Padanilam: Firing coach won’t fix Cavs’ problems
Benjamin Padanilam | Tuesday, January 26, 2016
I’ve been a Cleveland sports fan for pretty much my entire life. I’ve seen my fair share of dysfunctional organizations and the questionable moves that such organizations make. But the Cleveland Cavaliers firing David Blatt halfway through the season is one of the moves that makes the least amount of sense to me.
Look, I’m well aware that most people only thought of Blatt as a “stand-in” coach for the Cavaliers that let LeBron have his way. I understand the importance of a team buying into a strategy and a game plan, and the respect for a coach that is required to do so. I heard all the criticisms about how he didn’t utilize Kevin Love as effectively as he should’ve and seemed to lack awareness when it comes to timeouts and play calls during the crucial moments of big games.
But I still don’t like the move, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of those criticisms.
Consider this: When the Cavaliers hired Blatt, he wasn’t coming to a team with LeBron and Love or a championship-caliber roster. He was coming to developing team with a potentially bright future, and appeared to be the outside-the-box, offensive genius that could find a way to bring them there.
But that’s not how things worked out. LeBron announced his return to the team — and, quite frankly, the city — he had left to suffer in the wake of his initial departure. A potential superstar in Andrew Wiggins was dealt for the known commodity of Love, who not everyone was sure fit into the plans that Blatt had when he was hired. Then the team brought in some of LeBron’s veteran buddies to round out the roster.
There went the plan, and with it the control for Blatt. But he found a way to win anyways.
Say what you want about his fit on the team he wasn’t hired to coach in the first place. 80-43, a .675 winning percentage, shouldn’t be ignored. In terms of percentage, he was the winningest coach in team history. This season, his .732 winning percentage was the best in NBA history for a coach fired in-season.
Additionally, the guy’s adjustments to his plan weren’t half bad either. Despite dealing with injuries, fitting Love in, and finding a place for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, the Cavaliers finished fourth in the NBA last season in offensive efficiency. And they were fifth so far this season.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that he helped bring the team within two games of winning it all last season. Without Love or Irving for significant parts of the run. Granted he had LeBron, but the proved to mean nothing early in the year when they sat at 19-20 struggling to figure out what pieces they had on the team. After the dust settled from a bevy of trades, Blatt figured it out, the team got rolling and they finished with a 53-29 record. And they were comfortably on top of the East this season.
Despite this level of success for a new coach in a new style of the game, the Cavaliers still felt the need to let him go, and give the head coaching job to Tyronn Lue for the next three years. A team that is 23-5 in games this season when it used 90-99 possessions, as opposed to a mere 3-7 when it pushed to tempo and used more than 100 possessions, is now being asked to run an up-tempo offense. LeBron doesn’t seem to like it, only saying that “this is what coach wants to do.” After one game, Lue called the team “out of shape.” But perhaps it’s just because they’re being forced into an offense that — unlike their potential — doesn’t particularly suit them well.
Maybe Lue can pull a Blatt and get it to work despite that.
In the end, it isn’t a particularly good look for the team. If it’s true that LeBron and the team “didn’t see this coming” — say what you will about that — it speaks to continued dysfunction throughout the organization and a lack of continuity from the top down. It also sends the message that no one is safe, no matter how well you perform. LeBron isn’t getting any younger, so when the Cavaliers need to look to free agents to continue to round out the roster, who’s going to want to come to a situation as unstable as this?
It wasn’t a good move to fire Blatt. A new coach doesn’t make a championship run more likely for Cleveland. It only adds a level of uncertainty and disarray to an organization that could surely have done without it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.