David Blatt could wind up as the next head coach of the New York Knicks. We here at P&T are somewhat fond of that particular basketball club, so it behooves us to learn more about the dude who might coach it.
Ah, but this man Blatt has a long, complex coaching history. He has walked the Earth -- like Caine in "Kung Fu" -- picking up accolades (and occasionally criticism) on three different continents.
With that in mind, our own Matt Miranda traveled to the frozen hinterlands of Ohio -- not physically, of course -- to discuss Blatt's previous job performance with Fear the Sword managing editor David Zavac. Enjoy!
MM: The Cavs were 30-11 under Blatt this year and closed last year on a monster run (33-3, I think?). Since his firing, their record under Tyronn Lue has been fair, though not spectacular, and they've ended where they were expected to -- the East's #1 seed. Do Cav fans miss anything about Blatt?
DZ: The term I came to use for David Blatt was progressive. Progressive in the sense that he seemed open to lineup data, open to modern NBA offenses, attempted different forms of pick and roll coverage, and was willing to try out smallball lineups with different personnel. Despite having lineups with constant injury concerns, roles were pretty clearly established and rotations made sense. With Lue, there has been fiddling with lineups, and the best lineups haven't always been on the floor consistently. I think that's what Cavs fans miss the most.
MM: Was Blatt ever respected or admired by his roster during his Cleveland run? It seems he was hired and then LeBron came on shortly thereafter, and that if the latter had happened first the former might never have. Did he lose the affection of the players over X's and O's, or management style, or something else entirely? Did the players turn against him en masse, or was it enough to lose LeBron's support?
DZ: I don't really think there were too many people in the locker room that really enjoyed playing for Blatt. A couple guys, like J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova owed him quite a bit, were given opportunities that they took advantage of. Blatt was not imaginative with the role of Kevin Love, and I don't think there was a deep affinity there. Mike Miller was not a huge fan during his time in Cleveland, even after calling Blatt's offense near genius.
I think David Blatt takes himself incredibly seriously, and does not have a ton of humility. He should, and maybe he doesn't need humility, but I think it rubbed a lot of players the wrong way. He bristled against any and all criticism, but later on seemed to be a bit more humble in his second year. He admitted it was harder than he though it'd be. It was probably too late at that point.
MM: What principles did Cleveland follow on offense and defense during Blatt's reign? Did he modify his system to fit the players he inherited, or come in with a fixed idea and try to fit the players into it?
DZ: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James came in and ran the show, with great results. The Cavs offense when the Irving, James, and Kevin Love shared the floor with Tristan Thompson was incredible, and LeBron James dominated second units with Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson. It was heavy, heavy pick-and-roll action with shooters surrounding Irving and James as primary ball handlers. Kevin Love was primarily a spot up threat, but the offense had tremendous results.
With the defense, the Cavs started last season hedging hard against pick and rolls. It didn't make sense with Anderson Varejao and then Timofey Mozgov, because they didn't have the quickness to get back to defend the basket. To his credit, Blatt switched it and adjusted to his personnel.
MM: What was Blatt like personality-wise? Did his approach hold steadfast while with the Cavs? Did he seem to struggle or snap under the pressure of coaching LeBron?
DZ: I think he struggled with a lot of the transition to the NBA. He wasn't used to being in a situation in which players had so much power. He wasn't used to a media that didn't immediately respect what he had accomplished in Israel and Russia. There were times the players tried to give him credit for first-time successes as an NBA coach, and he bristled by saying he had lots of accomplishments in the past and that it wasn't worth getting excited about. I think he came in with a chip on his shoulder, and it didn't serve him. By the time he was fired, there weren't too many media members, especially in Cleveland, that were in a position to come to his defense. He simply hadn't built relationships.
MM: You may have already addressed this earlier, but with some time and distance from Blatt, do you think Cavs fans (or even players) see him any differently than they did when he was let go?
DZ: I think Cavs fans appreciated his willingness to go small, and his consistent rotations and mostly impressive and effective lineup combinations. Many don't love the media, so enjoyed seeing the back and forth. I think most Cavs fans think he was a smart and good coach.
MM: What's the biggest strength Blatt showcased while coaching Cleveland? What's a weakness you think he'd do well to improve on before he returns to an NBA bench?
DZ: He'll have to improve his interpersonal skills and how he relates to NBA players. But he has a proven track record of winning, even in the NBA. He'd be a good choice most places, I think.