Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hard Truths about David Blatt, LeBron, & the Cavs

David Blatt's most infamous and defining public moment, unfairly or not, was just a turn of a referee's head from becoming Northeast Ohio's next mammoth sports disaster. Coach, the Cavaliers and, most of all, Cleveland caught an uncharacteristic break last Mother's Day when no official noticed Blatt signaling for a timeout that didn't exist. He followed his good fortune by pushing his luck- drawing up the final shot of the game for someone not named LeBron. This time, Coach Blatt was saved by the very superstar he unintentionally attempted to snub. See, this was the NBA playoffs in 2015. Blatt might be Israel's answer to Phil Jackson, but there would be no J.R. Smith-as-Toni Kukoc-moment. LeBron is many things in this life, but he is not a decoy. So he would call his own play, bury three points from a small pocket of the United Center, and then boast to the media about how it all went down. For all intents and purposes, Bron's trey was three-fold: it won the game, essentially the series, and, ironically, it bought Blatt another eight months in a job that the Cavs and King James never wanted him to have.

This is not an indictment of owner Dan Gilbert's choice of Blatt in June, 2014. Most fans supported the hire, and the organization had failed so miserably in player development that we welcomed the thought of an NBA coach telling his squad to "shut the %*@# up" in a huddle. Of course, everything changed when LeBron (and his potentially, never-ending string of one-year contracts) entered the room. What could Blatt, of European-checkers fame, offer an eleven-year grandmaster of chess? What kind of influence could Blatt wield when Klutch Sports holds the entire town hostage? Blatt became a patzer and a mascot the moment LeBron's "Coming Home" essay hit Twitter. In a perfect world, 'Bron makes his decision earlier, the Cavs conduct their coaching search accordingly, and we avoid the charade of the last season and a half. You know, the whole song and dance about how Ty Lue's presence in no way undermined Blatt's ability to act authoritative. And Blatt's impromptu California bowling trip somehow magically bonded the team to their rookie coach. While 'Bron burned through shot clocks and made his own substitutions, there was still the Fred McLeod-type of narrative that Blatt attained some sort of mutual respect with LeBron by kissing the King's ass. Finally, GM David Griffin had enough of those fantasies.

At CST, we're never shy about facing the harshest of realities, and that's the crux of this column. We've written a gazillion words on the eternal buffoonery of the Browns, but the Cavs offer their own brand of longstanding incompetence. If you scrolled the dark alleys of the internet about fifteen years ago, you could always find a rumor about the irrelevant Cavs relocating to St. Louis or, worse, Baltimore. In 2011, when Cleveland was the league's laughingstock, the talk was the "Seattle Cavaliers" or, even, contractionAny sniffle of success over the past two decades is directly due to #23. In fact, LeBron saved us twice. First, from moving, when the Gund ownership had pro hoops in The Land bordering on extinction. Second, from the horrendous ineptitude of Gilbert and Chris Grant. It's not exactly far-fetched to say the front office did absolutely nothing right in the post-LeBron era. It was simply lottery luck that brought LBJ home; it's the challenge of reversing the curse and the chance at immortality that will keep him here. But, while we're leveling with ourselves, it's more than fair to suggest James is no longer the world's top talent. Also, it probably wasn't a coincidence that the Cavs' most soulful performances during last year's playoff run were born, minus Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, from the mettle of role players. Despite their offensive gifts, it's unrealistic to believe Love and Irving, moody and aloof as they are, can exhibit the tenacity necessary to take four games from the western champion. That leaves us with the saddest truth of them all: David Blatt's 2014-15 Cavs may have come as close to the Larry O'Brien trophy as our city ever gets.