Does Cleveland have a David Blatt problem?
The narrative was already in place: LeBron James rules the NBA, and he gets to pick who he wants to surround him in the same way he picked the Cowboys over the Browns and Bulls over the Cavaliers when he was a kid. He picked those same Cavaliers over every other team last summer, he got to pick his teammates and he gets to pick his plays. He didn’t get to pick his coach, which is why he usually picks his own plays – up to and including the last play of his season so far in the Game 4 win on Sunday afternoon.
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That coach, David Blatt, was publicly shamed for attempting to use James as a decoy in the final 1.5 seconds of Cleveland’s Game 4 win, and also for nearly costing his team the game by attempting to call a timeout during the possession that came before James’ last shot – when the Cavaliers were already out of timeouts. Blatt had to be restrained by lead assistant coach and former NBA champion Tyronn Lue, otherwise the refs would have handed the Bulls a technical foul free throw and sure lead.
Instead, the Cavs were offered a reprieve and then an unofficial timeout after James’ initial attempt at a game-winner (knocking his shooting mark down to 9 of 29 on the day) was stuffed, before LeBron nailed the closing bucket after getting in his coach’s way after his coach got in his own way. Following the game Blatt did himself no great favors in his news conference, and James offered congratulations only to Lue as he “covered for Blatt.”
The Cavaliers clearly are a fire-heavy organization after going through three coaches in the 14-month span that preceded James’ return, so why wouldn’t they decide to decline Blatt’s return this summer following the squad’s playoff run? After all, what was once a behind-the-scenes failure on Blatt’s part was now on nationally televised display, and it was James who brought up calling his coach off on the final play. The press wouldn’t have heard about it had LeBron not mentioned it.
So, Blatt’s done, right? Perhaps, but that doesn’t have to be the case. This doesn’t have to follow the insipid, too-obvious storyline. Not just because Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James eventually worked it out in Miami, but mostly because, well, Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James worked it out in Miami.
James’ move to Miami and his return to Cleveland are quite similar, as are the similarities between his initial year after his free-agent turn. Annoyingly similar. Sports are so stupidly simple sometimes.
Kyrie Irving was handpicked, vetted through a series of All-Star seasons and superb offensive showcases as LeBron dashed through his League Pass on off nights. Kevin Love was also handpicked as the team’s resident well-heeled whipping boy, a role he understandably may not want to continue past July. A cast of ex-teammates followed, added to a rotation that also featured LeBron’s similarly represented new teammate in Tristan Thompson.
It all mostly mirrors what happened in Miami, with LeBron picking his stars and later his plays. And for a nasty first year in Miami, save for some second-half highlights and the team’s impressive Eastern Conference finals win over Chicago, it didn’t work out.
That’s because Miami’s offensive sets were bland and easy to load up on. They weren’t quite Mike Brown-level staid, but they left quite a bit to be desired. This was a direct carryover from Spoelstra’s first two years at the helm of the squad, a criticism we lobbed at him even when he was working with Michael Beasley as Miami’s Next Great Thing. Eventually, both Spoelstra and James opened up together, and the Heat flourished – winning two titles along the way.
Blatt’s current offense is similarly staid. Various role players have done well to finish both inside and out, and Cleveland certainly has what it takes to make it out of the Eastern bracket as currently constructed, but the team is underachieving because of both Blatt and LeBron, who pushes for these two-man and isolation sets that remind you too much of 2011. The numbers are in, and both LeBron’s personal offensive touch and the team’s overall marks are taking a hit when James goes at it alone.
Was Blatt wrong in chalking up that too-clever out-of-bounds play featuring James as a passer? Absolutely. James might be the slickest passer in the game – but he’s also LeBron James, the guy the refs won’t call a damn thing on with 1.5 seconds left, and the guy who could either muscle his way into a lob or do what he done did.
That was a blown call. As was the move to attempt to call a timeout late in the game with all of us in the arena already aware that the scoreboard read “TOL: 0/0” on both sides of the screen. Blatt’s attempted boner was so outrageous the refs didn’t even consider he’d try to spark it up:
Mike Bantom, the NBA's executive vice president of referee operations, weighed in on David Blatt's intended timeout: pic.twitter.com/3DozJnGMGT
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 11, 2015
People make mistakes, though. Like James (who said all the right things about Blatt after practice on Monday), who committed eight turnovers and made all the bad miscues on both ends that allowed Chicago to erase a seven-point deficit in the game’s final minutes. This was on his way toward a 10-of-30 shooting, eight-turnover contest that all was but made up for with a desperate, terrible shot. David Blatt – rookie coach, awful analogy wrangler – nearly blew the season on Sunday, and LeBron James saved it.
This doesn’t mean this whole thing can’t be saved, with nobody losing a job. The ball needs to move, and LeBron has to be the one to give in. Concurrently, Blatt needs to initiate the sort of ball movement that didn’t save Spoelstra’s job until game No. 186 that he coached with LeBron James on his team. Only 95 more to go, Cleveland.
Unlike Spoelstra, whose staff in Miami featured a litany of Riley-era leftovers alongside the quite good David Fizdale, David Blatt as a star assistant in waiting. Lue could coach this team, many think he should coach this team and more than one NBA team will attempt to get him to coach their team this summer. It would not be the worst thing for the Cleveland Cavaliers to dump David Blatt – The One Guy LeBron Didn’t Pick – in order to keep Lue in the organization.
That doesn’t mean that Blatt can’t coach these Cavaliers, as presently constructed, to a series of titles. Both he and LeBron have to make a few changes, though, before this can happen.
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is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops