By: Adam Tortelli ~Staff Writer~
In unprecedented fashion, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt this past weekend despite a dominant 30-11 start that has positioned the team atop the Eastern Conference for the majority of this season.
This move marks the first time since the NBA/ABA merger back in 1970 that a head coach was fired while his team was first in its respective conference. The firing not only promoted associate head coach Tyronn Lue, but also gave Lue a brand new three-year, multi-million dollar contract. The typical steps surrounding firing a head coach call for an interim head coach to be named before rewarding a fulltime position.
Lue played 11 seasons in the NBA and assisted Doc Rivers before joining the Cavs’ staff the summer before last season. Rumors and conspiracies that Blatt never had a fair chance to succeed spread across the association faster than the Golden State Warriors can score 20 points.
LeBron James runs the team and he wasn’t the biggest fan of Blatt. James wants to finally be coached by a former player, so David Griffin made it happen. Many think that Blatt was never given a fair opportunity once LeBron came aboard.
In order to refresh one’s memory, Blatt was hired before James wrote his infamous “Coming Home” letter, beating out Lue, who was a very close runner-up for the position. The Cavs’ big three at that time were Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins (the number one overall draft pick in 2014 dripping with talent and potential).
Blatt, coming off a dominant coaching career in Europe, was supposed to learn the keys to success in the NBA together with his growing nucleus. Plug in LeBron’s return home and Blatt’s expectations transformed from hopeful playoff contention to championship or bust.
Wiggins was traded for All-Star forward Kevin Love and Waiters was shipped away just days after turning over the calendar to 2015. Cavaliers’ management took it upon themselves to assign Blatt a coaching staff that included Lue as the top assistant. Imagine a future spouse assigning you groomsmen or bridesmaids and the best man/maid of honor was his/her high school crush. Not exactly the ideal foundation for a healthy marriage, wouldn’t you say?
Nonetheless, Blatt took the roster changes and personnel changes in stride with complete class, never once complaining nor displaying to the slightest bit of disrespect toward a franchise that bows to Akron’s prodigal son.
In essence, Blatt’s job was easy. All he had to do was coach, and that is exactly what he did. In what many credit as James’s best piece of on-the-court work, the Cavs breezed through their Eastern Conference foes despite key injuries to Love and Irving.
Apologies Mr. James, but credit is due for a coach who appeared to be nonsensical for riding Matthew Dellavedova all season only for ‘Delly’ to be brightest surprise of the 2015 playoff run. Fast forward to this season because every basketball expert placed an asterisk next to the Warriors’ 2015 Championship due to the injury-plagued Cavaliers.
Despite starting the season without Irving, Blatt exceled in his two off-season goals by incorporating Love into the offense more and playing an overpaid Tristan Thompson in pivotal parts of games.
It was not until mid-January that the Cavaliers were 100 percent healthy again, but the team seldom received praise as neither best in the conference nor top-3 in the league behind a historical Golden State and ageless San Antonio.
It is this dominance that has so many still scratching their head and simply asking why? Of all Cleveland sports teams, why would the Cavs make such a radical move? Why not wait it out and see if this team can stay healthy and win the title that they ‘deserve?’