevin Love — to shift they dynamic. But as rare as it is to see a team fire its coach the year after making the Finals, how often do you see a team replace a coach at midseason and then win a championship?
Either way, the soap opera surrounding LeBron James and the Cavaliers continues.