As you’d expect, the firing of the head coach of a 30-11 team, one pitched after a 1 1/2 seasons of passive/aggressive antagonism with the ex-coach’s star player, was not met with applause by the NBA’s coaching community.
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Just about any coach who was asked on Friday evening or Saturday about the firing of former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt responded with disdain for the Cavaliers, and shock that a spot atop the Eastern Conference just wasn’t good enough for the second year coach to keep his gig.
Coaches are angry, and on record this weekend.
Stan Van Gundy, as is often the case, led the charge on Saturday:
Gregg Popovich, since 1996 the dean of NBA (and all North American pro sports) coaches, chimed in as well:
“All of us in the business know how it works,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said before Friday’s Spurs victory against the Lakers. “We all feel badly when it happens to a colleague. He (Blatt) is a heck of a coach (but) circumstances often dictate what happens to certain coaches that have nothing to do with their record.”
Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott, whom many around the league feel is the next likely candidate to lose his position, had a similar reaction:
“This is a very, very tough business and sometimes very thankless business as well,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “You could be on a team doing extremely well like Cleveland and still you lose your job.
“When I heard the news (about Blatt), and most of the time (when this happens), you just kind of shake your head and wonder,” Scott said. “I definitely feel bad for him.”
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, not far removed from Coach Pop in terms of job security and the head of the NBA Coaches Association, had perhaps the harshest statement:
"It's a shocker. It's just a real shocker.
"He's done some phenomenal things adjusting to this league. I'm embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen. It's just bizarre. Now is Tyronn Lue going to coach the All-Star Game? It just leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling. Because Blatt's a great guy and he did a great job there.”
Scott Skiles, who has been fired by three different NBA teams, used his typical pith in showing support for Blatt:
Magic coach Scott Skiles on David Blatt: "Back in my day, you use to have to at least lose games before you got fired."
— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) January 22, 2016
Boston coach Brad Stevens, a former college coach that shocked the NBA by accepting a rare six-year contract to coach back in 2013, praised the respected Blatt:
"He’s a really good coach. Obviously, we talked about it when Lionel (Hollins) got fired last week, there’s a lot of really good coaches in this league. It’s probably not the most secure profession to choose. But David Blatt did a heck of a job and he wont a ton of games. He handled himself, I thought, with great grace all the way through. His team got all the way to the Finals, a team that had to change the way they played to get there. I read his statement afterwards. I stole a play from him that we got an open 3 on the other day. I would think he’s not going to be unemployed long. He’s a heck of a coach now."
First year Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who was scheduled to coach against Blatt’s Cavaliers on Saturday night, was just as kind:
“He’s such a good man. Last year at Iowa State, he welcomed me to his training camp," Hoiberg said. "I went there and sat in his office. He talked to me and gave me film on a bunch of stuff. He’s just a really good person and I think a hell of a basketball coach. It’s a tough day. He was great to me when I got into this league.”
You wouldn’t expect anything else from the league’s coaching brethren, and that’s just fine. Even when a coach is repeatedly screwing up and letting his employers down, it’s never fully the coach’s fault that a team did not live up to expectation. There are always other cooks in the stain-strewn kitchen.
Famously, though, you can’t fire the players. Stan Van Gundy (whose brother Jeff is probably preparing a rant for the ages on ABC during Saturday’s Cavs/Bulls game) even tried as much when he released Josh Smith last season, but his Pistons will still be paying for Smith’s contract through 2020.
Most of the league’s coaches will be lucky to have their current jobs by then. Coaches are never fully responsible for failures, but they’ll pay for the letdown with their jobs in ways that players, general managers (who tend to be allowed the privilege to work through a few coaches of their own before receiving the axe), and especially owners never will. Sure, owners will have to literally pay these ex-coaches the remainder of their salary following the elimination, but with most coaches making less than the average NBA player per season that price tag is hardly a millstone. Even for notoriously stingy ownership groups.
What happened to David Blatt certainly wasn’t fair, but the actual parting of the ways wasn’t exactly unfair either. He had not won the respect of his locker room, he either gave up on or was thwarted in his attempts to apply the offense that had done him so many favors earlier in his professional coaching career in Cleveland, and the Cavs were made to look like championship also-rans twice in one week on national television.
Because these are the Cavs, they’ll be on national TV yet again on Saturday for new coach Tyronn Lue’s first game. This isn’t Jeff Van Gundy’s first rodeo, and we cannot wait to hear what he has to say about a coach with a 30-11 record being shown the door.
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