A look back at David Blatt’s turbulent time with Cavs, LeBron James
David Blatt was fired Friday after 582 days at the helm in Cleveland, a tenure that was often tumultuous, often successful, but that also fell short of the Cavaliers’ grand expectations. Eighty-three wins, 40 losses. One trip to the Finals, one injured, overmatched team falling to the hands of the Warriors. A first-place start and a pair of alarming losses to Western Conference heavyweights. A quiet, surprise firing.
Here’s a look at Blatt’s time with the Cavaliers.
Andy Wittry contributed research.
June 20, 2014: Blatt hired to right the ship
Blatt was hired by Cleveland from Maccabi Tel-Aviv after leading the team to a Euroleague title. He went 255–55 with Maccabi and bolstered his reputation as one of international basketball’s best coaches, also notably winning bronze medal with the Russian national team in the 2012 London Olympics. An extended off-season coaching search led the Cavaliers to Blatt, who replaced Mike Brown and became the team’s third coach in three years.
Since LeBron James’s departure for Miami in 2010, the Cavs had won just 97 games in four seasons, winning the No. 1 pick three times. Kyrie Irving, the first pick in the 2011 draft, offered at least one promising building block, and Cleveland was about to add another: Blatt was introduced one day prior to the NBA draft, in which Cleveland held the first pick. The team selected Kansas small forward Andrew Wiggins, who would in theory pair with Irving, Tristan Thompson and 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett to form a youthful core.
July 11, 2014: LeBron comes home
LeBron James shook the landscape of the NBA with his decision to leave the Miami Heat following a Finals loss to the Spurs. He announced through Sports Illustrated that he planned to try again in Cleveland, where he spent the first seven years of his career. And with the Akron native and league’s top player came instant championship expectations for the team and its first-year head coach. Speculation abounded that Wiggins would become a trade chip for the Cavaliers to add a third star. That came to fruition soon enough.
As for Blatt and James, they met for the first time on the set of the movie Trainwreck, in which which James played a supporting role.
August 23, 2014: Cavs acquire Love, become favorites
After suiting up as a Cavalier in summer league, Wiggins was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves after a drawn-out process due to a technicality making the team wait until 30 days after he signed his rookie contract to trade him. Wiggins, Bennett and a trade exception went to the Wolves, Love went to the Cavs, and a third team, the Sixers, sent Thaddeus Young to Minnesota as well, receiving a 2015 first-rounder from Cleveland via Miami and Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from the Wolves.
The deal was the league’s worst-kept secret, and instantly gave the Cavs an on-paper “big three” as talented as any in the league. If it wasn’t clear already, Cleveland had become the Eastern Conference favorite. The team also added veterans Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones, all with Finals experience, in the off-season. Love joined the team off a career year in which he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists. All seemed peachy.
Jan. 7, 2015: Cleveland shakes it up after slow start
The 2014–15 season began inauspiciously, with the newly star-studded Cavaliers just 5–5 after 10 games, an improved 13–7 after 20, but just 19–17 nearing the midway point of the season. On the night of their seventh loss in nine games—and with James out indefinitely since Dec. 30 as he rested injuries—Cleveland dealt inconsistent shooting guard and former lottery pick Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a three-team deal that brought in J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks. The Cavs also acquired a protected first-round pick from the Thunder. The deal bolstered Cleveland’s depth, but also brought in two highly mercurial, yet talented players. Reports indicated that the team consulted with LeBron James prior to the trade.
The Cavs weren’t done: one day later, they swung another deal with the Denver Nuggets for center Timofey Mozgov, dealing the first rounder they had just acquired from OKC and another first-round pick they held from Memphis to land the big man. The team lost center Anderson Varejao for the year in December and needed interior help.
James returned Jan. 13, and the team quickly began a 12-game winning streak and won 14 of 15 from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12.
April 1, 2015: Blatt wins Coach of the Month
Blatt was honored after the Cavs went 11–4 in March and looked like the dominant force in the Eastern Conference. They won seven of 15 games by double figures, were 48–27 and a stellar 29–7 since Jan. 15. All was well.
May 10, 2015: LeBron calls his own game-winner, and things get complicated
The Cavaliers were tested, but swept the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs and next faced the rival Chicago Bulls, led by an emerging star in Jimmy Butler and a former MVP in Derrick Rose, who had recovered from his latest knee injury. Rose bagged a buzzer-beating three in Game 3 in Chicago to put the Bulls up 2–1 and the pressure on the Cavaliers.
Two nights later, James responded in another hectic game with a game winner of his own, evening the series and igniting the Cavs, who won the next two games to advance to the East finals.
However, the victory came with a bit of tension, as James revealed to reporters after the game that his now-seminal shot had come only after he nixed the play Blatt had drawn up—which originally had James inbounding the basketball. After the game, replay revealed that just seconds prior to James’s heroics, Blatt had attempted to call a timeout the team didn’t have, but had been pulled back by assistant coach Tyronn Lue. The Cavaliers won the series, but not without serious questioning of Blatt’s decision-making.
"I almost blew it," Blatt admitted. The Cavs went on to sweep the Hawks and meet the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.
June 16, 2015: Warriors win the title
With Irving and Love out with injuries and an increasingly self-assured Warriors team pushing the pace, the Cavaliers fell 105–97 in Game 6 to cede the championship to Golden State. The Warriors had discovered a high-powered small-ball lineup, Andre Iguodala had done his best to quell James — who, by the way, was still by far the best player in the series—and the Cavs ultimately didn’t have enough to make it work.
"We ran out of talent," James, told reporters after the game. "We gave everything we had." In Game 5, James had been spotted behind his team’s bench, shaking his head at Blatt and forcing him to draw up a new play in the third quarter.
“This is a process,” Blatt said in his press conference. “You don't wake up one morning and fall out of bed and expect to win the NBA Championship. You hope that you can, but it doesn't always work that way, and our guys did more than anyone could expect to put themselves and put our organization in this situation.”
Nov. 19, 2015: LeBron’s vote of confidence
Any drama between coach and player appeared nullified after an 8–3 start to the season, the Cavaliers having brought back Love on a long-term deal. Reports had indicated a continued distrust from James toward Blatt, but the superstar’s words told a different tale.
“He does his job as great as any coach can do in this league,” James said of Blatt prior to the team’s ninth win of the year.