Over the holidays the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season took a downward turn.
Anderson Varejao suffered a season-ending achilles injury, they lost to the Heat on Christmas Day, and they hit a new low by getting destroyed by the Detroit Pistons (one of the worst teams in the league) by 23 points at home on Sunday.
On Monday ESPN’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst reported that the Cavs were worried that the players aren’t listening to head coach David Blatt. It’s the most solid evidence yet that there’s a rift between the best player in the world and his first-time NBA coach.
LeBron James has positioned himself as something of a player-coach since he returned to Cleveland over the summer, which has made it difficult for Blatt to exercise the type of authority he might have with a younger, less established roster.
On Monday reporters asked LeBron about the ESPN story. He could have killed the story entirely by praising Blatt and saying the team was fully behind him. Instead he offered this when asked if Blatt was the right man for the job:
LeBron James when asked if David Blatt is the “right” coach for the Cavs: “Yeah, I mean, he’s our coach, what other coach do we have?”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 29, 2014
“He’s our coach” is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
When a reporter told him that endorsing Blatt would speak volumes, LeBron declined, saying (via Dave McMenamin):
“Well, listen man, I don’t pay no bills around here. Listen man, I play. I’m happy with who we have at our helm. He’s our coach. But for it to make a feud between me and Blatt or the team and Blatt is just to sell. It’s just to sell and get people to read it and put something on the bottom of the ticker. That’s all it is. It’s funny, you could write those same things when we win, too. They just write them when we lose because it looks better.”
Instead of just praising the guy in the face of intense criticism, LeBron made it about the media.
Something similar to this happened with Erik Spoelstra when the Heat got out to a 9-8 start during Year One of the Big-3 era. Spoelstra ultimately survived, coaching LeBron and the Heat to four-straight NBA Finals appearances. But that Heat team was better than this Cavs team, and LeBron wasn’t wielding anywhere near the same amount of power he is in Cleveland.
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