19 months ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were watching the NBA playoffs at home on the couch. The previous offseason, they drafted Anthony "WOAH!!!" Bennett, splashed their cash on washed up NBA veterans like Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack, as well as trading draft picks in season for rentals, Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes in the hopes of making a playoff appearance. Their franchise, just like it had been since LeBron James made the decision, was in turmoil. They had no sense of direction, no real talent outside of Kyrie Irving and a month later, they didn't have a coach either. Firing former coach of the year, Mike Brown, for the second time in four years.
They needed something, a glimmer of hope to get them back on track. That came on the 20th of May, just as their former saviour, LeBron James was dominating the Eastern Conference finals. That thing was the draft lottery. Despite having the ninth best odds at the first overall pick (1.7%), the Cavs secured their 3rd first overall pick in four years, a dynasty of drafts. Hope was restored. Things were on the way up. A core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and another number one pick would be sure to get them somewhere, maybe not immediately, but they now had potential to be something special.
The following month, just 6 days before the draft, the Cavs made an announcement on their coaching vacancy, by snaring highly rated European coach, but virtual unknown among NBA followers, David Blatt. A guy that had turned Israeli team into a European powerhouse, winning the Euroleague in his final season and the Israeli league on multiple occassions. Even coaching Russia to a EuroBasket win in 2007, third in 2011 and grabbing a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics with an underwhelming Russian team.
Blatt had instilled a beautiful offense in his time with Maccabi. Off-ball movement, passing and spacing, all key parts. Just take a look:
Over 4 years, Blatt's record with Maccabi was impeccable. Winning over 75% of his matches, the Euroleague championship and a coach of the year award. He was NBA material, no doubt about it. He was a champion, intelligent, a tactician and had over 20 years experience as a coach. After his triumph in the Euroleague, Blatt declared that he wanted to be an NBA coach, leaving Tel Aviv to pursue a lifelong ambition.
Then the Cavs came calling. A franchise with problems from top to bottom, but an NBA franchise nevertheless. Of course Blatt took the interview! It didn't matter which team it was, as long as it was in the big leagues. In the end it came down to David Blatt and Tyronn Lue for the vacancy. A guy with no NBA experience but a dashing resume and a former NBA veteran, who was one of the most respected assistant coaches in the league.
At this point, the Cavs had no LeBron or Love, nor did they have title ambitions. So they took Blatt, a guy they thought would be able to rebuild with the team and impose his European system on his developing players, so he would eventually end up with the exact same situation as he finished with Maccabi Tel Aviv. That was the plan anyway, Blatt's dream scenario, he had no expectations, all the time in the world and could mold his squad into the team he wanted eventually. Less than a week later, the Cavs settled on the guy they wanted as their second superstar next to Kyrie Irving and the guy that David Blatt would be able to use as a foundational piece for years to come. That of course was Maple Jordan, Andrew Wiggins, the Canadian rockstar who came with as much hype as Dion Waiters has bricks. Suddenly, Blatt and the Cavs were in a great place, two young prodigies to build his team around and some role players to fill out the team.
In Blatt's world, things couldn't be better. He had his ideal job, with an ideal roster and had as much time as he possibly needed to rebuild this Cavs team.
Then some of the weirdest 11 days in NBA history...
On July 1st, free agency started, with one of the best classes ever. If you had cap space, you had a chance at a superstar. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, even Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe were big. Realistically, the Cavs only had a shot at one of those guys, that of course was LeBron. Their only play at him? We are your hometown, you stabbed us in the back and now you can rewrite your legacy and become a hero! What on Earth are the chances of him leaving Pat Riley's indestructible infrastructure in Miami for that? Back then, I thought about 10%, a 10% chance is all I gave them. But clearly, I was wrong.
As I promised, these were the weirdest 11 days in NBA history. You had every rumor you could possibly think of. Whether it be Melo to Miami with the big 3, Chris Bosh being angry at being treated poorly by the Heat organization and threatening to leave to Houston, Jeremy Lin going to Twitter to voice his frustrations over Houston's photo-shopping of Melo into his no. 7 jersey, hell, I think the Phoenix Suns of all teams were in the mix for LeBron at one point. In the final days leading up to his decision, the temptation for 'Bron to go back to his hometown grew thicker and thicker, eventually leading to the infamous Vegas meeting. If you don't know what I'm talking about, LeBron apparently went to Vegas with Pat Riley to sit him down for one last dinner and tell him that his heart was in Cleveland. It was essentially an Italian mobster asking the Don if it's okay to leave the mafia. It didn't sit well with Riley, but James didn't care, he wanted to be the hero that he wasn't four years earlier.
So then 'Bron wrote his letter and the rest is history. Except, not quite.
Just imagine you're David Blatt for a second. In the space of 11 days, you've gone from having a young squad with no expectations, to having the best player in the world on your team (that you've never had a relationship with) and being expected to win the Larry O'Brien trophy and end the 50+ year Cleveland sports drought. That's the equivalent of being casted as Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace and then for an unknown reason, 11 days later, you've been thrown into the deep end, being casted as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, without you auditioning for the part.
To make matters worse, the Cavs gave Tyronn Lue the most ever money for an assistant coach to come on board anyway. So, not only did Blatt have crazy expectations on his shoulders, but he also had a guy that has strong relationships with everyone on the squad as his assistant.
From day one, LeBron and effectively the team, quit on Blatt. They rejected his beautifully sophisticated offense, as he had no experience or respect within the team, changing to a LeBron offense, where he would revert to a simplistic, isolation heavy mess. When reports started surfacing about Blatt not being able to reach the team, it didn't surprise anyone. Blatt was a rookie, turned boss of the NBA's most star laden team. None of the players believed him, especially LeBron, who during timeouts would rather shove Blatt out of the way rather than seeing what he had to write on his whiteboard. He would rather speak to Ty Lue, who essentially became co-coach. Blatt had so little respect that the Mozgov trade at mid-season turned into more a trade of just getting someone in that he knew (Russian team) to help him reach the locker room that had already shut the door on him.
Once the Cavs saw that this was happening they should've let Blatt walk right then and there. He didn't deserve to be treated like this and the team needed a coach that his players would actually listen to. But no, they kept him on and persevered, making sure that the turmoil in the locker room wouldn't spill out on the internet. Their thought process here I'm guessing is that if the coach and players weren't on the same wave length, the players at least had to stick together.
The plan seemed to work, getting within two wins of a championship, before Golden State unleashed small ball hell on their team of non-scoring bangers... and LeBron. Well, now they couldn't even let him go there! You can't fire a coach that was a couple of games away from a championship, that would cause even more dysfunction. So instead they let the situation get out of control even more. The Cavs were playing well on the court, but on the sidelines, nothing was intact. Rumors of LeBron boycotting games (such as their 27 point loss @Portland) as a message to Cavs' management and Blatt started to surface, as did rumors that Lue was the only one that LeBron would actually speak to.
Then came the destruction last week. In short, the Warriors came to town and they brought their A-Game, dismantling the Cavs and crushing their spirits (perhaps another boycott?). Was this breaking point? Would this be the end of Blatt's tenure as coach? They had the reason to, they had an excuse, but for some reason, held on for another two victories before firing the poor mastermind. Why then? We will never know.
All I know is that David Blatt never stood a chance. The Cavaliers' organisation never supported him and neither did the generational superstar that was supposed to have grown up since 'The Decision'. From the beginning, his fate was sealed, he would never be LeBron James' coach. LeBron decides who LeBron's coach is, not his owner and GM, certainly not. LeBron and his crew, including Rich Paul, were breathing down Blatt's neck until he suffocated. Doing anything within their power to get him out. Blatt didn't deserve this, James decided before he even met Blatt he wanted him out, that's the truth.
I wish David Blatt all the best in his coaching career to come and hope that he never has to deal with the awful situation that he was put in with the Cleveland LeBrons.