Cleveland Cavaliers Fire David Blatt

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach fired in his second season as Cavs' head coach, to be replaced by Tyronn Lue.

The Associated Press
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File photo: David Blatt watches LeBron James during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, June 7, 2015.
File photo: David Blatt watches LeBron James during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, June 7, 2015.Credit: Ben Margot/AP
The Associated Press

The Cleveland Cavaliers have fired head coach David Blatt, according to a report from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski. He will be replaced by assistant coach Tyronn Lue.

Cleveland currently has the third-best record in the NBA and the best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference with 30 wins and 11 losses. Cleveland also has won 11 of its past 13 games.

Blatt was in the middle of his second season as the Cavs' head coach. He led Cleveland to the 2015 NBA Finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

General Manager David Griffin didn't think the NBA title-chasing Cavaliers were handling prosperity, expectations or acting like a championship team under Blatt, who was 83-40 in less than two seasons. Griffin saw a team going in the wrong direction.

"Sometimes you can win games in this league in the regular season and get worse," Griffin said at a hastily-arranged news conference at the team's practice facility. "We were regressing over a period of time. I'm in our locker room a lot, and I knew that there's just a disconnect there right now.

"I know that sounds crazy when we're sitting with a 30-11 record. I understand that. But we were 30-11 with a schedule that was reasonably easy. And I'm judging a lot more than wins and losses."

Griffin said he did not consult superstar LeBron James or any players before making the move to dismiss Blatt, who was surprised to learn he had been dismissed after going 83-40 in two seasons. Griffin also met with owner Dan Gilbert, who supported the move.

"Over the course of my business career I have learned that sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do," Gilbert said. "Our ownership group supports David Griffin's decision."

Blatt's firing stunned Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, president of National Basketball Coaches Association.

"It's just a real shocker," Carlisle said. "(Blatt is) one of the greatest coaches in European history. The ironic thing about all this is that he adjusted and adapted to the NBA game in my opinion, much quicker than any of us ever could have adjusted and adapted to the European game. He did a tremendous job just from a strategic standpoint. If you look at his record, this is bizarre."

As social media networks hummed with speculation and opinion about James' role the team's inner workings, Griffin said he made the decision with the basketball staff — not the star.

"I had a conversation with ownership where I got their approval to make this move. I'm not taking a poll. My job is to lead the franchise and to lead an organization where it needs to go," Griffin said. "That's what I'm tasked with doing and that's what I did. I didn't ask anybody's opinion on the team. I'm in the locker room. I've done this a long time and I know what it's supposed to feel like. I didn't need to ask questions."

Blatt's dismissal came one day after the coach was defensive before and after the Cavs beat the Los Angeles Clippers. Blatt had been bothered by criticism his team received after a 34-point loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors earlier this week.

A person close to James said that the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player was told of Blatt's firing about one hour before reports of the move surfaced. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Blatt seemed to be adjusting to the NBA game following his well-documented struggles in 2015 — James' first season back in Cleveland. One of the most successful coaches in European history, Blatt was feeling good about the way his team was performing amid overwhelming expectations.

However, there was a discord he couldn't seem to fix. The relationship between James and Blatt was a running saga last season as the Cavs got off to a disappointing 19-20 start. However, the two worked through their differences and won the Eastern Conference title. Despite injuries to NBA All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs took the Warriors to six games in the NBA Finals before losing the title.

Following Thursday night's win over the Clippers, Blatt shared a moment with James at his locker. The pair shook hands and smiled at each other, without any hint that a coaching change could be forthcoming.

Moments earlier, Blatt was on the defensive given the Golden State blowout. He argued that although the Cavs were prohibitive favorites to return to the finals they deserved more credit than they were getting.

"It's about my team," Blatt said. "It's about my guys and I don't like it. I don't like it at all. My guys are out there fighting for the Cavaliers and doing the best job they can in a tough NBA — very tough — especially because this is a team that night after night has a target on its back.

Blatt is the third Cleveland coach to be fired in the past four seasons.

Blatt's Israel links

Boston-born Blatt, 55, remains one of Israel's most beloved figures, thanks to his winning history as a coach in his adopted homeland and national pride in his making it big time.

Blatt played his college ball at Princeton under coach Pete Carril. He has called Israel home since 1981, when he first arrived to play for the U.S. at the Maccabiah Games. A solid playing career in the Israeli league followed before an even more successful coaching career began in 1993.

Over the next two decades he developed his reputation as a top international coach and offensive wizard whose stock surged dramatically after leading the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. His signature moment in Israel came last year when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a series of upset wins en route to a dramatic Euroleague championship title.

As rumors floated that Blatt would soon head to the NBA, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even pleaded with him to stay.

His roots in Israel remain deep. He's married to an Israeli woman, Kinneret, and raised his four children here, with the oldest two having completed their military service. He speaks fluent, albeit American-accented, Hebrew and is a popular pitchman for TV ads who has professed a desire to one day serve as an ambassador for the country. An economic newspaper recently reported Blatt just purchased a pair of high-rise Tel Aviv apartments.

Overnight, the Cavs became ''Israel's team'' in the NBA, replacing traditional favorites like the Celtics, Knicks, Bulls and Lakers. Even those who rooted against him have become his backers, with the loyal following taking up a prominent presence online to defend him against critics.