David Blatt already leads the NBA in Awkward Coach Moments. Year 2 in Cleveland could be spectacular.
David Blatt probably won’t derail the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship hopes. Last season, he pretty much established that whatever he’s doing out there—whether it’s actually coaching the Cavs, pantomiming on the sidelines as if he is coaching them, or comparing himself to a fighter pilot in post-game interviews—it sort of works. Or at least it does not actively not work. The team did come within two games of a title, after all.
Anyway, all of that is beside the point. The important thing isn’t that Blatt does his job well or poorly, but that he does it hilariously, with hapless aplomb that is both endearing and avant-garde.
His first season in Cleveland was one for the history books, in terms of the sheer volume of "Head Coach Does Strangely Self-Sabotaging Thing" stories he generated. Let us imagine what might transpire in Year Two. …
Nov. 5, 2015: After a double-digit loss to the Knicks, reports circulate that David Blatt might be on the hot seat. Cavaliers general manager David Griffin insists that “David is our guy. He’s here to stay.”
Nov. 13, 2015: Blatt goes to give J.R. Smith an attaboy as the guard walks to the bench, and they do that signals-hopelessly-crossed thing where one guy tries to perform a fist bump and the other is halfway into a handshake. This goes on for a full six seconds, and is all over Twitter in a blink. Both men feign ignorance of the incident afterward, but they know what happened.
Dec. 4, 2015: “Do I believe LeBron is the greatest player of all-time? I believe he’s the most important player on our team. I believe he’s a tremendous talent, has a tremendous work ethic. But then, Arvydas Sabonis spent his entire prime in Soviet Lithuania and Spain, so this is sort of an impossible discussion to have.”
Dec 7-14, 2015: At the organization’s behest, Blatt takes a week-long vow of silence. The coach mimes offensive set calls from the sideline and his post-game pressers consist of nothing but warm, sincere eye contact. The Cavs win four in a row.
Dec. 15, 2015: Blatt, in response to a question about Timofey Mozgov’s defensive responsibilities, insists that his relationship with Kyrie Irving is fine, and that, in fact, his star point guard sees him as something of a father figure. Somewhere in the Cavaliers’ executive offices, a rumpled intern scrawls “Month of Silence??” onto a whiteboard.
Dec. 25, 2015: Before the tilt against Golden State, Blatt is asked by an out-of-town reporter whether he objects to his team playing on Christmas. “Well, as one of the chosen people,” Blatt responds wryly, “it beats sitting on the couch and eating mediocre lo mein from the local takeaway joint.” Everyone agrees this is a pretty good joke.
Dec. 28, 2015: David Blatt's pretty good joke tunnels into the Earth’s mantle as he compares, at length, every single member of the Suns roster to one Chinese-American dish or another.
Jan. 9, 2016: After a double-digit loss to the Timberwolves, reports circulate that David Blatt might be on the hot seat. Cavaliers general manager David Griffin insists that “Our guy is David. His stay is here.”
Jan. 22, 2016: “I’m not saying Sabonis would have been the superior player, but that we can never know what he might have accomplished had he come to the States at age 21. They really wore him down over there, didn’t let those foot injuries heal properly. At any rate, the headline here is that LeBron is terrific. Just terrific.”
Feb. 2, 2016: At a team dinner, LeBron keeps asking assistant coach Tyronn Lue to ask David Blatt to pass LeBron various condiments.
Feb. 11, 2016: Blatt attempts to explain away the Cavs’ slightly sub-.500 record by citing injuries. When pressed by bemused reporters, who point out the team has been healthy for nearly two months now, Blatt only sort of clarifies: “I am talking about injuries much more painful than bodily ones could ever be.”
Feb. 14, 2016: During an All-Star Weekend interview with Kenny Smith, Kyrie Irving dismisses the notion that there’s any disconnect between the players and their head coach. “Look,” Kyrie reassures Kenny. “this season isn’t about Kyrie Irving and Daniel Blatt. This season is about bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland.”
Feb. 26, 2016: Straining to say something positive about the coach, Cavs color commentator Austin Carr stammers for a bit before asserting that the relationship between David Blatt and third-string point guard Matthew Dellavedova “seems fine.”
March 5, 2016: “We just got a good win over a tough Celtics team. Honestly, I don’t know where you guys get this stuff from. Of course if LeBron and I were having dinner in a group setting he would ask me directly for the Tabasco bottle.”
March 19, 2016: After a double-digit loss to the Magic, reports circulate that David Blatt might be on the hot seat. Cavaliers general manager David Griffin insists that “David. David. David. David. Stay.”
March 22, 2016: Sitting in his office, Blatt suddenly remembers all that stuff he said during the off-season about getting Kevin Love more involved in the offense. What a hilarious brain fart!
April 13, 2016: “The seven-seed is less than optimal, certainly, but I think we’ve still got an excellent shot to make the Finals. To answer your question more directly, I wouldn’t characterize what LeBron said as emasculating, no.”
April 17, 2016: The Cavs demolish the Bulls in game one of the opening round. Blatt gets a few high-fives in the way you get wet if you stand outside during a hurricane.
April 29, 2016: David Griffin takes a leave of absence amid rumors that he is a malfunctioning hologram.
May 2: 2016: After the point guard drops 48 points, putting the Cavs up 2–0 over the Raptors, David Blatt calls him “Kyrie ‘Uncle Drew’ Irving” in all of his answers. “We have a healthy working relationship that borders on genuine friendship,” Blatt explains.
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May 11, 2016: Blatt comes to LeBron with some ingeniously intricate inbounds sets to use against the Hawks. It takes herculean self-restraint, but LeBron manages to reject them out of hand as if they were the crayon drawings of a third-grader. Heart of a champion.
May 19, 2016: Blatt steers into the skid in game four of the Hawks series, passive-aggressively burning all the team’s timeouts in the opening quarter and yelling the names of number one hits from 1987 instead of play calls. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me,” Blatt shouts poignantly at one point. He spends the entire third quarter watching the game from the mezzanine. The Cavs win by 16.
May 27, 2016: “We’re where we’re at right now because of our togetherness,” Kevin Love lies, as the Cavs secure a place in the Finals.
June 3, 2016: “Oh, man, if we had circa 1989 Sabonis? I’d make us the favorites to win this thing. As it stands, I think it’s about 50–50.”
June 10, 2016: In the lead-up to game three of the Finals, Blatt responds to every question with a team with which he has won a championship. Do you believe you’re getting the credit you deserve? “Maccabi Tel Aviv, 2000.” Are you in charge of this team? “Bennetton Triviso, 2006.” The distinction between “baller move” and “man having a psychic break” has never been murkier.
June 16, 2016: The confetti rains down. Kyrie Irving is crying in Anderson Varejao’s arms. J.R. Smith is standing on the scorer’s table. David Blatt looks for someone to hug, finds only an exultant Dan Gilbert, and makes peace with the fact that he’s not going to hug anyone tonight.
June 19, 2016: In a sit-down interview with Doris Burke, LeBron admits that David Griffin never existed. Does that mean you’ve been the general manager this whole time? “Absolutely.” Then why keep embattled head coach David Blatt around? “Doris, do you remember when Larry Bird shot left-handed against the Blazers just to see if he could do it?”
June 21, 2016: Blatt announces his resignation. He’s going out on top, in a way. “It’s been a unique experience,” the 57-year-old coach admits. Asked what he plans to do next, Blatt’s demeanor brightens. “I just bought some commercial space in Vilnius, Lithuania. A certain multi-talented seven-footer and I are going into the restaurant business.”