In a NBA landscape where Flip Saunders has more job titles than wins this season is LeBron James replacing David Blatt as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers really that crazy?
It probably is, at least on the surface, but with reports now coming out that the Cavs have “completely abandoned Blatt’s offensive system” and “LeBron has taken over as point guard without even consulting David Blatt” is it really that outlandish?
Obviously LeBron couldn’t become the head coach of the Cavs, the current CBA prohibits the player-coach possibility, but if it was plausible he’d be one of the few current NBA players who you wouldn’t bet against succeeding in the dual role. LeBron has been to four straight NBA Finals, learned a system in Miami that we know works, and probably could have coached the Mike Brown Cavs’ teams better than whatever Mike Brown was doing on the bench during those early LeBron years.
We’re seeing more and more head coaches take on dual roles as head coach and front office executive: Stan Van Gundy, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and probably Jason Kidd sooner rather than later. This gradual shift in how NBA teams are built is becoming more of the norm rather than an anomaly. If owners are becoming more open to giving more head coaches more power in the front office why wouldn’t an eccentric owner like Dan Gilbert be open to the idea of promoting LeBron to head coach if the CBA permitted it?
Firing Blatt mid-season would feel like what the Los Angeles Lakers did with Mike Brown after the pre-season darlings got off to a sluggish start and weren’t connecting with the Princeton offense. We know how everything played out in Los Angeles after that firing, but there are a lot of fair parallels with that Lakers team and this current Cavs team. It turns out coaching multiple superstars with an aging roster and very little time to meet an owner’s expectations, as unrealistic as that may be, is very hard to do.
But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has a fail safe key, whether it was intentional or unintentional is a mystery, with the team’s hiring of Tyronn Lue this summer. The Cavs made Lue the highest-paid assistant coach in NBA history and gave him the title of “associate head coach.” It was reported at the time that the Cavs’ plan was to bring Lue aboard to help ease Blatt’s transition to the NBA, but what if it wasn’t?
Lue is highly regarded in NBA circles, is only 37 years old, learned under a coach who has won an NBA championship, and checks all the boxes that a general manager and owner would want in finding their head coach of the future. If the Cavs had hired out him outright over Blatt this summer it wouldn’t have been as “sexy”, but it probably would have been the safer choice. I think it’s worth noting, too, that Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was 38 years old, a year older than what Lue is right now, when he was hired as the new Heat head coach by Pat Riley (and going the younger route with Spoelstra worked out pretty well for Riley and the Heat).
The Cavs aren’t the Lakers super team that destructed a few years ago, and they’re not the 2009-10 Miami Heat, either. What they are is a good team that could be better, a roster that can’t be good enough defensively to win a championship and a head coach whose future becomes more uncertain by the day. Changing head coaches to Lue, or LeBron even if the CBA allowed it, is not going to turn this Cavs roster into a serious title contender; that’s for Cleveland general manager David Griffin to fix.
Moving on from Blatt mid-season would be another head coaching botch from the Dan Gilbert Era, but it wouldn’t be an error that would cost the Cavs significantly in the long-run; hence Lue being the Cavs’ fail safe key. Things wouldn’t necessarily get worse with Lue running the show, perhaps having one clear, distinct voice from Lue on the bench and LeBron on the floor is what gets the Cavs closer to the success LeBron had in Miami.
The Cavs hired two intriguing head coaching candidates this summer, but perhaps one voice howling from the bench is better than two.