Blatt: Lebron’s scapegoat?

David Blatt's firing came as a stunner to NBA fans worldwide. Credit: Getty Images

By: Jeffrey Newholm

The Cleveland Cavilers and New York Yankees may not seem to have much in common. The Yankees have won 27 world championships, the Cavs zero. But as of Friday they do have one thing alike: they fired a coach coming off an appearance in the finals (the Yankees actually did it twice, canning legend Yogi Berra after losing the 1964 series and Bob Lemon following a 6-8 start in 1982 after winning the pennant in ’81). But the Cavs have the unique distinction of starting out in FIRST the following year at 30-11, and that still not being enough for David Blatt to keep his job. My colleague Monte Perez (aka the Sports Whisperer) just penned a column taking the team’s side which I encourage you to read here, but I’m going to be arguing the opposite perspective. Let my preface my argument by saying I find Lebron James to be an extremely entertaining player and always make a point to see the Cavs when they come to Milwaukee. But the Blatt shenanigans are too much even for me. Before I begin, a brief review of how we got here would be helpful.

At the time the team hired Blatt, management had no idea King James would be returning to Cleveland. Credit: USA Today

In 2014 the Cavs finished 33-49 and completely out of the playoffs for the fourth Lebronless year in a row. Understandably that wasn’t enough for Mike Brown to keep his job, and in June Blatt was brought in to help nurture Kyrie Irving. But in July Cleveland received stunning good news: the king was bringing his talents back to his hometown team. The team limped out of the gate to a 19-20 start, but recovered strongly enough to earn the east’s #2 seed. The Cavs didn’t have too much trouble advancing to the finals apart from Kevin Love’s season ending injury in the first round and a fight from the underseeded Bulls  in the second. But in what was a harbinger of things to come there was controversy in the crucial game four in Chicago. With a chance to win the game at the end and a free timeout thanks to a video review, Blatt diagrammed a play that had Lebron throwing the inbounds pass. But during the huddle Lebron overruled Blatt, saying “give me the ball and get out of the way”. And of course he proceeded to hit the buzzer beating shot. Usually a player ignoring the play call results in that player being ridden out of town on a rail (as Packers fans can attest with T.J. Rubley and Brandon Bostick), but of course Lebron is a superstar so the whole city went along with it. Once the team got to the finals, however, they couldn’t overcome the additional loss of Irving and Lebron’s one man bandwagon wasn’t enough to beat the best team in the league.

While the Cavs were in first to begin this season, the team has not beaten either presumed finals nemesis in San Antonio or Golden State. And yes, as Monte pointed out, the last Warriors game was a 40 point catastrophe. But I think it’s way too premature to say the Cavs would have no chance to win the finals. The team lost their first two games in San Antonio and Oakland, both extremely tough places to play, by a combined ten points. And people tend to read way too much into one ugly loss. When last year’s Patriots lost 41-14 to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, people said the Belichick dynasty was toast. The pats of the last one and three quarters seasons would beg to differ. And how many times have talking heads counted out the Tim Duncan Spurs after a disappointing finish? (The 2013 and 2015 teams quickly come to mind). Well now Pop’s team has about a coin flip’s chance to go to the finals. Now certainly Monte is good at picking nits with the Cavs, but at the end of the day they’re still, at worst, the third best team in the league! But that’s clearly not enough for Lebron or Cleveland sports nation. Cleveland hasn’t won a major title since the old Browns in 1964. The city is starved for success and views Lebron as a savior. One fan ever brought back the Lebron jersey he burned after Lebron left for Miami. The city doesn’t care about some no-name Euroleague coach. Lebron isn’t satisfied with finishing second either, and for that I think we have ourselves to blame. Fans are always talking endlessly about legacy and criticizing an athlete for what he’s not instead of giving him credit for what he is. I remember fans talking about how important it was for Lebron to win the 2014 finals so he could win three in a row. But how many players have even won two in a row? Is that not good enough for us? No it’s not, because Michael Jordan has two threepeats and Lebron can’t hope to measure up seeing as he’s still only won two. Despite ESPN’s incessant coverage of his every move, he has always been driven to shut up the haters. Third best will never again be enough for him.

Media reports indicate owner Dan Gilbert made the move to can Blatt all on his own, but certainly Lebron’s fingerprints are all over this move. Sure there’s a chance the Cavs walk away with the trophy in June and then feel free to laugh in my face. But to me this move reeks of those two worst American vices: greed and hubris. So many in this country are never satisfied with what they have and are always clamoring for more. Observe the sad spectacle of shoppers fighting each other the day after a holiday called THANKSGIVING and the absurd obsession with quick riches from the lottery, a phenomenon George Orwell prophetically predicted would distract people from the genuinely important issues of the day. No, four finals in a row and a 30-11 start isn’t enough for King James. He wants more, no matter what it means for Blatt. Also, isn’t one of the central virtues of playing a sport is to teach a kid humility? As my boss said after my alma mater’s powerhouse football team took a rare loss, “well I’m glad because a successful athlete should be humble”. Yes Lebron is a great athlete and no one can top his dunks. But he has always been the king of drama! Every time he wants a call he exasperatedly whines to the official, and every time he gets “hurt” he limps over  ever so slowly to the bench, ushering in complete silence in the arena…and comes right back in the game two minutes later. In Cleveland he’s so talented he can be player, coach, and as it turns out GM. Monte points out that the superstar has always called the shots in the NBA. But while that may be the way it is, that doesn’t mean we should accept it. In tennis or golf the athlete calls his own shots. But basketball is a team game. There’s nothing wrong with one guy being the leader, but he still has to respect his coach.  What kind of message are we sending if when an athlete says jump, the owner says “how high?” If we accept the NBA is just a show, then I suppose the stars can do whatever they want. But if we want the league to serve as a model for the young hoopsters who idolize these athletes, we can’t let the king rule over the whole city. For years I’ve been a Lebron bandwagoner, but this time I have to say: Mr. James, you went too far.

You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreyNewholm and our blog @NutsAndBoltsSP. You can find Monte @Montetjwitter111.

Jeffrey Newholm
About Jeffrey Newholm 140 Articles
Hey there! I’m Jeff Newholm and depending on your point of view I’m blessed or cursed that my two favorite sports are outside the limelight. Being a UW-Whitewater grad (winter 2013) my first love was d3 college football, but over the last few years I have picked up a huge interest in woman’s basketball (Uconn being my favorite team as their 90 game winning streak helped show me how good a team can get in the woman’s game). I like all the sports everyone else likes (NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA basketball and football) but those two sports are where I really have a passion.
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