“There was a chance we could sign ‘That Guy,'” David Blatt was told when he interviewed for the head coaching position of the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer.
‘That Guy’ was a reference to LeBron James and his possible return to Cleveland. Nothing was guaranteed though, which is why David Griffin, who was only six months into his reign as acting general manager, decided to proceed as if they wouldn’t be getting LeBron back.
Blatt mentioned that the Cavs were unsure, which is why they went and drafted a player who plays Lebron’s position.
“When you know you have LeBron, is Wiggins the guy you pick?” asked Blatt. “They more or less play the same position.”
What was supposed to be a young team that Blatt was hired to develop into a mature team turned into veteran team that had a “Win-Now” label all over them.
When Blatt first got calls from the NBA regarding his coaching services they were to two places: Golden State to be an assistant coach under recently hired Steve Kerr or be a head coach with the young, up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers.
We all know he ultimately decided to join with the Cavs, but he really had no idea how tough minded he’d have to be during the course of the season. As Chris Haynes of NEOMG reports, the first step was bringing Kyrie Irving back and signing him to a multi-year extension that would see him develop his prime-year talent in Cleveland.
With free agency talks opening up midnight of July 1, David Griffin, David Blatt, and assistant coach Tyronn Lue met up with Kyrie Irving at that exact time. Blatt recalls being nervous to see if Irving would buy into the Cavs future plans.
“I was nervous going into that meeting,” said Blatt. “Kyrie’s father (Dred) was there, and he’s a very influential person in Kyrie’s life. He needed to see sincerity on our part of building a winner with Kyrie. It wasn’t just ‘Kyrie, we love you … here’s $90 million.’ We had to explain to him how what we planned to do was different from what he had experienced before.
“Kyrie had not been happy here, it wasn’t a good situation. There were times when he wasn’t happy even walking in the building. And now, look at him.”
Prior to Griffin, Chris Grant was the general manager and he made some questionable decisions. For example, he drafted Dion Waiters, a strictly offensive guard who never started a college game, instead coming off the bench 71 times. He also drafted Anthony Bennett, who could be an even bigger bust than Kwame Brown or Darko Milicic.
Once the Cavs were able to convince Irving, James decided to join the party. Once James was on board, the next step was acquiring a player the Cavaliers had been looking at for well over a year: Kevin Love. The disgruntled Love openly wanted out of Minnesota, and Cleveland was the perfect situation for him.
“Once LeBron came, next there was Kevin (Love) and I did feel the ‘win now’ pressure,” said Blatt. “That might have been the hardest part for me, because we started in one place without James and very, very quickly we became something else.”
“I expected the start of the season to be choppy at best — and rough at worst,” said Blatt. “We were a team with overwhelming expectations facing the challenge of incorporating three dominant players — and trying to make it work as a unit. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Choppy at best? The Cavs automatically skyrocketed in the championship odds, and there were even talks about winning 70 games! Well teams that wanted to win 70 games had to play extremely good defense, and the current roster Cleveland has was no where near ready to win 70 let alone 60.
That proved right when LeBron James took his two-week hiatus to rest some nagging injuries and Cleveland struggled to win a basketball game. There were rumors all around faulting Blatt, and those rumors swirled into reports that he was close to being fired.
David Griffin came out almost immediately and publicly defended Blatt.
“This narrative of our coaching situation is truly ridiculous,” Griffin told reporters on Sunday. “It’s a non-story, it’s a non-narrative. Coach Blatt is our coach, he’s going to remain our coach. Do not write that as a vote of confidence. He never needed one. It was never a question. So don’t write it that way.”
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The truth was that after Andy’s injury and the team playing at an unexpectedly low level, players began to lose hope in what was a championship or bust season. David Blatt and Kyrie Irving earned their first career technical fouls, not really because of the heat of the moment, but more so because of the frustration that was boiling from within the franchise because of their struggles. All of that changed with two trades and giving up one player.
Dion Waiters was traded along with a pair of draft picks in the beginning of January for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Those three players, along with the return of a healthy LeBron James, was the start of something great for the Cavs.
“It all came together,” said Blatt. “LeBron got healthy. And whoever plays with LeBron gets better. That’s LeBron’s greatest quality as a player — he makes others better.”
“We got outside shooting with J.R.,” he said. “Timofey is a rim-protector, something we really needed. Shumpert is a defensive stopper on the perimeter. Those are three pretty significant moves and we could put them together quickly because they were a good fit for what we needed.”
12 straight victories. 18-of-20. By mid-April, the Cavs had run off 32 wins in 39 games, and secured the Eastern Conference’s second seed.
“LeBron and I are both about the same thing — bringing a title to Cleveland,” said Blatt. “We both recognize that it may or may not happen as people would like to see it happen — because there is a process.”
Now Blatt has a new task at hand: leading an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers team to the Conference Finals and hopefully the NBA Finals come June. Without Kevin Love, who suffered a season ending shoulder injury, and J.R. Smith, for two games as he serves a suspension, Blatt and the coaching staff will be tinkering with lineups to find the most productive group against a tough Bulls team this week.