The Cleveland Cavaliers’ experiment has not reaped the results their chief decision makers hoped for or expected. The firing of former head coach David Blatt, who led the team to the NBA Finals last season and directed the Cavaliers to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 30-11 when he was dismissed Jan. 22, has barely moved the needle.
Blatt’s replacement, Tyronn Lue, who was a Cavaliers assistant coach under Blatt before his promotion, was hailed as a far more effective communicator and unifier than his predecessor. David Griffin, the Cavaliers general manger, asserted at the time of Blatt’s removal, “What I see is that we need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit, a collective will.”
“Elite teams,” Griffin maintained, “always have that, and you see it everywhere. To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in. That becomes our identity.”
Philosophically, Griffin’s reasoning is sound. But in practice, there has been little demonstrable efficacy. The Cavaliers couldn’t be measured against the weak competition in the East. They breezed to the NBA Finals, going 12-2 in three series. SpongeBob could have coached them past the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors.
The true appraisal comes now against the defending champions. Heading into Game 3 last night in Cleveland, neither Lue, Griffin nor LeBron James, who rightly or wrongly is widely viewed as being behind the coaching change, have come up with a formula that threatens to dethrone the Golden State Warriors. They were in a 2-0 hole and were thoroughly outplayed in both games.
“We didn’t beat them at anything,” James said after Sunday’s 110-77 thrashing.
Lue altered the Cavaliers’ offense to a more up-tempo style that created additional possessions and enhanced fluidity when he took over the team. It gave the appearance of progress, but it can’t mask the flaws on both ends of the court that are substantial and evident versus one of the most versatile and mentally resilient teams in NBA history.
If the Cavs don’t come back to defeat the Warriors and win the title, the firing of Blatt will be effectively pointless.