One of the NBA season’s most fascinating subplots is the power dynamic between LeBron James and coach David Blatt.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-4 after losing to the Denver Nuggets 106-97 on Monday night.
The Nuggets have been one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, and they were coming off an ugly loss to the Knicks where they scored eight points in the third quarter.
It’s a bad loss for a Cleveland team that is working through more growing pains than expected.
After the game Joe Vardon, the Cavs beat writer for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, wrote about the relationship between LeBron and Blatt — the first-time NBA head coach who spent decades overseas before getting hired this summer.
The takeaway: there isn’t really much of a relationship between the two, not yet anyway. From Vardon:
It’s hard to say James and Blatt have jelled or are even in the process of jelling at this point in the season. They have little in common. But that kind of relationship, if it ever develops between Blatt and James, will take time — spanning perhaps a championship or two.
At minimum, Blatt and James appear to agree on the basic concepts of sharing the ball and playing defence. Each time the Cavaliers have played poorly in a loss, Blatt has deflected criticism publicly away from James and onto his supporting cast. It fosters at least the appearance that Blatt and James are trying to build a championship team together.
LeBron has more power than any other NBA player, and early in the season he has done a lot to cultivate the impression that this is his team. He told reporters that he spent the offseason reading leadership books and studying his new teammates.
Before Blatt was about to start the team’s first practice, LeBron abruptly called a players-only meeting where he went around to each individual player and told them what he expected of him this year.
Early in the season he unilaterally experimented with a “sink or swim” strategy where he basically took a backseat and let his teammates fail in order to teach them a lesson. After a win against the Celtics, LeBron told ESPN, “Right now, I feel like the young guys are like my kids. They’re not accustomed to reading textbooks. They like iPads. And you got to show them it looks better for them and that’s the process we’re in right now. You can’t just tell them. You have to show them on film and see when they do it right this is the result of it.”
Where is Blatt in all of this?
After their opening night loss to the Knicks, Blatt reportedly help a fiery meeting where he criticised everyone, including James.
A few days later, James told the Akron Beacon-Journal that he doesn’t put much stock in pep talks, saying, “I think pep talks and things of that nature get overblown.”
Blatt has an impressive coaching record in Europe, and he’s widely recognised as an X’s and O’s genius in the basketball world. But he has never faced a situation where he has to manage multiple superstars, and he has certainly never been in a situation like this — where the best player in the world has decided he’s going to take on responsibilities usually reserved for the head coach.
It took LeBron a while to warm up to Erik Spoelstra (remember that shoulder-bump thing?), and it’s not like anyone is saying the two can’t work together. But like everything else with the Cavs right now, LeBron and Blatt are still figuring it out.
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