Relationship with LeBron, Cavs' Players Doomed David Blatt, Opens Door for Lue

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJanuary 22, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Cleveland Cavaliers Associate Head Coach Tyronn Lue (L) talks with Head Coach David Blatt (R) against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Thunder 104-100. 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. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images

I asked David Blatt early Monday evening in Cleveland in what specific ways he had gained a greater comfort level in coaching LeBron James.

It was a softball question...if Blatt had indeed gained a greater comfort level.

It would've been easy for Blatt to knock it out of the park, gushing about how shared time and greater experience had triggered meaningful progress in his relationship with James.

Instead, Blatt offered a non-answer answer—one that showed his closeness to James remained based on workplace proximity as opposed to human connection.

"That's something you work on every day, you try to get deeper and deeper inside of," Blatt said. "But it's very comfortable coaching a guy with that level of ability and with that level of commitment to the goals that we have. That makes it pretty easy."

It was never pretty easy, it wasn't very comfortable and it isn't something Blatt will work on every day or any day again.

The Cavaliers issued their statement of intent for this season and James' remaining tenure by firing Blatt on Friday and promoting associate head coach Tyronn Lue to Blatt's post, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. 

A few hours after Blatt's strained response, the Golden State Warriors were embarrassing the Cavs on their home floor to the point James wasn't playing anymore. And it's worth noting James didn't sit with his teammates down at the far end of the bench.

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James sat at the other end—next to Lue (but not Blatt). James and Lue hardly stopped talking.

It's not just James with whom Lue connects either. Blatt is an intellectual man who has a deep understanding of this game, but let's be clear: Social intelligence so often dictates career success, no matter how smart you are at whatever job you have.

Blatt's casual references to "Kev" and "Ky" and "Bron" felt unnatural and forced. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and James were well aware Blatt never played in the NBA—and his coaching success came overseas, not where these players got to see it and admire it. When Blatt did play in college, it was at Princeton—not UCLA or Duke.

He was hired in 2014 to teach the game to a young team, but the ground under him shifted radically when James decided 21 days later to sign with the Cavaliers again, ratcheting up every expectation.

There was a sense then that this would be awkward, the worst example of the common NBA occurrence: a superstar player having more knowledge, leadership and clout than his head coach. But because James was so wholehearted in his good intentions to come home, the hope then was that it was OK if Blatt wasn't at all a sensible fit.

Lue had been a candidate for that head job but settled for being Blatt's associate head coach and the league's highest-paid assistant—with the idea that Lue's youth and affability would help make up for Blatt's shortcomings.

Here's the lesson, though.

Guys overlook your shortcomings and appreciate your strengths if they like you and believe in you.

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 4: Head coach David Blatt reacts as LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers leaves the game during the first half against the Toronto Raptors at Quicken Loans Arena on January 4, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expr
Jason Miller/Getty Images

If they don't, then you get brusque responses like the one James gave after a brief pause when asked about the game plan in the Warriors' rout.

"The game plan was the game plan," James said.   

James acknowledged that the players didn't execute that game plan, but there was no inclination to protect Blatt. Meanwhile, Blatt tried to score points with the players by telling reporters the "lack of mental preparation" for that big game was his fault.

"I told my guys: 'That starts with me,'" Blatt said.

His guys? Whatever.

Men appreciate when a leader takes on more than his share of blame when they respect that leader. When they don't, they nod their head and are happy to agree with the idea of blaming him.

Lue is 38, not that much older than James, 31. Lue played in the NBA and became a bit of a legend to the younger generation because Allen Iverson cared enough about him and his high-effort defense to taunt him during the 2001 NBA Finals.

James and Lue's time together on the bench Monday night hadn't been enough. With the Cavaliers' locker room mostly empty of players, Lue went in there again before heading home to have a few more words with James in his corner stall.

Besides his communication skills, Lue has a unique perspective on coaching star players. He saw firsthand as a player how Phil Jackson juggled Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant—and was willing to ask more of them than the other playerswith the three-time champion Lakers. And Lue also was closely mentored by Doc Rivers, who has his own history working with multiple stars.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and assistant coach Tyronn Lue direct their team against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on November 23, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Noah Graham/Getty Images

We are in a golden age of intelligence in the NBA: analytics and technology, strategies and schedules. All of that, however, can serve as no more than a supplement to the basic premise that a basketball team is a bunch of guys trying to do stuff together.

Blatt wasn't a good fit in that fundamental way. He never was.

And there's not enough time left in this season or even James' career to waste opportunities.

While they were rolling over the Cavaliers, the Warriors showed a toughness and togetherness that Cleveland did not have under Blatt.

However disappointing or glorious things turn out with Lue now, the Cavaliers will be able to look back and be at peace with at least one basic part of puzzle.

They'll know they brought real brotherhood into battle.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.