Now we know: LeBron James’ relationship with his head coach, David Blatt, is anything but smooth.
ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote about James’ treatment of Blatt during the recently concluded 2015 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the eventual champions Golden State Warriors on June 18.
The gist of Stein’s expose is James basically belittling Blatt’s head coaching abilities. As awkward as this may sound, the self-proclaimed “best basketball player in the world” could also be guilty of insubordination.
Stein starts off by saying James is much too great a player to have treated Blatt the way he did.
While doing his report as a sideline reporter for ESPN Radio for The NBA Finals, Stein then claims he actually saw LBJ was the one calling timeouts and making substitutions for the Cavaliers.
— SB Nation (@SBNation) June 18, 2015
What’s even more revealing is Stein witnessed James openly rebuking Blatt whenever he disagreed with any of his decisions. James also discussed game strategy with Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue, making eye contact with him and most of his teammates except Blatt.
Stein then describes one particular timeout during Game 5 at Oracle Arena which shows how lofty James’ status is:
There was James, 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 James had no input in 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.
Stein wonders how the other Cavaliers players will ever treat Blatt with respect if his best player “treats him like a bench ornament.” The ESPN writer also wonders what kind of leadership example James is setting for his teammates.
Stein then cites his ESPN colleague Brian Windhorst, somebody who has followed James since his high school days. During a recent guesting on ESPN Radio’s “SVP & Russilo,” Windhorst says James has no problems having his current head coach keeping his job because he “likes having Blatt to kick around.”
Part of the blame for this current power struggle goes to Blatt. He has to convince his players he can coach at the NBA level, per Stein.
Stein also feels Blatt didn’t utilize Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov very effectively during The Finals. He also thinks Blatt was not able to keep 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala—who scored 25 points in the series-clinching Game 6—in check.
Blatt could also have gotten more out of J.R. Smith, Stein adds.
— SB Nation (@SBNation) June 17, 2015
In the end, Stein stresses this issue is not about Blatt because he deserves to return as Cavaliers head coach after he helped bring the team back to the NBA Finals after an eight-year absence. Rather, this is more on James.
If he can’t resolve his issues with Blatt, Stein feels he would be better off going directly to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and telling him to hire a coach he actually supports—somebody like a Jeff Van Gundy or Tom Thibodeau. Or maybe even Lue, who is primed to be an NBA head coach someday.
Nonetheless, Stein considers James, who averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the 2015 NBA Finals, “one of the three to five greatest individual forces this game has ever witnessed.” Stein makes a case for San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan when he says he’s also one of those three to five players.
This is because in his opinion, the 39-year-old Duncan is the ultimate franchise player. As for James, Stein closes things out by saying, “He’s too damn good to behave this way.”
The Parting Shot
LeBron James’ issues with David Blatt are surprising, to say the least. Marc Stein is as credible as they come when it comes to NBA coverage. That being said, for him to divulge these details about the four-time NBA MVP comes as a bit of a shock.
It also brings back memories of players not getting along with their head coaches. Probably the one that stands out the most was when Robert Horry threw a towel at Danny Ainge when the former played for the Phoenix Suns in 1997.
Horry was reportedly upset when Ainge pulled him out of a game. We also can’t forget about the rumored mutiny of the Detroit Pistons when John Kuester was their head coach four years ago.
ESPN talk show host and columnist Stephen A. Smith reported on Feb. 28, 2011 that several Pistons players never got along well with Kuester. They didn’t like the way he treated Rip Hamilton, who, together with then-Pistons center Chris Wilcox, deliberately skipped one of the team’s shootarounds.
Smith’s league source told him back then some Pistons players even laughed when Kuester was ejected from a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
We can also never forget about the infamous choking incident involving Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Carlesimo.
And now we have LeBron James and David Blatt.
In the roller-coaster business known as the National Basketball Association, disagreements are bound to happen. Coaches have to deal with superstar egos and players of different temperaments. Tempers flare. Emotions run high. Conflicts abound.
Was James wrong to have shown up his head coach like he did, as Stein claims? Yes. Even if he’s the best player in the world, he is still that—a player. Since when was a player placed above his coach in the NBA hierarchy?
And yes, Stein is right. James is setting the wrong example. It will be difficult for his teammates to give Blatt the respect he deserves if they habitually see him being manipulated by LBJ.
— Complex (@ComplexMag) June 19, 2015
As for Blatt, he has to show everyone he’s the man in charge. He has plenty of overseas coaching experience. But he’s still relatively raw as an NBA head coach. He must not let James intimidate him. It does not reflect well on his leadership abilities. Or lack of them.
Let’s give Blatt the benefit of the doubt. He fell just two games short of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title and the city of Cleveland its first pro sports crown in 41 years.
And let’s not forget, he didn’t have Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in The Finals.
That being said, Cleveland will be a force to be reckoned with once again next season. Stein nailed it when he said this is all on James.
For all intents and purposes, he should just play and let Blatt coach. Speak his mind if he must, but he has to bear in mind he’s just a player. Blatt is still his boss.
Let’s hope James comes to his senses sooner than later.