For all of the criticism David Blatt faced in 2014-15, his first season roaming the NBA sidelines should be considered nothing but a success. The Cleveland Cavaliers made quick work of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket without Kevin Love, then nearly upset the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals despite only one of their ballyhooed Big Three remaining healthy.
Blatt’s ability to mold a middling regular season defense into basketball’s best postseason deserves major plaudits, as does his overhaul of Cleveland’s offensive ethos absent Love and Kyrie Irving – irrespective of the often ugly results. The Cavaliers had absolutely no business giving the Warriors a competitive series, yet were several possessions away from forcing an all-or-nothing Game 7. Blatt might not have been brilliant in the Finals, but he was impactful at the very, very least – no small feat for the coach who a vocal minority thought should be fired midway through his rookie campaign.
Still, rumors flew regarding his stance within the organization immediately following Cleveland’s loss. LeBron James reportedly undermined Blatt throughout the championship series, rendering the pair’s heartwarming chat as the Cavaliers clinched the Eastern Conference wholly irrelevant in eyes of the public. One clueless journalist even said that Blatt was resigning on live television.
Thankfully, all that smoke never turned to fire over the ensuing months. Cleveland’s front office threw full support behind its coach this summer, and James said immediately after those reports of subversion surfaced that Blatt “did a hell of a job” in 2014-15. And given his recent comments on the Cavaliers’ head man, J.R. Smith definitely thinks so, too.
Here’s Smith on his relationship with Blatt courtesy of the Northeast Ohio Media Group’ Chris Fedor:
“First things first, before we get into basketball, Coach really cares about me as a person,” Smith said when asked about why being a Cavalier has been so good for him. “That’s one of the first coaches I’ve had that actually cared about me off the court more than on the court, so it was that much easier for me to play for him and give my all because I know he cares about me as a person.
“When you have someone like that behind you it’s so much easier just to play. I’d run through a brick wall for Coach.”
Smith hasn’t always been so tight-knit with management throughout his 11 years in the NBA. He frequently clashed with George Karl as a member of the Denver Nuggets, and was so cross-ways with Phil Jackson during the first half of last season that the pair still take shots at one another through the media.
Blatt, on the other hand, has had nothing but glowing appraisal of the well-traveled veteran. The former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach called working with Smith “a dream” just weeks after his acquisition, and said during the Finals that “it makes everybody happy” when the shooting guard plays well.
NBA players don’t perform in a vacuum. Each of them requires differing sets of circumstances to not only play their best, but also toe the company line – and that’s far more true of some than others. Smith certainly falls in that former category, as his wholly surprising and successful play for the Cavaliers make abundantly clear.
With James setting the tone and Blatt giving him confidence, Smith could be primed for a banner campaign in his second go-round with Cleveland. And that’s a good thing, too, because the Cavaliers will need it early as Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert miss time due to injury.