New Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is already talking about accountability, which makes sense in the context of David Blatt's firing on Friday. In the aftermath of the coaching change, there has been a lot of talk about Blatt catering to Cleveland's stars, LeBron James in particular.
"I talked to Bron," Lue said Saturday, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "I told him, 'I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first ... then everybody else has got to fall in line.'"
Hours after Blatt was fired, former Cavs center Brendan Haywood appeared on SiriusXM NBA radio and said he wasn't surprised at the move, given that he had heard Blatt has lost the team. Here's what he said on the subject of accountability, via NBA.com:
“Coach Blatt was very hesitant to challenge LeBron James,” Haywood said. “It was one of those situations where, being a rookie coach, and LeBron being bigger than life, it was a little too much for him. I remember we had James Jones [talk] to Coach about how, ‘Hey, you can’t just skip over when LeBron James makes a mistake in the film room.’ Because we all see it.
“And we’re like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say anything about that. You’re going to correct when Matthew Dellavedova‘s not in the right spot. You’re going to say something when Tristan Thompson‘s not in the right spot. Well, we see a fast break and LeBron didn’t get back on defense or there’s a rotation and he’s supposed to be there, and you just keep rolling the film and the whole room is quiet.’ We see that as players. That’s when … as a player, you start to lose respect for a coach.
“Slowly but surely, that respect started chipping away where he would kind of be scared to correct LeBron in film sessions. When he would call every foul for LeBron in practice. Those type of things add up. Guys are like, ‘C’mon man, are you scared of him?’ ”
A little later Friday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Chris Haynes reported similar things:
During the first portion of the 2014-15 season, film sessions were a topic of discussion among the players. Blatt was reluctant to criticize star players even when they clearly messed up a play. This became routine. It got so bad that I'm told that Lue finally intervened, stood up and demanded that somebody rewind the footage so that he could get on members of The Big 3.
During team scrimmages, players competed aggressively but bit their tongues as Blatt frequently blew his whistle to call ticky-tack or phantom fouls for his go-to players. One player said sometimes Blatt didn't even have a whistle and would yell at the top of his lungs to stop play and call a foul if one of his stars acted as if he was hit.
It was viewed as a blatant attempt to get in the good graces of his top talent. Blatt's leadership was in question. Players grew tired of this treatment. The locker room started resenting Blatt's handling, or lack thereof, when it came to dealing with his stars.
And if all that isn't enough, ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin reported that, at a recent practice in Cleveland, general manager David Griffin did the same thing Lue reportedly did:
Griffin sat in on a film session and jumped on James for not getting back on defense against the Nuggets, one of his bad habits. James accepted the criticism in stride, sources said. But this moment only inspired less faith in Blatt because it is supposed to be the coach -- not the GM -- holding the players accountable.
This has added up to the perception that Blatt did not coach James hard enough, which makes Lue's comments more meaningful than your ordinary platitudes about coaching everybody the same way. When a team fires a coach with a record as good as Blatt's, the public is obviously eager to learn what was going on behind the scenes to precipitate it. The lack-of-accountability story has been one of the big ones this time.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Lue was "balancing that line" of hearing James and his agent, Rich Paul, complaining about Blatt, while "still urging them to give the coach a chance." This seems like an awkward position to be in, but perhaps not quite as awkward as Blatt's. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert hired Blatt before James decided to return home, and Yahoo Sports reported that James' camp had been undermining him from the start, even if no one had ever demanded a coaching change. It might be difficult to discipline a superstar player in that situation.
Regardless of the messy divorce between Cleveland and Blatt, the point at the center of all this is simple: In order for a team to succeed in the NBA, the best player needs to be on the same page as the coach. Further, yes, a coach must be able to hold that player accountable, lest everybody else lose respect for him. It all sounds terribly cliche, but locker-room dynamics like this can affect how a team performs. If things with Blatt were never going to improve and the Cavs thought Lue could be a better leader, then a change had to be made.