In the unforgiving world of professional sports, a coach’s job is never safe. Maybe the most unexpected storyline so far in the 2015-16 NBA season unfolded this past Friday, when the Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt. After coaching the Cavs to a finals appearance last summer, Blatt had the team sitting atop this year’s Eastern Conference standings at 30-11, positioned to take another shot at the title. At a press conference on Friday, general manager David Griffin referenced a “lack of connectedness” and a “need to build a collective spirit” as key reasons for the change in personnel. During Blatt’s absence, former assistant coach Tyronn Lue has assumed the head-coaching duties for the second half of the season.

One of the more puzzling aspects of this decision by the Cavaliers front office has to be the disparity in coaching experience between Blatt and Lue. Blatt coached various teams throughout Europe from 1993 to 2014 and earned numerous accolades, such as Russian Super League Coach of the Year in 2005 and Euroleague Coach of the Year in 2014. On the other hand, Lue only began his coaching career in 2009 as the director of development for the Boston Celtics, and has never before assumed a head coaching position.

In the wake of Blatt’s termination, several coaches around the league have expressed their surprise at and criticism of this decision by Cleveland. In response to the firing, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said, “His job is to win games. He did that.” Blatt is one of only three coaches in the past 40 years to be fired the season following a finals appearance. Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was outright with his thoughts on the matter, saying, “I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen like this…” 

Before the Cavaliers made the decision, it may have been wise to examine how well other coaches have gone on to perform in situations similar to Blatt’s. For example, Erik Spoelstra’s 2011-12 season as head coach of the Miami Heat had some striking similarities to Blatt’s 2015-16 season. Each coach was coming off of a defeat in the previous NBA Finals, and each had to deal with the hype surrounding three all-star caliber players on his roster. Both Spolestra and Blatt were relatively new to coaching on the world’s biggest basketball stage, yet appeared to be headed toward success. The story continued to improve for Spoelstra as he coached his team to two consecutive NBA titles. Unfortunately for Blatt, this opportunity will not be a possibility in Cleveland.

It’s easy for an everyday fan to look at the Cavs’ record and their recent success on the court and come to the conclusion that firing David Blatt was a tremendous mistake. What the fans don’t know, however, is what was going on between him and the players during his tenure. How was the morale in the locker room before and after games? Was the team focused and cohesive during practices? Can Tyronn Lue, a former 23rd overall draft pick, really take this team to the next level and bring home the franchise’s first ever NBA title? Should the Cavaliers hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this June, the decision will be justified. Only time will tell.

Tagged: NBA

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