What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
I’d ask if there’s something in the water in Cleveland, but we already know there is. It’s called benzene, and it’s why the Cuyahoga River occasionally bursts into flame. It might also be why Cleveland sports franchises tend to do bizarre things.
The Cleveland Cavaliers fired coach David Blatt yesterday. I don’t really think anybody was shocked by this, and if they were, that’s why we are here at Dubsism to offer yet another one of our patented breakdowns. Matt Moore from CBS Sports dropped a solid take on this story; offering us a “Five Things” piece in which he really nails what this is all about, but because he is in the “main-stream media,” he is somewhat limited in what he can honestly say about this cluster-fuck. For example, he can’t use that term, which is too bad, because that’s precisely what it is.
Before we get to Moore’s “Five Things,” let’s take care of some background items which will become important later.
People may get curious about why a team with a 30-11 record and leading the Central Division is dumping its coach. While you may hear a lot of excuses which all point the finger at Blatt, the real reason he’s surfing CareerBuilder.com today is the Cavaliers’ record doesn’t matter. They can pile up all the wins they want in the weak Eastern Conference. What matters is in the last two weeks, they’ve shown they simply can’t hang with the powers of the Western Conference. If they intend to win a championship, they’re going to need to climb that mountain, and as it stands now, that’s not happening. Blatt’s the “fall guy” for that, but in this case there’s enough blame to share.
The first thing we need to look at is Blatt’s “farewell” statement to the media.
“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.”
Yeah, it’s really nothing you wouldn’t expect. If he ever entertains hopes of getting another job in the NBA, he has no choice but to go the full “grace in defeat” route. There a HUGE clue as to the problem here not so much in the players he mentions, but in the ones he doesn’t.
If you recall, last year at this time the Cavaliers had been experiencing periods of complete sputtering, then came the mid-season acquisitions that propelled the Cavs into the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers are trying to build a narrative which says the team “doesn’t have a winning culture,” but that ignores the fact that cultures are built from the top down. That means if the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t have a “winning culture,” then perhaps it’s time to examine that fact at all levels of the organization. I will bear that out as I walk through Moore’s “Five Things.”
Thing #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 about 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.
What Moore Can’t Say:
Tyronn Lue was “Plan B” from Day One. Why else to do you hire a guy to be an assistant to the job he interviewed for in the first place? Why does a guy take a backseat job to the one he wanted? Try this explanation on for size…because everybody involved had a “gentlemen’s agreement” that while Blatt would be the head coach, Lue was “the coach in waiting.” You know there was a deal in place prior to Blatt’s firing because they already had a three-year structured contract ready to go with Lue, and they announced it the same day they fired Blatt. It’s not like they printed something quickly off LegalZoom.com.
This also represents brick #1 in management’s role of failing to build a winning culture. How can anybody not see that when you hire a coach and his replacement at the same time, you are send the message that you expect failure? There’s also no way to deny you expected failure because you fucking planned for it.
I understand that begs the question why would Lue agree to a deal of such a strange nature, but the answer is coming shortly…
Thing #2) Tyronn Lue is the new coach of the Cavaliers:
…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.
What Moore Can’t Say:
The Cavaliers can tell Tyronn Lue all day long he’s the head coach. They can also tell him he’s a bag of Skittles; it doesn’t make it so. The titles don’t mean a goddamn thing. When it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the most powerful guy in the organization is the guy who signs the checks; and he’s kissing LeBron James ass. LeBalding calls a lot of the shots in that organization, and there’s a big reason as to why.
We all know the return of LeBalding to Cleveland is about is all about somebody in that God-forsaken city winning something. Everybody forgets this is essentially a two-year window, and we are smack dab in the middle of Year Two. LeBalding, amongst others, has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season. Conveniently enough, this next season is also the one in which the salary cap goes up as the NBA’s new TV money kicks in. That means there is no promise of tomorrow in Cleveland.
Think about that for a moment. If you thought the first Cleveland-LeBalding divorce was ugly, wait for what we will all see if this happens:
Where does this leave Tyronn Lue? He’s either the guy happy to be getting a check to not really be the head coach, secure in the knowledge Cavs’ management has promised him he will not be just the next head coach to be the designated scapegoat, or he has no idea he is the “head coach” in name only and is going to be the guy waking up sometime in June only to realize that half his team is driving U-Haul vans to anyplace that isn’t Cleveland.
Not to mention, the desk from which I write these posts is a two-hour train ride from Chicago, which means I’ve seen a lot of the Bulls and Tom Thibodeau. For the life of me, I cannot imagine a scenario where Thibodeau would take a job where he’s been told his role is to wet-nurse the star player. I think Thibs would tolerate LeBron’s disrespect exactly once, after which he might make one of those desk-clacker things out of LeBron’s balls.
Thing #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.
“Informed, but not consulted” is the classic distinction without a difference. No matter how thin you slice the bologna here, it still comes down to LeBalding had a voice in the process; and you know that when he was “informed,” had he raised an objection, David Blatt would still be the head coach today.
While one can say James isn’t to “blame” for Blatt’s firing inasmuch as he didn’t actually do the deed. he sure as hell set the table for it. Let’s be honest…Blatt’s whole raison d’être was to take the rap. Say what you will about LeBron James, but one thing has been consistent through his career: he is not a guy who takes criticism well. That’s why head coaches on LeBron James’ teams have all been the designated scapegoat. When a LeBalding team does well, it’s because James is the greatest thing to hit basketball since the Harlem Globetrotters got off Gilligan’s Island. But when a LeBalding team shits the bed, it’s because the head coach couldn’t find his ass with both hands. Paul Silas, Brendan Malone, Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra…and now to that list you can add David Blatt.
That’s what you get when you put a guy like LeBron; a guy who has the leadership skills of a dead muskrat, and put him in a leadership role. Granted, I’ve been a critic of LeBalding ever since the ill-fated “Decision,” but I’m also a “give credit where credit is due” guy. James has made miles of strides in terms of his maturity since those days, but we must also not confuse the length of a journey with its completion. The road to true maturity still has miles left to travel for a guy who still has a designated scapegoat.
Thing #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.
What Moore Can’t Say:
The dirty little secret here is that come June, some Eastern Conference team is going to be the sacrificial lamb for whichever basketball behemoth comes out of the West, be it the Warriors or the Spurs. The Cavaliers are actually playing batter basketball than they were at this time last year, but Golden State and San Antonio are literally in a league by themselves. In other words, if you are not one of those two teams, and your season is all about “championship or bust,” you’ve got a big fucking problem.
What this boils down to is David Blatt got fired because while he had the Cavaliers playing better basketball, he couldn’t stop the Warriors and Spurs from proving they are the “kings of the hill” until further notice, and he also has no control over the fact that LeBalding is no longer the best player in the league.
Oh, shit….did I just blurt out what nobody in Cleveland wants to admit? Time for brutal reality gang. Back in 2007 when LeBron took the Cavaliers to the Finals, he did that when he was clearly the best player in the league, which meant he could take a team of 11 ham sandwiches just about anywhere until they ran up against one of the great teams of all time. But LeBalding in his 13th season can’t pull that off anymore, which means as the Cavaliers stand now, getting past the defending champs with the reigning MVP (Warriors) or simply one of the greatest teams ever to take the floor (Spurs) just isn’t going to happen.
That’s not David Blatt’s fault.
Thing #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 their 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 mid-season and then win a championship?
Either way, the soap opera surrounding LeBron James and the Cavaliers continues.
That a very interesting set of paragraphs with which to close. Moore does a really good job of pointing out some crucial issues not commonly thought of in such a situation, not the least of which is unless Tyronn Luye has a magic bag of tricks to fix what ails the Cavaliers, this just isn’t going to work.
Not to mention, the biggest problem is that theory is there;’s really nothing ailing the Cavaliers. In case you’ve forgotten, they are 30-11 and leading their division. The biggest issue they have is they aren’t as good as the Spurs or the Warriors. Nobody is.
There’s also a tacit admission Blatt isn’t the problem in the trade talk. Everybody knows in Minnesota, the offense ran through Kevin Love and in Cleveland, he’s the third option. He’s not a a great job of hiding his dismay with that, but he needs to come to terms with the fact if he’s going to be on a championship-caliber side, he’s not going to be the #1 guy. This was a problem the Cavs had over which Blatt had little control.
Another situation in which Blatt was powerless was the health of Kyrie Irving. When a team needs to adjust it’s approach when they lose a key player, they also need to adjust it back when he returns. That takes time, and there’s no guarantee the injured player comes back at 100% of what he used to be.
Then there’s the aforementioned issue of the amount of mileage on LeBron’s odometer. He’s still an elite player, but he certainly isn’t that same guy he was in 2007. Like I said, the 2016 LeBron needs a better class of talent around him than the 2007 version did. While that may be the case now, the idea of trading a key cog like Love is an admission that the Cavaliers management understand that.
When you have ownership and management who know the problems with their organization do not have a single root cause, and yet they act as if they do by firing a coach who had little control over those root causes, somebody needs to explain to me how that builds a “winning culture.”