Thursday, June 18, 2015

LeBron James Reportedly Undermined Coach David Blatt Throughout The Finals

Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer

ESPN: I have a question for LeBron James that I really hope he'll field someday.

A question that can be asked a variety of ways.

What kind of coach do you want?

Who out there is a coach you'd actually like to play for?

Who could ‎the Cleveland Cavaliers hire that you'd give some meaningful backing?

I don't have the answers to any of those queries. Cavs assistant coach Ty Lue is my best guess.

I know this much, though: LeBron James is too brilliant as a basketball player, too truly great, to behave the way he did toward David Blatt during the NBA Finals.

We literally saw peak LeBron and the corresponding LeBron nadir over those six gripping games with Golden State. He ‎had staffers from the 67-win Warriors almost quaking at night in fear of the havoc he was wreaking, such was his genius in controlling tempo and carrying a skeleton of a roster to a 2-1 lead that actually made you think the Cavs could win it all with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and his beloved Anderson Varejao all sidelined.

And we likewise saw LeBron emasculate Blatt in ways that are simply unbecoming of a player of James' legend-in-the-making stature.

I saw it from close range in my role as sideline reporter through the Finals for ESPN Radio. LeBron essentially calling timeouts and making substitutions. LeBron openly barking at Blatt after decisions he didn't like. LeBron huddling frequently with Lue and so often looking at anyone other than Blatt.

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.

I understand LeBron had no input into Blatt’s hiring and had to roll with him in less-than-ideal circumstances. But it struck me as a rather unflattering look for an all-time great.

No matter how inept he might think the coach is.

How is any fellow Cavalier going to treat Blatt with something resembling reverence when LeBron treats him like a bench ornament in plain view?

How can LeBron publicly laud his own leadership, as he so often does, when setting that sort of tone?

My colleague Brian Windhorst, who ranks as the most credentialed LeBron-ologist there is after shadowing James since his teens, went on SVP & Russillo on Wednesday and posited that No. 23 actually wouldn't mind if the Euroleague import keeps coaching the Cavs because he "likes having Blatt to kick around."

I wouldn’t expect to hear anyone in Cleveland dispute it, either.

Because they can't.

Blatt, for the record, is by no means faultless here. It's up to the coach, in the Big Boy NBA, to earn buy-in from the players. For all the legitimate arguments that the job he wound up with is not the one he signed up for, given that LeBron came home to Ohio after Dan Gilbert handpicked the 55-year-old Boston native over Alvin Gentry, Blatt has to absorb a slice of the responsibility if that hasn't happened. It's on him to convince his players he's up to the task.

It was on Blatt, furthermore, to make better use of Timofey Mozgov -- offensively and defensively -- after his bust-outs in Games 2 and 4. It was likewise on Blatt to find better schemes to disrupt Andre Iguodala in the series of his life as opposed to leaving him open game after game and asking Mozgov to chase after him. You also expected him to coax more out of J.R. Smith after Blatt proved more than once while coaching abroad that he had a knack for reaching enigmatic players.

The disconnect with LeBron is no alibi for any of that.

But I repeat:

LeBron's otherworldly performance in this series, on top of everything he's done for Northeast Ohio just by returning to the area and revitalizing it beyond words, doesn't make any of this stuff palatable.

The charade can't continue. This isn’t about whether Blatt deserves to be brought back for a second season, but he obviously does after going so far in the playoffs -- and with Cleveland improving its defense so drastically along the way in the postseason -- in spite of all the injuries.

This is purely and simply about LeBron, if he can't bring himself to back Blatt with more gusto going forward, going right to Gilbert and telling him to hire Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau or the most likely suspect, Lue.

Someone he's prepared to support.

Support like Tim Duncan was providing Gregg Popovich long before he was POP!

Or the kind of support that Iguodala, your newly minted Finals MVP, reluctantly but ultimately submitted when a rookie coach named Steve Kerr, with far less of a coaching resume than Blatt, showed up in Oakland and told Iggy he needed him to come off the bench for the first time in his life to make Harrison Barnes -- and, by extension, Golden State as a whole -- function more effectively.

The otherworldly way LeBron played in these Finals, shouldering a bigger load than any superstar we've seen on the championship stage and slowing the mighty Dubs like no one else could with his brain as much as his brawn, left little doubt that he's one of the three-to-five greatest individual forces this game has ever witnessed.

Yet when folks question why I would dare suggest that Duncan deserves consideration in the same conversation, here's my answer: Timmy ticks every single box when it comes to serving as the ultimate tentpole upon which to hoist a franchise.

Eight years removed from the Finals in which Duncan's Spurs swept aside young James and a different set of overmatched Cavs -- eight years after Duncan told the then-22-year-old James that he would soon own this league -- I found myself coming back to the same thought.

He's too damn good to behave this way.

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