East no. 1 CAVS sack coach

Then-Cavaliers head coach David Blatt with LeBron James prior to last season's NBA Finals against the eventual champions Warriors. They had an up-and-down relationship that was scrutinised like no other pairing in the NBA.
Then-Cavaliers head coach David Blatt with LeBron James prior to last season's NBA Finals against the eventual champions Warriors. They had an up-and-down relationship that was scrutinised like no other pairing in the NBA.PHOTO: REUTERS

Last season's NBA finalists are 'regressing', says GM Griffin as Blatt is replaced by assistant Lue

NEW YORK • The Cleveland Cavaliers own the best record in the Eastern Conference and are one season removed from appearing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, but no job is ever safe in the coaching profession.

The Cavaliers made that clear on Friday by firing coach David Blatt.

"Sometimes you can win games in the regular season and get worse," general manager David Griffin said at a news conference.

"I think we were regressing over time."

Blatt, who was in his second season with the team, was immediately replaced - and not on an interim basis - by Tyronn Lue, formerly his top assistant.

WHY BLATT HAD TO GO

We are a team that struggle more than any good team I've been with - and this is my 24th year in the NBA.

''DAVID GRIFFIN, Cavaliers general manager, on the reason for giving the coach the boot.

Lue will make his debut this morning (Singapore time) when the Cavaliers host the Chicago Bulls.

At his news conference, Griffin was critical of Blatt, saying the team lacked "connectiveness" and were a "collection of individuals".

The move came only hours after the Cavaliers - whose 30-11 record is third best in the league, behind reigning champions Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs - defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

"We are a team that struggle more than any good team I've been with - and this is my 24th year in the NBA," Griffin said.

"I've never seen a locker room not be as connected after wins as they need to be."

He added: "I'm not leaving an unprecedented team payroll and all the efforts of everyone in this organisation to chance."

Blatt, who became the first NBA head coach to be axed with his team atop a conference, said he was grateful for the opportunity to have coached the team.

He thanked Cavs stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for "their professionalism, hard work, loyalty and friendship".

He added: "I am proud of what we have accomplished since I have been the head coach and wish the Cavaliers nothing but the best this season and beyond."

Blatt, 56, was effectively putting a glossy shine on a tenure that was rocky from the start.

If the timing of his dismissal came as a shock to many people - Doc Rivers, the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, described it as a "tough one" - the move itself did not seem to be a total surprise.

"He probably had the most scrutinised job that you could possibly have," Rivers said. "The reward for coaching LeBron is that you get scrutinised. It really is. It's hard."

Blatt struggled at times to reach players on the team, and his up-and-down relationship with James was dissected like no other coach-player pairing in the league.

It was no easy task for Blatt, especially given that his job hinged on James, one of the game's greatest players but also one of its strongest, most dominant personalities.

The Cavaliers' flaws were exposed on Monday when the Warriors blew them out in a rematch of last season's Finals. It was an embarrassing loss (98-132) - at home.

Blatt took the blame, saying he had failed to prepare his team. He later defended himself and his record, saying his team were still in a "pretty good position".

On Friday, Griffin disagreed with that assessment. "Frankly," he said, "pretty good is not what we're here for."

He said he had been evaluating the team for about a month before he concluded that he needed to make a change. He added that it was his singular decision to fire Blatt after seeking approval from Dan Gilbert, the team owner.

He said he did not consult James before removing Blatt and promoting Lue, who is only 38.

"LeBron doesn't run this organisation," Griffin said.

Blatt coached the Cavaliers to an 83-40 overall regular-season record and a 14-6 post-season record, and he has the seventh- highest winning percentage in NBA history.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'EAST NO. 1 CAVS SACK COACH'. Print Edition | Subscribe