The Cleveland Cavaliers made the shocking move Friday of firing head coach David Blatt.
Despite guiding the Cavaliers to the Finals last year and helping the Cavs build a firm lead for first place in the Eastern Conference this year, the Cavs and Blatt never seemed to have a strong relationship.
Though the timing of the move came as a total surprise, that the Cavs decided to move on from Blatt seemed somewhat inevitable, as multiple reports confirm.
Perhaps the first nail in Blatt's coffin was that LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland in 2014. Blatt had been hired before James' return to help develop a young team that at the time was centered around Kyrie Irving and 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Instead, James returned, then orchestrated a trade for Kevin Love, and later the Cavs added veterans in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov.
As one source told ESPN, "David was hired to coach a developmental team and young players who would've wanted to please him. He ended up coaching a finished product where the players expected him to please them."
Another problem from the outset was the view of Blatt's record. Blatt coached several highly successful teams overseas and won several championships. Yet, to NBA players, Blatt was a rookie. ESPN notes that Kyrie Irving playfully called Blatt a "virgin" of the NBA after Blatt won his first game as Cavs head coach. Blatt often felt disrespected by the perception that he was a rookie head coach, telling media last season, "I've been a head coach for 22 years. People overlook that too easily and, I think, unfairly. I am not now, nor have I have been for quite some time, a rookie coach."
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LeBron James through the years
Damning reports reveal how little respect LeBron James and the Cavs had for David Blatt
File photo of high school basketball star LeBron James getting set for
a foul shot during the annual Jordan Capital Classic high school
all-star game in Washington, April 17, 2003. James will hold a press
conference at his high shool in Akron, Ohio April 25, 2003, where he is
expected to state his intentions concerning the upcoming NBA draft.
James is expected to be the number one pick should he make himself
available for the draft. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn-Files
Lebron James announces his entrance into the NBA draft, during a press
conference at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, April
25, 2003. The six-foot-eight James, 18, is expected by many to be the
number one selection in the draft on June 26. REUTERS/Jason Cohn
LeBron James (R) shakes hands with National Basketball Association
Commissioner David Stern after being selected by the Cleveland
Cavaliers as the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft at Madison Square
Garden in New York, June 26, 2003. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Cleveland Cavaliers first draft pick LeBron James speaks with reporters
following a picture session at Gund Arena, in Cleveland, October 2,
2003. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz
Cleveland Cavalier rookie forward LeBron James (23) shoots over New Orleans Hornets defenders Baron Davis (1) and David Wesley (4), in the fourth period of NBA action in Cleveland, Ohio, December 23, 2003. James 22 points was the high scorer for the Cavaliers who defeated the Hornets 97-86. REUTERS/Marc Serota MS
Paul Pierce (R) of the Boston Celtics and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers chat while the scoreboard is fixed during the fourth quarter of their game at Gund Arena, February 9, 2004. The Cavaliers won, 97-89. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz RK
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (C) gets a layup as Seattle Supersonics forward Rashad Lewis (L) and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki look on, during the first half of the 54th NBA All-Star Game in Denver, February 20, 2005. REUTERS/John Gress JM
Eastern Conference forward LeBron James holds the Most Valuable Player trophy at the 55th NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texas February 19, 2006. The East defeated the Western Conference 122-120. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James questions a call during their NBA playoff game against the Washington Wizards in Washington May 5, 2006 Cleveland defeated Washington, 114-113, to advance in the NBA playoffs. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Forward LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, works on his jump shot at morning practice during the first day of training camp for the USA men's basketball team in Las Vegas July 19, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots over New York Knicks forward Quentin Richardson (L) and guard Stephon Marbury (R) in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York's Madison Square Garden, November 13, 2006. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James is seen on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, California, February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James goes through his pregame powder ritual prior to the start of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first round NBA playoff basketball game in Cleveland, Ohio April 25, 2007. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James answers media questions before practice for their NBA Finals basketball series against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Texas, June 8, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James (L) celebrates after dunking against the New Orleans Hornets David West during the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James (L) is guarded by Chicago Bulls Thabo Sefolosha (R) during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland, April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James drives to the basket during the third quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James sits with his girlfriend Savana Brinson and son Bryce Maximus during the Rookie Challenge at the NBA All-Star basketball weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James speaks after being named the NBA Most Valuable Player during a ceremony at his alma mater St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio May 4, 2009. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James celebrates after Mario Chalmers scored a three pointer against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, December 25, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James (R) stands with Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade during Game 5 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James watches a shot against the Dallas Mavericks through the net during the second half in Game 2 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, June 2, 2011. REUTERS/David J. Phillip/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James dunks against the Washington Wizards in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Miami Heat's LeBron James speaks at a press conference after his team defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of their NBA Finals basketball playoff in Miami, Florida June 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Dec 19, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) makes a pass against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wears an " I Can't Breathe" t-shirt during warm ups prior to the game against the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn, New York, December 8, 2014. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo
June 14, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks to media following the 104-91 loss against the Golden State Warriors in game five of the NBA Finals. at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after beating the Golden State Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 21: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pauses on the court during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at Quicken Loans Arena on January 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Spurs defeated the Cavaliers 118-115. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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However, as players grew disenchanted with Blatt's performance as coach, assistant coach Tyronn Lue (once a candidate for the coaching job before Blatt was hired) became a central focus of LeBron and the Cavs. Players respected Lue as a former player, and Lue often had to handle aspects of coaching that Blatt couldn't handle, such as timeouts. James often consulted with Lue over Blatt during games.
Additionally, LeBron began to take play-calling into his own hands. He admitted last year that he was above asking coaches to change roles on the floor, and he often would verbally disagree with Blatt's play-calling. As Wojnarowski writes, "As the games wore on, opposing players on the floor weren't only watching James constantly wave off plays from the coach – but role players feeling emboldened to disregard the head coach's instructions, too."
Furthermore, ESPN reports that players were in a fairly upfront rebellion of Blatt. Windhorst and McMenamin say Cavs players would complain about Blatt to opposing players during games. On the road, a Cavs player once used the home team's therapy pool and loudly complained about Blatt's coach, "his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room."
Last season, the pressure on Blatt lessened once the Cavs began winning, and he proved adept at integrating new members of the team into the offensive and defensive schemes. ESPN says players also generally had a better attitude coming into this season, as several of them earned monster contracts in the offseason — which Wojnarowski reports is part of LeBron's overall control over the organization.
However, this season, slip-ups against the Warriors (twice) and the Spurs, plus some grievances over playing time among role players, opened up old wounds, according to ESPN. During a road trip in which the Cavs only went 2-2 against lackluster competition, LeBron made an ominous statement about biting his tongue after a bad loss: "Thank God we play in the NBA, with a game the next day, and not the NFL. Because if it was the NFL, I would have went off and let the quotes fester for a week."
According to ESPN, during the road trip, Cavs veteran James Jones approached Cavs GM David Griffin and said, "I wouldn't want to be you," referring to the decisions Griffin had to make to manage a team unhappy with its coach.
Eventually, despite an impressive win over the L.A. Clippers, Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert decided it was time to move on from Blatt, noticing a disharmonious locker room. In his place, they promoted Lue, giving him a three-year deal in the meantime.
Wojnarowski reports of LeBron's overall influence, "LeBron James and [agent] Rich Paul never had to walk into the GM's office and demand the firing of the coach. All together, they had the capability of making everyone's life hell until the deed was done."
Now, LeBron and the Cavs have a coach they respect, while LeBron has a cast around him that he demanded. However, Blatt, the scapegoat, is no longer there to blame.
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Damning reports reveal how little respect LeBron James and the Cavs had for David Blatt
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