Friday, January 27, 2023 -
Print Edition

Cavaliers fire David Blatt, former Israeli coach

David Blatt reacting to a call in a game against Golden State, Dec. 25, 2015.CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers fired Israeli-American head coach David Blatt, who led the team to the NBA finals last season and to the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Blatt confirmed that he was fired Jan. 22 in an announcement by his agency. He also released a statement thanking the Cavaliers.

Assistant coach Tyronn Lue will succeed Blatt, having agreed to a three-year deal, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Many Cavaliers players, especially the veterans, felt that Blatt was unprepared for the job and questioned whether he knew the NBA well enough to guide them to a championship, ESPN reported.

After initially struggling to adapt to the NBA game, the Cavaliers under Blatt made it to the 2015 NBA finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

In a season and a half at the helm, Blatt guided the Cavaliers to an 83-40 record. His .675 winning percentage was the best of any coach in franchise history.

THE DISMISSAL of Blatt, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 2014 Euroleague championship in an upset, has stunned Israelis. After all, in his first year at the helm, he guided the Cavs to just their second appearance in the NBA Finals.

What doomed Blatt in Cleveland, where he wore his Israeli identity on his sleeve, pointedly called on Israeli reporters in news conferences during the playoffs, responding to their questions in Hebrew?

Some Israeli fans are pointing at LeBron James, saying he undermined the coach — and worse.

Blatt was hired in the summer of 2014, fresh off his Maccabi crown, to develop a young team steadily recovering from James’ 2010 departure for the Miami Heat. The Cavs had just drafted Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick.

But a month later, Cleveland abruptly reversed course.

James, a native of Akron, Ohio, returned to his home arena as a free agent after leading the Heat to two NBA titles. In an effort to make an immediate run at the championship, the Cavs’ general manager, David Griffin, opted to rebuild around veterans: He brought in All-Star forward Kevin Love from Minnesota in exchange for Wiggins and others.

That summer, James rebuffed Blatt’s offers to meet. During the season, James changed plays called by Blatt — a habit brought to a dramatic climax in the closing seconds of a nationally televised conference semifinal game against the Chicago Bulls in which James hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer.

James told journalists he scrapped the play in the huddle.

“If I had salespeople not following the plan, that wouldn’t be acceptable behavior, for sure,” said Mark Mayerfeld, who manages a 12-person sales and account staff for Trader Tools, a software company in Raanana. “You’ve got to follow the plan. If you don’t, you’ll be fired.”

Another Israeli, marketing executive Barry Spielman, added: “You can’t have a prima donna on a sports team. Blatt’s mistake is that he didn’t put LeBron James in his place last season. He didn’t call him out. Eventually he lost the confidence of the team. Once he lost the team, he probably lost the management.”

One Israeli voice of dissent was Yediot Acharonot columnist Sharon Davidovitch, who cited the hard reality of the NBA as a star-driven league.

“It was the right decision, but it was cold, it was painful and — there’s no other way to say it — insulting,” he wrote, adding that the most important thing is “for the star to be happy enough to bring the team a championship.”

In an interview Monday on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” program, Griffin said Blatt’s firing was not “a panic move.”

“I recognized where our spirit was,” Griffin explained. “What I don’t think we have is a swag and a belief in one another. You watch Cam Newton: He is the identity of the Carolina Panthers, and he has absolutely no fear. We play the best teams in this league, and we don’t play like that right now.”

Said Tal Brody, a former star  for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Cavs loss by 34 points to last year’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, in a home game last week “was a backbreaker” for Blatt in Cleveland.

Brody said he sent Blatt a supportive email after the firing, but hasn’t heard back.

Leave a Reply