Brendan Haywood spent what was likely his final NBA season with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and based on his assessment of the locker-room dynamics, the 13-year center wasn’t surprised the team fired head coach David Blatt on Friday.
Haywood elaborated on Blatt’s dysfunctional relationship with LeBron James in an interview with SiriusXM’s NBA Today (h/t Steve Aschburner of NBA.com):
Coach Blatt was very hesitant to challenge LeBron James. It was one of those situations where, being a rookie coach, and LeBron being bigger than life, it was a little too much for him. I remember we had James Jones [talk] to Coach about how, ‘Hey, you can’t just skip over when LeBron James makes a mistake in the film room.’ Because we all see it.
And we’re like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say anything about that. You’re going to correct when Matthew Dellavedova‘s not in the right spot. You’re going to say something when Tristan Thompson‘s not in the right spot. Well, we see a fast break and LeBron didn’t get back on defense or there’s a rotation and he’s supposed to be there, and you just keep rolling the film and the whole room is quiet.’ We see that as players. That’s when … as a player, you start to lose respect for a coach.
Slowly but surely, that respect started chipping away where he would kind of be scared to correct LeBron in film sessions. When he would call every foul for LeBron in practice. Those type of things add up. Guys are like, ‘C’mon man, are you scared of him?’
Adding to the dysfunction, Haywood said he envisioned assistant Tyronn Lue—who become the team's new head coach and not an interim, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski—would eventually supplant Blatt:
From what I was hearing, David Blatt kind of lost the team. Then there were differences about what guys should be playing and what guys weren’t playing, from a management-coaching standpoint.
When you throw in those type of things combined with the fact that Tyronn Lue already had a lot of power in the organization, had a lot of traction, and a lot of people that were there already viewed him as the coach, these type of things happen.
But Haywood—who was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers last summer and waived shortly after—didn’t pin blame on James, noting Blatt didn’t build on last year’s positives. For that, he believed Friday’s move was fair.
Blatt is out of a job not even two seasons in despite leading the Cavs to last year’s Finals and the Eastern Conference’s best record (30-11) midway through the current campaign.
First-place teams rarely, if ever, fire their coaches, but general manager David Griffin felt the Cavaliers needed a change. By moving on with Lue—a figure Haywood said the players respect—perhaps Cleveland can get rolling again before the playoffs, which are just three short months away.