David Blatt Fired by Cavaliers: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers returns to the court behind Head Coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a 109-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on January 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt on Friday, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and David Aldridge of TNT.

Blatt released a statement on the decision, via Priority Sports Entertainment:

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reported Cavaliers general manager David Griffin "will meet with the media at 5:45 p.m. ET." Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reported, per a source, Blatt's firing was Griffin's call.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported, "LeBron James was informed of the decision to fire David Blatt today" and "was not consulted" on the decision. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com added no players were consulted as ownership and management made the decision.

Wojnarowski paints a different picture, providing details on James' role in the decision-making process:

Before David Blatt ever conducted his first training camp practice in September 2014, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul, had the coach's succession plan in place: Mark Jackson.

To become the preferred candidate of the most powerful player in the NBA – and de facto Cavaliers general manager – Jackson understood what he needed to do: Bring on James' and Paul's Klutch Sports agency as his representation, and prepare to deliver those commission fees into the King's coffers. Blatt never had a chance. He never knew what hit him.

Sam Amick of USA Today reported, "Buzz built recently that LeBron and other players were done with Blatt."

According to Haynes, Cavaliers assistant coach Tyronn Lue will take over head coaching duties. Wojnarowski added Lue agreed to a three-year contract with the team worth at least $9.5 million.

Windhorst reported, "James' fondness for Lue and his desire to be coached by a former player were well known in the organization, as were issues with Blatt." Wojnarowski added James and agent Rich Paul "have been strong advocates" for Lue since last season.

While there were stories of unrest between the players and Blatt dating back to last season, which CBS Sports' Ken Berger discussed, and indications that James essentially undercut the head coach at every turn, the Cavaliers nonetheless reached the NBA Finals and forced a six-game series against the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving out with injuries.

Haynes provided insight into the decision to fire Blatt:

Word circulated to cleveland.com that Blatt had trouble drawing up plays out of timeouts. He would freeze up and waste precious seconds, one player said. He would even draw up plays for players who weren't in the game, another player said.

It was a heck of a run, so it comes as a bit of a shock that the team decided to fire Blatt now.

Bobby Marks of Yahoo Sports noted just how rare the timing of Blatt's firing is:

"You used to have to at least lose games before you got fired," Magic head coach Scott Skiles said, per John Denton of Magic.com.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens called Blatt "a heck of a coach," adding he "won't be unemployed for long," per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said, "I know integrity. I know knowledge. [Blatt] is going to be a sought-after coach. I'm embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen. The other side of this is a good man has been liberated," per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

Blatt's hiring was surprising, seeing as he didn't have any NBA experience and spent his entire coaching career in Europe. But he has always been considered a bright, cutting-edge basketball mind, and owner Dan Gilbert and Griffin clearly liked the idea of making an outside-the-box move rather than hiring a coach who had made the NBA rounds.

However, Blatt may not have expected the circus that engulfed Cleveland once the team signed LeBron James and traded for Kevin Love, becoming the epicenter of the basketball universe in the process. The adjustment from the European game to the NBA was one thing; the adjustment to "LeBron World" was apparently quite another.

When the Cavs struggled early, things appeared to become unglued quickly. Windhorst wrote about the dysfunction in January 2015, saying people around the NBA were baffled by the situation:

They see players appearing to run different plays than the bench calls, see assistant coach Tyronn Lue calling timeouts literally behind Blatt's back during games, and hear Cavs players openly talking about coaching issues with opposing players and personnel. Not once, not twice, but frequently over the past several months.

For weeks now, the small talk when league personnel run into each other at college games, airports or pregame meals has frequently started with: "What the hell is going on in Cleveland?"

Nonetheless, the Cavs finished the regular season with a 53-29 record and were able to reach the NBA Finals. But that clearly wasn't enough for James, always thought to prefer Lue to Blatt in the first place. And if keeping James happy in Cleveland meant getting rid of Blatt, the front office was always likely to side with James.

The stakes are incredibly high in Cleveland at this point, and Lue has a lot of damage control on his hands. Given that James often treated Blatt like his assistant and not like the head coach, any Cleveland coach has to be prepared for a unique relationship with James.

Blatt, meanwhile, will likely surface quickly elsewhere given his coaching record, perhaps even in the NBA. Mannix speculated the Brooklyn Nets could be a possible destination. It appears he simply wasn't ready for such a high-profile gig in his first taste of NBA life.


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