INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – Despite sitting atop the Eastern Conference, something didn’t feel right to Cavs general manager David Griffin.
Sensing a disconnect that had been brewing within his team’s locker room, Griffin fired head coach David Blatt and promoted assistant Tyronn Lue to head coach on a permanent basis Friday afternoon.
“This decision’s made and brought out of the lack of connective-ness I see in our team,” Griffin said. “I’ve witnessed this over the last couple weeks— really over the last month or so. It’s made because we have a lack of fit with our personnel and our vision of how to use that personnel.”
At the center of some of that disconnect is Kevin Love and how he has – or in this case – has not fit in to a consistent role with the team after re-signing for 5 years and $113 million in the offseason.
The Cavs dropped nearly $296.4 million on contracts for LeBron James, Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Mo Williams this offseason. Cleveland will spend approximately $175 million on payroll this season, including nearly $65 million in luxury taxes.
“We’ve been a group of tremendous individual talent with individual hopes and dreams. That’s not a winning formula,” Griffin said. “I’m not leaving an unprecedented team payroll and all of the efforts that everybody that works in this organization to chance.”
While Blatt’s firing came as a shock to those outside the organization, it was not from within. Trouble had been brewing for weeks.
“We need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit and a collective will,” Griffin said. “Elite teams in this league always have that and you see it everywhere. To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in. That becomes our identity and if we can do that day in and day out, that becomes who we are.
“Halfway through the season, we have not yet developed this identity and each step forward, unfortunately, we’ve taken two steps back.”
Griffin stressed that he made the decision after consulting with owner Dan Gilbert.
“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do,” Gilbert said. “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. 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.”
Lue played 11 seasons in the NBA and appeared in 554 career games with the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and Milwaukee. The former University of Nebraska star won NBA Championships in 2000 and 2001 with the Lakers. He became the league’s highest paid assistant when he was added to Blatt’s staff in June 2014.
Blatt was fired just 1 1/2 years after taking over in Cleveland prior to LeBron James’ announcement that he would return to the Cavs. Blatt helped lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals last season for just the second time in franchise history and the team currently is 30-11.
“He spent the last year and a half battling intense scrutiny, working to mold a very willful group and we all recognize that is not at all an easy task,” Griffin said.
That scrutiny went to another level following Monday night’s 35-point blowout loss at home to the team that beat them last June in the Finals – Golden State.
Cleveland followed that loss with back-to-back wins over New Jersey and the L.A. Clippers but it was not enough to save Blatt. Thursday night following the 115-102 win over the Clippers, Blatt ripped the media coverage of his team before and after the game.
Less than 24-hours later, he was fired.
Cleveland is 2-3 against the top 4 out west and 2-2 against the 3 teams below them in the east – Toronto, Atlanta and Chicago.
Blatt was 83-40 during the regular season and 14-6 in the post season but frayed relationships within the locker room did him in.
“I’m judging more than wins and losses,” Griffin said. “I’m measuring more than wins and losses. I’m focusing on a bigger picture.”
That bigger picture is winning an NBA Championship and ending Cleveland’s 52 year title drought.
Griffin, Gilbert and the Cavs now turn to Lue to lead them to the promised land.