In a story published Thursday on ESPN.com, Marc Stein writes that although James set forth multiple impressive performances despite the Cavaliers being significantly besieged by injuries, the 11-time NBA All-Star visibly expressed frustration with Blatt's in-game decisions and appeared to favor assistant coach and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, prompting Blatt to at least one time re-do a play he drew up during a timeout.
• ROSENBERG: NBA Finals heartbreak shouldn't define James’ legacy
And we likewise saw LeBron emasculate Blatt in ways that are simply unbecoming of a player of James’ legend-in-the-making stature.
I saw it from close range in my role as sideline reporter through the Finals for ESPN Radio. LeBron essentially calling timeouts and making substitutions. LeBron openly barking at Blatt after decisions he didn’t like. LeBron huddling frequently with Lue and so often looking at anyone other than Blatt.
There was LeBron, 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.
Blatt was hired before the season—and before James chose to return to Cleveland—after a successful overseas coaching career. His Maccabi Electra team based in Tel Aviv, Israel, won the 2014 Euroleague championship, earning Blatt Euroleague Coach of the Year honors on top of his previous four Israeli League Coach of the Year honors.
After bringing Blatt and James into the fold, the Cavaliers overhauled their roster by trading for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, signing veterans James Jones, Shawn Marion and Mike Miller and making midseason deals for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
After starting slow, the Cavaliers finished the regular season 53–29 and eventually reached the NBA Finals for the second time in Cleveland’s 45-year franchise history.
Despite the team’s success, reports of friction between James and Blatt persisted throughout the season. Nonetheless, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said in a radio appearance on Wednesday that James might not mind if Blatt returns to coach the Cavaliers next season because he “likes having Blatt to kick around.”
- Mike Fiammetta