In today's sports landscape, particularly when it comes to firing coaches, nothing makes the social media universe happier than calling for someone's job. Friday, before that train gained steam with the Cleveland Cavaliers, they fired David Blatt midway through his second season despite having the East's best record and coming off an NBA Finals appearance in which they pushed the Golden State Warriors to six games.
To his credit, for better or worse, Cavs GM David Griffin owned the decision: "When you have the clarity of purpose that our ownership has instilled in this entire organization, decisions often make themselves. Every decision made is an answer to the following question: does it put us in the best position to deliver Championships to Northeast, Ohio.”
Meaning, this wasn't LeBron James forcing the hand of management to make a coaching change. But even Griffin has to realize that James is about to be an unrestricted free agent again and all the moves they've made thus far, which includes trading away No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins who would be on a rookie scale contract for Kevin Love (five years, $110 million), aren't working.
They've mortgaged their long-term future on the short-term and Griffin doubled down by naming Tyronn Lue, who was passed over for Blatt but served on his staff, as the successor. Lue has never been an NBA head coach and isn't an interim coach. He has a three-year deal.
Championship teams are about pieces that fit. It's not just having name players like James, Love and Kyrie Irving for the sake of having names or spending a lot of money. This isn't fantasy basketball. The Big 3 with the Miami Heat would've beaten the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 if it was all about talent. Dallas' pieces, coupled with the masterful coaching of Rick Carlisle and defensive coordinator/assistant coach Dwane Casey, were too much to overcome for James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They had to tweak their roster to be a champion, adding vets like Shane Battier who sacrificed his game and wallet to win.
You can't gauge intangibles with a stat sheet and clearly Griffin didn't like the locker room culture (every good team has a positive one). This is why having unselfish players who don't care about stats and don't pout about playing time like Battier. This is why having cliques, prevalent with these Cavs and the Wizards before they ran all of their bad seeds out of town in recent years, is a sign of pending doom.
Griffin will be hailed as a genius who took a big risk and it worked out, or he'll be ridiculed for a desperation move that makes a bad situation worse.
James, in his 13th season, is 31. With Irving at the helm in his first three seasons minus James, Cleveland won 21, 24 and 33 games. Love, a favorite of James who was a questionable addition at the beginning because of his defense and aloof attitude, received a max contract pretty much because the Cavs had no choice.
If they didn't give him what he wanted, Love would've walked in free agency and they'd have nothing to show for having drafted Wiggins who is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves and blossoming into a solid two-way player (something Cleveland could really use now). The Cavs gave Tristan Thompson, an excellent defender and dirty-work player, a five-year, $82 million deal before this season though they can't run any offense through him or give him the ball in the last two minutes of the game.
This is what happens when a team is desperate and goes overboard with winning now and blows up its own salary cap to do it (by far, they're way over at $112.5 million entering the season). Are the Cavs any real threat to beat the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series in the Finals?
Not with the current roster and it doesn't matter who the coach is. After doing all of that math, and the massive luxury tax payments, having no NBA championship banners would equal failure. Being a uxury tax team means the roster can't be replenished properly as the Cavs would be handicapped going forward because it can't offer free agents deals that are as competitive, giving non-luxury tax teams a significant edge.
“Our ownership group supports David Griffin’s decision. We would like to thank David Blatt for his work over these past two seasons where the Cavaliers transformed into a playoff team after a rebuilding phase," Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert said, according to team's website. "We believe Tyronn Lue is the right coach at the right time to put us in the best position to take the last but most challenging step to complete our mission to deliver Cleveland an NBA Championship.”
Or Lue could end up like in-season hires such as J.B. Bickerstaff (Rockets), George Karl (Kings) and Mike D'Antoni (Lakers), struggling to make the best out of an impossible situation. Or he could be like first-time coach Steve Kerr (Warriors) who brought the Bay Area a title, or Derek Fisher (Knicks) who has a tougher road to plow.
Blatt probably wasn't the answer, but it takes more than individual talent (see how Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard worked out in L.A.) and tossing around cash like free candy (see the shameless spending by Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov) to win an NBA championship.
If it weren't for the N.Y. Knicks throwing the Cavs a lifeline with a trade for Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith, Blatt might've been fired a long time ago. It would be surprising if another conference team did anything to help the Cavs out of this jam to fix their personnel again. Why enrich the team that's trying to keep the other 14 teams in the East from reaching the NBA Finals?
Right now, first in the East is the best these Cavs can expect. Trying too hard to win in the now -- as king Pyrrhus found learned in 2075 B.C. -- will exact a heavy toll that's bound to multiply.
It can be done correctly like the San Antonio Spurs, who have achieved at least 50-win seasons every year since 1999-2000 and won five NBA championships without gutting themselves long-term. When Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili move out, they're set with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard to replace them by assuming even bigger roles.
This is what patience and common sense decisions bring, particularly with the cap. Sometimes, a team has to take some Ls on the chin rather than compounding a bad decision with another bad one. And the Spurs are in position, competing with Golden State, to make it six championships.
That's how it's done. This is the blueprint to follow. And despite ample evidence from a successful small-market team like San Antonio, Cleveland still got it all wrong.