Change is the only constant in life.
The evolutionary tract of the world’s most athletic team sport dictates that those who wish to reach the NBA Finals must change, or go the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Those teams that once relied on hard fouling and five-dribble-isolation plays may have once feasted on smaller prey back in the day, but now represent the dry bones of ineptitude in the modern era. Plainly put, the faster pace that once was something of a carnival attraction in places like Phoenix and Dallas a decade ago has proven to be the wave of the future in the aftermath of a Golden State Warriors championship win in the summer of 2016.
But what those teams lacked, and what the Warriors have in spades, is defense and the personnel to score in any situation.
This season we find several teams are looking to turn up the bass and level out the treble in order to get those nets to sing sweet music, but most end up on a sour note simply because they lack the necessary players. The Cleveland Cavaliers recently fired head coach David Blatt because he could not orchestrate the symphony of talent to the satisfaction of his boss.
General Manager David Griffin didn’t parse words when describing the reasons for the firing last week.
"Every decision that is made is an answer to the following question: 'Does it put us in the best position to deliver championships to Northeast Ohio?'" said Griffin. "And every decision is made with that question in mind…What I see is that we need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit and a collective will. Elite teams in this league always have that and you see it everywhere. To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in.”
He closed by assuring the media that this decision was wholly his own and that LeBron James and owner Dan Gilbert had nothing to do with the firing. But an angel could have descended from heaven, with brass trumpets hearkening his coming, and read David Griffin’s statement at the Vatican and there would have still been skepticism. There were also outcries from other NBA coaches like Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons.
But beneath all of the hoopla and consternation over a man who coached a team to a 30-11 record and the top-seed in the Eastern Conference is a truth that is hiding snugly in the mire.
David Blatt was simply not a good enough coach to take the Cavaliers franchise where it aspires to go.
There were signs early on. Remember the third quarter of Game 5 in the NBA Finals, when LeBron demonstratively vetoed a play, forcing Blatt to come up with another one?
There was another instance where LeBron simply ignored Blatt’s late game strategy against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi's that had him inbounding the ball. King James scrapped his coach's plan and hit the game-winning shot instead.
There were also multiple instances in which Blatt revealed his lack of pedigree late in games, such as the now infamous timeout he tried to call, only to be reminded by Tyronn Lue that they had none. There were also several situations where players would differ to Lue, who played for 10 years in the NBA, before listening to Blatt.
The former Cavs coach seemed like a man out of his league, literally and figuratively. Supposedly a genius disciple of the Princeton offense, Blatt was supposed to be bringing a free-flowing offense to Cleveland that was filled with great spacing and backdoor cuts.
Instead, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James simply took turns playing one-on-one basketball, with teammates standing around shooting threes or just watching. That was good enough for the Cavs to be 8th in scoring at 103.1 points per game last year.
What a difference a year makes, huh? Cleveland’s team scoring average is 101.3 points per game this season, which is 17th place in the high-octane NBA.
LeBron has carried a heavy scoring load in addition to being the de facto coach at crucial junctures of tight games. The added responsibility of feeling like you have to second guess your coach is big a deal, especially in late-game situations.
Point guard extraordinaire Kyrie Irving returned 17 games ago after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the NBA Finals. He’s currently averaging 15.9 points per game, well below his career average, and much of it has come in the same old, unimaginative one-on-one game that everyone knows is coming.
Utilizing him solely in that capacity is not enough to push the Cavs from the middle of the pack on offense. He needs to be allowed to run free, something Blatt resisted to his own detriment.
Additionally, his relegating of high-priced power forward Kevin Love to a glorified Matt Bullard-type player does not make for good offense. In fact, it has been downright offensive to Love and others.
In firing Blatt, Griffin is committed to the idea of significantly picking up the offensive pace.
On paper, it appears as if the Cavaliers match up favorably with Golden State. In last year's Finals, with Lebron exerting a herculean effort and giving one of the all-time great championship series performances while trying to compensate for the absence of the injured Love and Irving, the undermanned Cavs inexplicably won two games against the exceptional Warriors.
Stephen Curry is balling out of control this season, but Kyrie Irving is the closest thing to Curry any NBA team can come up with aesthetically. Draymond Green is a tough-minded, versatile player, but dare we say he is tougher or better than King James? Heavens, no. J.R. Smith or Harrison Barnes off the bench? Mozgov or Bogut? Take your pick.The only clear advantage for GSW is Andre Iguodala.
The similarities aren’t just simply skin deep, but the Warriors, who have been a consistent model of next-level teamwork and excellence, are an overwhelming favorite to win another title. The Cavs, however, have vacillated between simply being pretty good to looking as mediocre as a county fair beauty queen all year.
All the noise of LeBron orchestrating the firing, of Blatt being treated unfairly, is simply static at this point.
Bold organizations make bold moves to combat mediocrity, and if Lue coaxes the Cavaliers to an NBA title, the mid-season coaching change will be viewed as an example of great management.
Without the respect of the locker room, something had to change in Cleveland. Namely David Blatt, who was good, but simply not good enough.