The Cleveland Cavaliers hired David Blatt on June 20, 2014, just weeks before LeBron James made the decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown Cavaliers. Blatt was hired without much NBA experience, but had an incredible international coaching pedigree, and at the time of his hiring, was tasked with coaching a scrappy young Cavaliers team that was building up Kyrie Irving as the foundation to their future.
James’ return forced Blatt to change course. He was no longer coaching a young, playoff-hopeful Cavaliers squad. He was now coaching an NBA Finals favorite that would eventually lose to the Golden State Warriors in said Finals. At the time, it felt like a somewhat disappointing result, but now we know just how great those Warriors were. There is no shame in losing to that squad.
After his first season in Cleveland ended with an NBA Finals loss, Blatt only made it 41 games into the 2015-16 season before the Cavaliers fired him. The narrative at the time was that Blatt was in over his head, that LeBron James didn’t respect him, and that he couldn’t control these NBA stars, among other things. How much of that is fact versus fiction has never really been addressed, but the Blatt era in Cleveland just didn’t work. Blatt is back in Europe now, coaching like he never left.
In an interview by Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, Blatt was asked about Kyrie Irving’s trade request from the Cavaliers this summer, and his comments were pretty revealing. According to Blatt, Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland dates back to 2015 at the least, and he believes Irving’s decision to leave the LeBron James bubble was actually brave.
“I can still remember Kyrie telling me, ‘I want to come to the game and be happy, and I don’t feel that way,’” Blatt said last week, relating that old conversation. “It tells you the importance of feeling this way to Ky. He wants to be happy, and I think that’s working for him now.”
Blatt’s claim that Irving was unhappy while he was coaching the Cavaliers isn’t necessarily surprising, but it might provide some context as to why everything spun out of control this summer. Irving’s trade request wasn’t something that was rushed. Finding that happiness outside of Cleveland is something he had been thinking about for a while.
Blatt, as that statement obviously indicates, wasn’t surprised to find out Irving had requested the trade, but did find himself impressed by the trade request and Irving being willing to make an unpopular decision that he felt was what he needed to do to be happy.
“The first thing that hit me about it was that Kyrie made a very profound statement about himself when he requested a trade,” Blatt said. “It’s a situation that hasn’t been easily interpreted by everyone. It was brave, and it’s one of those things that makes him a special kid.”
“Brave” is an interesting way to put it, but Blatt isn’t alone in saying that about Irving as Kevin Durant also has pointed to it being a courageous move. Blatt is likely referring to the fact that, in some ways, Irving had it easy in Cleveland. Look at what LeBron James is doing right now, playing some of the best basketball of his career. Without sounding like the Cavaliers wouldn’t be better if they had Kyrie on the court right now, James clearly doesn’t need him. At least in the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal, and it remains to be seen how the Cavaliers will make up for Irving’s absence when the going gets tough.
Blatt went on to say that he “wasn’t surprised by this at all” in reference to how the Irving made his Cavaliers exit this summer, lending more support to the argument that Irving had been sitting on this decision for a long, long time. To this point, both sides have ended up in good shape after the trade, with Irving and the Celtics playing fantastic basketball and the Cavs doing the same.