When a team loses the championship, someone is inevitably forced to jump on the sword and shoulder blame for the loss. That martyr is often the coach; they’re easy targets, and they’re cheaper and easier to replace than players. It’s no surprise, then, that Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has faced heavy criticism in the days following the Cavs’ Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors.
ESPN’s Marc Stein is going another route. He’s not absolving Blatt of blame, but he’s also handing a healthy share of the it to LeBron James. Yes, the player who pretty much carried the Cavs in the Finals and made the series competitive. Stein takes James to task for how he’s treated Blatt throughout the season and more specifically in the Finals.
He paints an ugly picture, one where James repeatedly demeans his coach in front of the team. Stein recalls LeBron essentially coaching on his own, separate from Blatt and his instructions. He says James called his own timeouts, made his own substitutions and even went so far as to ignore Blatt outright, instead preferring to report to assistant coach Tyronn Lue.
One such story is similar to the one that reportedly took place during Game 4 of the Cavs Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls. The incident where Blatt drew up a play for the final possession of the game only for LeBron to tell him “no,” and draw up his own play. LeBron eventually hit a buzzer-beater, and all was well, but James telling the story publicly was damning, and so is this anecdote from Stein’s story:
There was LeBron, in one instance I witnessed from right behind the bench, shaking his head vociferously in protest after one play Blatt drew up in the third quarter of Game 5, amounting to the loudest nonverbal scolding you could imagine.
Which forced Blatt, in front of his whole team, to wipe the board clean and draw up something else.
Granted, this is nothing new, and Blatt has addressed James’ penchant for calling plays before, calling it “business as usual.” Stein used the opportunity to take LeBron to task, probably deservedly so, but one wonders why he didn’t reveal these complications during the Finals.
Stein’s ESPN colleague Brian Windhorst has been on the “LeBron is undermining Blatt” beat all year, so James showing Blatt up is hardly news. Whatever the relationship is between the coach and his star player, it worked enough to get them to the Finals, so it can’t be so terrible. Blatt is not beyond reproach, as he made plenty of mistakes during the Cavs playoff run, and the conflict is no different than any other set of coworkers bumping heads on the job.