Tyronn Lue has been criticized and questioned a fair bit this season as the Cavs have gone through various high and low points on what has been a rollercoaster ride in Cleveland that has led them to a 48-30 record as the season comes to a close. However, for all the critiques of Lue and occasional, apparent spats between he and his star LeBron James, it’s nothing quite like the scrutiny former Cavs coach David Blatt — who Lue replaced — faced in his time in Cleveland.
Blatt was hired as a first-time NBA head coach during the 2014 offseason, prior to LeBron James’ stunning decision (not to be confused with The Decision™) to return to Cleveland. That move back to the Cavs was obviously great for Cleveland, but it also threw their entire plan for the summer out the window and made them start from scratch as much as possible, as evidenced by the Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love trade.
However, while they scrapped the initial plans for the roster, the Cavs had to continue moving forward with Blatt as coach even though he was hired to helm a squad led by young talent that was expected to grow as a young team does. Now, he was in charge of a team that had to compete immediately and while he led them to a Finals appearance, the growing pains were expected.
David Griffin was the general manager of the Cavs at the time and explained to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski what that was like on the most recent episode of The Woj Pod. As Griffin noted, Blatt was a perfect fit for a young team, but the sudden change made for an awkward and unfair situation for him once James came on board.
“We were doing the coaching search in May, and Kyrie hadn’t even committed to staying with us until July. So people didn’t know for sure that Kyrie was going to be there,” Griffin said. “He was one of the guys that people questioned to some degree whether or not he was going to sign on long term, so our roster was also seen as being in a state of flux. So what ended up happening is as we went through the process, we gathered as much information as we could on candidates of all types, and that’s how David [Blatt] got into the search. We were really trying to expand our horizons a little bit and learn what we didn’t already know, and we felt like we had a template where we were going to have a very young team led by Kyrie and other young players. We were going to have cap space, and we figured we would target kids within the age range of Kyrie. And what ended up happening was, when LeBron came back, it was just sort of like flipping a switch. So David was the perfect coach for the team we envisioned having, which was a young team that was going to grow and evolve together. And he would’ve been able to learn and grow on the job at a rate that would’ve made sense.
“I guess unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, once the decision to hire David was made, everything fell into place with all of the free agent pursuits we had made, most importantly LeBron and it just became a mad dash to we must win this championship. So the fit wasn’t what we envisioned it being initially because we weren’t the kind of team we thought we would be. Ironically, the addition of LeBron made his job infinitely more difficult because of the window in which he was going to have to figure it all out and it just wasn’t fair to David and wasn’t fair to the group as a whole the way it all came together. In the end, that’s my fault.”
Griffin was then asked by Wojnarowski if had he known LeBron was going to choose Cleveland, would he have waited until July before making a coaching hire, to which Griffin said of course and then revealed how little of a chance they felt they had to get LeBron and why.
“Oh, 100 percent. For sure,” Griffin said. “We didn’t believe for a second LeBron was coming back at that point. We really believed he was going to take at least a year and figure out if we could build in a positive direction or not. Remember, I told you all those stable coaches were questioning what we were going to be able to do and whether we had a mix that could win. So I certainly thought LeBron, the absolute basketball savant of basketball savants, was going to take his time and watch us from afar and try to decide whether he could trust our process. And we were really blessed that he chose to buy in right away, but it certainly changed the dynamic in a way that if we had foreseen that it was that legitimate he was coming back we certainly would’ve done something different at that juncture.”
It’s obvious that Griffin has thought about this plenty looking back in retrospect, but also should remind everyone just how shocking LeBron’s decision to return was in the moment. Even the Cavs didn’t think he’d look at that team and organization and decide to come back, so keep that in mind the next time someone tries to tell you they knew he’d go back to Cleveland in 2014.