Shoot for It: With Alex Lee '16 and John Beneville '16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 1/26/16 7:30pm

Last Friday, Jan. 22, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt was fired despite holding the best record in the Eastern Conference (30-11). Today, we will discuss whether the firing was justified.

John’s Take:

Blatt’s firing is another nail in LeBron James’ coffin. Strangely necessary, since the media and misguided fans have continued to give him life over the last few years. My feelings for LeBron haven’t budged since “The Decision,” which he egotistically delivered to the world live from the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club. When he turned down autograph requests from young children, snubbed the Club’s “youth of the year” by refusing to shake his hand and disrespected an important children’s organization that he supposedly “supported,” he permanently lost my respect.

For a while, “The Chosen One” was able to dodge criticism for this kind of thing, and for his post-season failures because he was young, inexperienced, immature, etc. Then, in 2012 Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won a championship for LeBron before the latter finally earned a ring in 2013. Along the way, LeBron’s people encouraged him to donate to charities, smile for the camera and be kind to the media. It worked — for the most part, the man had most everyone duped. Fast forward to 2016, and it’s quite obvious that the player we see before us today is the same arrogant, selfish man that spent just enough time in the Boys and Girls Club to deliver his decision and defecate in a bathroom stall.

Blatt never had a chance in Cleveland. Not when he was hired before LeBron was signed, thus “excluding” LeBron from the hiring process (as if he should be involved in the first place). Not when LeBron was caught on camera shoving Blatt back to the sidelines as if Blatt was somehow “out of order” for disputing a call. Not when Kevin Love couldn’t get along with Blatt (hint: this is not the first time Love has had a problem getting along with his coach). Not when the Cavaliers lost in the finals last year in a pathetic performance against the Warriors. No, Blatt never had a chance because LeBron had his scapegoat.

The Cavaliers suffered a few bad losses directly preceding Blatt’s firing, games in which it was clear that the Cavaliers were severely outmatched. It was also clear however, that many Cavaliers players, LeBron especially, decided to boycott their coach. Footage of their game against the Portland Trail Blazers shows LeBron looking uninterested and completely disengaged, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This is unacceptable behavior for “the best in the world” but is also completely unsurprising. Like some of the free agents that Alex and I have discussed in week’s past, LeBron decided that he was going to hold out. He sent a message to the organization that he wouldn’t play for Blatt if they didn’t meet his demands, and they caved. Gone is Blatt, the experienced European coach with a proven offensive system (although it was never given the chance in Cleveland), a winning record and a trip to the Finals in his first year of coaching in the NBA. LeBron held his team hostage, just as he held the nation hostage on national TV as we so anxiously awaited his “decision” back in 2010. My question is: why do we keep holding our breath?

Alex’s Take:

I find it interesting how John always manages to divert any basketball topic into a hate-mongering for LeBron. However, I do concede that he deserves much of the blame for Blatt’s firing, albeit not all the blame. The fact is that Blatt has not been a great basketball coach or leader. From his calling timeouts — that the team didn’t have — down the stretch in playoff games to illegally walking on the court and causing a technical to drawing up a final play against the Chicago Bulls where LeBron is the inbounder, Blatt has made numerous mistakes in his tenure as the Cavaliers’ coach. Moreover, he was never able to convince the Cavalier players to buy into his Euroleague system, which has not seemed to translate well to the NBA.

In fact, LeBron never seemed to “buy into” Blatt at all. John is right about the many disrespectful acts that he has shown his coach over the past year and a half. But perhaps this lack of “coachability” falls onto LeBron. LeBron has never given any of his coaches much respect. Whether it was Mike Brown or Erik Spoelstra, or Blatt, LeBron shows his coaches as much deference as Donald Trump gives Jeb Bush.

Interestingly enough, I think that much of this has to do with the fact that LeBron never played in college. No matter where or for whom he has played, basketball has always been about LeBron, not about the coach or the system that the team has in place. If, instead of opting for the draft, LeBron had chosen to play a year for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University, his coachability would be a lot different. In college, players know that they may not be there the next year, but the coach and system will be, thus the coach and system take precedence.

Even as an enormous LeBron fanboy, I have been disappointed by this side of him. Even the greatest players need coaches to guide them along the way, and LBJ has not allowed this.

David Griffin and the Cavs organization also deserve much of the blame for Blatt’s firing. They reached the finals the previous season, and they have been leading the Eastern Conference at 30-11. It is embarrassing that they fired the man slotted to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team. They are simply looking for a scapegoat.

Ultimately, the blame for Blatt’s firing lies upon many people. It remains to be seen how Tyronn Lue will change the system of the Cavaliers and if these changes will allow the Cavaliers to compete with the elite teams in the NBA.