Is David Blatt, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, in trouble? The rumors are starting to fly around after the Cavaliers’ blowout, 23-point home loss to Detroit (and that is not an easy choice): Cleveland led by 15 midway through the second quarter, they had this game in hand, then they just took their foot off the gas and thought they could coast in, and this team is not good enough to do that. They are not a strong defensive team at all, especially without Anderson Varejao (injured), they cannot stop bringing top effort. Especially with Kyrie Irving out.
How much of that falls to coach David Blatt? Can he reach this team? Some in the Cavaliers organization are starting to ask that question. Sources told ESPN.com that there is rising concern in team circles about the level of response Blatt is getting on the floor, with Blatt himself acknowledging that the Cavaliers “lost our energy and we lost our competitiveness” in Sunday night’s embarrassing home loss to Detroit….
But the Cavs’ effort level, especially defensively, is eroding noticeably, raising the volume on questions about just how much the locker room is listening to the 55-year-old Boston native, who has enjoyed tremendous success internationally but still began this season as a relative unknown to NBA players….
Whispers about the lack of attention various Cavs players are paying to David Blatt during some timeout huddles, as well as their apparent preference to communicate with Cavs assistant and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, have been in circulation for weeks. And James acknowledged recently that he did not formally request permission to assume the bulk of the Cavs’ playmaking duties, which triggered Cleveland’s eight-game winning streak earlier this month.
There are several factors in Blatt’s favor here. First, to be fair the job he was hired for — building up a young Cavaliers team — is not the one he got when LeBron James changed the landscape of the NBA and returned to Cleveland. Blatt likely would be Steve Kerr’s lead assistant had the Cavs been sure that would have happened.
Second, Blatt can coach. The man has won a lot in Europe (including the EuroLeague title with Maccabi Tel-Aviv last season) and coached the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the Olympics. His system offensively, when executed properly, looks a lot like the Spurs did in last year’s finals — ball movement and guys moving off the ball.
Finally, there are serious roster issues with the Cavs that no coach is going to fix. They do not have a defensive presence in the paint, you can go at them with size. That’s been exacerbated by the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao. And there have been other injuries as well (Kyrie Irving was out against Detroit, for example).
All that said, this team is not playing hard for Blatt. They are not following his systems on either end of the floor and he is struggling to get through to them. Kevin Love looks lost at times and isn’t getting the ball where he is most dangerous (and when he does he still has some struggles with being consistent). In Europe the power structure is more like college — the coaches have all the power — but in the NBA that dynamic shifts and the players have the real power. Especially LeBron. Especially in Cleveland.
And if LeBron wants another coach — or doesn’t come to Blatt’s defense in a serious way — there will be a new coach in Cleveland sooner rather than later.