It’s been a 10-day whirlwind for the Cleveland Cavaliers that started on January 22 when head coach David Blatt was abruptly fired and replaced with Tyronn Lue. The team has gone 4-1 since then and has apparently begun to figure out some of the issues that were at the heart of all their discord over the past year and a half. That’s included upping their tempo a bit but more importantly getting their Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on the same page.
They accomplished precisely that with a decisive win over the San Antonio Spurs at home Saturday, during which they each scored at least 20 points — the second consecutive game where that occurred after doing the same in a win over Detroit the previous night. Before Lue took over, their triumvirate of stars hadn’t notched that 20/20/20-plus split together even once this season.
Now, a new report from Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN.com points to a players-only meeting – their second such meeting of the season – following Blatt’s dismissal as a catalyst for their newfound chemistry:
A central issue in the discussion, sources said, was the need for accountability within the team. One of the issues that was keeping the team from enjoying some of the successes of the season was the different set of rules for some players compared to others.
In what could turn out to be a key moment in their tenures together, James, Irving and Love came to an understanding that they needed to police each other on certain matters and use their influence within the team to set a standard for accountability, sources said. That was frequently a missing component over the past season and a half, sometimes creating friction.
The details are murky, but as reports continue to emerge about a double-standard for star players under Blatt’s regime, it’s clear those discrepancies rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. The temptation, of course, is to speculate about who exactly was or wasn’t being held sufficiently accountable for their actions, and it’s nearly impossible not to set your sights directly on LeBron, is it not?
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Blatt let LeBron slide on certain things. Maybe he didn’t call out his mistakes in film sessions, or ride him hard enough in practice, or chew him out for missing a defensive assignment, etc. If that were the case, if Blatt was overly deferential to LeBron, it’s likely he thought he was doing the right thing, if for nothing more than self-preservation.
What a spectacular way for that strategy to backfire on him. It’s a thin, blue line for NBA coaches when it comes to commanding respect versus wearing on everyone’s nerves to the point that they eventually tune you out altogether. And as Ferris Bueller said, you can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass.
On the one hand, if LeBron genuinely wants to be coached harder and held accountable, then that’s admirable. Perhaps he’ll be more amenable to that under Lue’s watch. On the other hand, if LeBron – a 13-year veteran in the NBA – hasn’t himself been holding his teammates accountable through all this, then he shares a significant portion of the Cavs’ collective failures up to this point.
What this new emphasis on accountability is going to look like is anybody’s guess, and a course-correction like this mid-season is always a treacherous maneuver, but from the front office down to the end of the bench, the Cavs appear more than willing to shake things up in the best interests of the team.