Most everyone was taken aback by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ firing of coach David Blatt on Friday. Reporters and fans scratched their heads at the notion that a coach with a 30-11 record — good for first place in the Eastern Conference standings — could get the axe, especially after guiding his team to the NBA Finals last season. Even LeBron James was “surprised and caught off-guard,” or so he said.
Prominent among the befuddled masses are the rest of the league’s head coaches, who on Friday and Saturday voiced unanimous disapproval. The coaching community didn’t like the precedent it set for a league that seems ever more impatient with its carousel of coaches.
Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle, who spoke on the matter for more than five minutes Friday evening, had some particularly harsh words.
“It’s a shocker. It’s just a real shocker,” Carlisle told the Dallas Morning News.
“He’s done some phenomenal things adjusting to this league. I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen. It’s just bizarre. Now is Tyronn Lue going to coach the All-Star Game? It just leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling. Because Blatt’s a great guy and he did a great job there.”
San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich expressed similar remorse, though he sounded a more jaded tone that suggested he wouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore.
“All of us in the business know how it works,” Popovich said before Friday’s Spurs victory against the Lakers. “We all feel badly when it happens to a colleague. [Blatt] is a heck of a coach [but] circumstances often dictate what happens to certain coaches that have nothing to do with their record.”
Los Angeles Lakers Coach Byron Scott, perhaps on the cusp of a similar fate given his team’s 9-36 mark, also chimed in.
“This is a very, very tough business and sometimes very thankless business as well,” Scott said. “You could be on a team doing extremely well like Cleveland and still you lose your job.
“When I heard the news [about Blatt], and most of the time [when this happens], you just kind of shake your head and wonder. I definitely feel bad for him.”
Boston’s Brad Stevens, the former Butler University coach who accepted a six-year deal to head the Celtics in 2013, lauded Blatt’s character.
“It’s probably not the most secure profession to choose. But David Blatt did a heck of a job and he won a ton of games. He handled himself, I thought, with great grace all the way through. His team got all the way to the Finals, a team that had to change the way they played to get there. I read his statement afterwards. I stole a play from him that we got an open three on the other day. I would think he’s not going to be unemployed long. He’s a heck of a coach now.”
Perhaps the snarkiest reaction came from Orlando Magic Coach Scott Skiles, who has been fired by three NBA teams.
Magic coach Scott Skiles on David Blatt: "Back in my day, you use to have to at least lose games before you got fired."
— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) January 22, 2016
Blatt, like any coach, had to deal with his fair share of drama during his first year at the helm. Injuries forced Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to miss significant time and stymied their cohesion alongside James, who many believe never fully respected Blatt’s authority. All the while, Blatt faced criticism about being in over his head after two decades spent coaching in the Euroleague.
Yet Blatt still managed to win games, which is the root of the consternation swirling around NBA arenas this weekend. The always voluble Stan Van Gundy expressed his disbelief and ripped Cleveland management during the Detroit Pistons’ shoot-around Saturday.
“It’s embarrassing for the league, it really is,” Van Gundy said. “David Blatt had injuries this year and everything else. We all know; nobody cares about that. You’re supposed to win, and he did. He did. And now he’s still getting fired. It’s hard to figure out what it’s all about anymore.”
The Tyronn Lue era, meanwhile, didn’t start off so hot in the Cavs’ first game without Blatt in the driver’s seat Saturday against the Bulls.