Posts Tagged ‘David Blatt’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings willing to deal Gay | Wizards hold players-only meeting | Lillard using All-Star snub to fuel playoff push | Riley: LeBron never asked for Spoelstra to be fired

No. 1: Report: Kings willing to deal Gay — A mere 20 days and a handful of hours separate us from the NBA Trade Deadline and as we get closer, the chatter is starting to pick up. One name to keep an eye on, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay. According to Stein, the Kings are willing to move the talented scorer … with some caveats, of course. He’s got that information and more in his roundup of trade chatter:

The Sacramento Kings are indeed willing to trade Rudy Gay, sources say, after fairly frequent speculation on that topic in recent weeks.

However …

It’s conditional willingness.

Sacramento is said to be seeking a quality young player in return if it parts with Gay. Or a player they like with at least one year left on his contract after this season, which would give the Kings some insulation against trading for someone in February who turns around and leaves town in July. (Gay, 29, is scheduled to earn $13.3 million from the Kings next season before he’s forced to decide on a $14.3 million player option in 2017-18).

In short: Sacramento isn’t outright trying to move Gay but would be willing to do so in the proverbial “right deal.”

Sacramento, for example, rejected New Orleans’ recent offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Gay before Gordon suffered a fractured finger that will keep him out until after the deadline. They don’t want to move him just for the sake of it.

Much like the Atlanta Hawks are doing with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Memphis is doing the same with free agents-to-be Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.

Which is to say: not flat-out shopping them, but taking the temperature of the market for both players, since that’s what you’re supposed to do with players like Green and Lee who can leave Memphis without compensation in a matter of months.

What the Grizzlies aren’t looking to do, sources say, is break up what they like to call Mount Grizzmore. All of the latest signals suggest they have no interest in parting with either Zach Randolph or Tony Allen before the deadline …

First Joakim Noah was lost to a potentially season-ending shoulder separation. Now Nikola Mirotic is out until after the All-Star break thanks to emergency surgery this week to remove his appendix.

Those injuries, sources say, have greatly increased the likelihood that Taj Gibson will be staying put now, since Chicago suddenly doesn’t need to make a trade to create more playing time for promising rookie Bobby Portis.

The reality is that rival executives have maintained for some time that the Bulls preferred to deal Noah, in the name of making sure they got something for their longtime emotional spark in the final year of his contract, rather than parting with Gibson.

***

(more…)

Lue’s big week — from Cavs’ assistant to 2016 East All-Star head coach


Tyronn Lue being named to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars is the coaching equivalent of a player called up from the D-League on a 10-day contract suddenly being named a starter in the NBA’s annual showcase event.

Improbable as it sounds, Lue – who has been an NBA head coach for less than a week – will get to do in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto on Feb. 14 what all-timers such as Jerry Sloan and Bill Fitch, and active veterans such as Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts, never have.

He and the Cleveland Cavaliers staff he inherited Thursday after taking over for fired David Blatt will be in charge, on the league’s biggest stage, of the East’s elite players.

Lue is 2-1 since replacing Blatt, and the most recent of those victories – a 115-93 victory over Phoenix Wednesday – left Cleveland with a 32-12, clinching the best mark in the conference through games played on Sunday, Jan. 31. That’s the cutoff by which the All-Star coaches are named.

Blatt was the coach of record for the Cavaliers’ first 41 games, but was fired with a 30-11 mark. Cleveland general manager David Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert came to believe, Griffin said, that the team wasn’t responding to Blatt in a way that would offer its best chance to win a championship this spring.

Earlier Wednesday, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was tabbed to coach the West All-Stars, by virtue of the rule prohibiting a coach from making consecutive appearances in the event. Golden State’s Steve Kerr handled that duty in the 2015 game in New York.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 225) Featuring Marc J. Spears

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is there anyone else?

Anyone else?

Because the Golden State Warriors are ready and willing to do horrible things to you on the basketball court. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, yes the Spurs, who have all felt the wrath of Stephen Curry and the Warriors recently.

If you think you are coming for the Warriors’ crown, you better brace yourself for some wicked resistance from the champs, who shouldn’t have to do anything else to convince the remaining non-believers that luck had nothing to do with their championship run last season.

This is a juggernaut, and potentially one of the NBA’s all-time great teams, provided they finish what they have started this season.

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports helps us put it all in context on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast, where we examine the Warriors and their monstrous run as well as the fallout in Cleveland from David Blatt‘s firing and Tyronn Lue‘s hiring — the latest drama in the seemingly never-ending saga that is LeBron James and his return to “The Land.”

We give you all that and much more on Episode 225 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors dominated the San Antonio Spurs

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue was right pick to replace Blatt | Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty | Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo and defense | Raptors on a roll

No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.

“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”

Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.

Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).

Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.

“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”

While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.

He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.

LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.

And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.

“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:

At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.

Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.

“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”

Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.

The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.

“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”

The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.

However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.

“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”

***

No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:

The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.

Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.

DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.

The defense has been bad for much of the season.

The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).

During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.

No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.

“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”

What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.

That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.

“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”

The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.

Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.

In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.

“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”

***

No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:

Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.

But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.

Smiles all around.

Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.

The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.

And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.

“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.

Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.

“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.

“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this seasonSnow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

***

(more…)

Lue moves over 18 inches, enters new world of pressure, Cavs’ expectations


VIDEO: Tyronn Lue addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

The first day of the rest of Tyronn Lue‘s coaching career began unlike any he’d experienced before. Working on other guys’ staffs the past six and a half years bears zero resemblance to the duties and the pressures he’ll face now as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach, replacing David Blatt.

Lue began the day Saturday by officially running his first morning shootaround session. Then he met with the media for the first of what would be three times – in the morning, prior to his debut game against Chicago in the evening at Quicken Loans Arena and one more time for postgame comments.

He also toted along a grasp of the pressure he’s now facing.

Lue has one advantage over a lot of newly hired or promoted head coaches, but it isn’t necessarily flattering. Rampant speculation over the past year or more suggests that the Cavaliers players, foremost among them LeBron James, already relied on and heeded his counsel more than Blatt’s. It’s a perception Lue tried to put to rest right away, along with any notion that he would favor James in his tenure. As reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

He enters the job already with strong ties to James from a friendship that spans 14 years. He has James’ attention already, something that wasn’t always the case with Blatt.

“I talked to ‘Bron. I told him, ‘I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. And if I can hold you accountable in front of the team and doing the right things, then everybody else has got to fall in line, fall in place.’”

Lue said he wants to do things better, but not necessarily different than Blatt. He’d like to expand the rotation to 10 players and bring Mo Williams back into it. He talked about playing Williams alongside Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert to give the Cavs three ball handlers at one time and he’d like to re-establish Kevin Love’s presence at the elbow where he was most effective during his years in Minnesota.

Lue became famous last season for calling timeouts from the bench and making substitutions for the Cavs. But he was doing it all with Blatt’s blessing and said he never went behind his coach’s back at any point.

“Blatt knew I had his back 100 percent,” Lue said. “I would never do anything malicious behind his back. So, we talked yesterday and he said, ‘I thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I know you had my back 100 percent.’ ”

James, meanwhile, had a little of his own media spinning or clarifying to do. Given his public friction not just with Blatt but with past coaches, including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and former Cavs coach Mike Brown, James has the image with some observers as a difficult-to-handle NBA superstar. Many who hold that view assume he requested or demanded Blatt’s dismissal. But according to Lloyd’s report:

LeBron James insisted he learned of David Blatt’s firing when everyone else did and didn’t play a role in it. But he agreed with everything general manager David Griffin said Friday in announcing the decision and said now it’s clear what he meant sometimes when he wasn’t always happy after wins this season.

“Like I told you guys before, you get so caught up in the wins and losses and I tell you every day, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s how we play,” James said. “It’s how we prepare ourselves every day. … For something like this to happen, now you understand what I was meaning.”


VIDEO: James addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

Haywood: Blatt ‘couldn’t help’ team, ‘scared’ of LeBron, lost locker room

VIDEO: Ex-Cavalier Brendan Haywood gives his inside view.

Brendan Haywood played the last of his 13 NBA seasons with David Blatt, LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers, so he knew the dynamics in the room as Blatt made his way as a rookie NBA head coach in 2014-15.

Based on that, and what he learned from Cleveland contacts he had maintained inside and outside the organization, the former center was less surprised the news that Blatt was fired Friday by the Cavaliers than by its timing.

He shared his thoughts on the Cavs’ dramatic move in an interview on Sirius XM’s NBA Today channel.

“From what I was hearing, David Blatt kind of lost the team,” Haywood told hosts Justine Termine and former NBA player Eddie Johnson. “Then there were differences about what guys should be playing and what guys weren’t playing, from a management-coaching standpoint.

“When you throw in those type of things combined with the fact that Tyronn Lue already had a lot of power in the organization, had a lot of traction, and a lot of people that were there already viewed him as the coach, these type of things happen.”

Lue, 38, the Cavs’ associate coach was promoted to Blatt’s position Friday, agreeing to a new multi-year deal. There had been reports last season that Cleveland players heeded Lue’s instructions, confided in him and leaned more on his advice than on Blatt’s.

Haywood, 36, spent most of his career with Washington, won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011 and was with Charlotte for one season before arriving in Cleveland in July 2014 in a trade that also delivered shooter Mike Miller. He mostly served as an insurance policy, logging 119 minutes in 22 appearances, but was a witness to the team’s business from within.

“It’s unfortunate because David Blatt’s a good guy,” the 7-footer said. “He was in first place. I’ve never seen a coach in first place fired. And on top of that, they’re in first place and their second-best player [Kyrie Irving] didn’t play most of the first part of the season.”

But there were legitimate reasons for the change that Haywood specified in the satellite radio interview. Among his charges: Blatt had a double standard toward James that other Cavaliers players resented.

“Coach Blatt was very hesitant to challenge LeBron James,” Haywood said. “It was one of those situations where, being a rookie coach, and LeBron being bigger than life, it was a little too much for him. I remember we had James Jones [talk] to Coach about how, ‘Hey, you can’t just skip over when LeBron James makes a mistake in the film room.’ Because we all see it.

“And we’re like, ‘Hey, you didn’t say anything about that. You’re going to correct when Matthew Dellavedova‘s not in the right spot. You’re going to say something when Tristan Thompson‘s not in the right spot. Well, we see a fast break and LeBron didn’t get back on defense or there’s a rotation and he’s supposed to be there, and you just keep rolling the film and the whole room is quiet.’ We see that as players. That’s when … as a player, you start to lose respect for a coach.

“Slowly but surely, that respect started chipping away where he would kind of be scared to correct LeBron in film sessions. When he would call every foul for LeBron in practice. Those type of things add up. Guys are like, ‘C’mon man, are you scared of him?’ ”

Blatt did not meet with reporters Friday, instead releasing a statement through his agents. It read in part: “I’d like to thank [owner] Dan Gilbert and [general manager] David Griffin for giving me this opportunity and am honored to have worked with an amazing group of players from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love through our entire roster.”

The flashpoints that marked Blatt’s first season in Cleveland – his attempt to call a timeout that the Cavaliers didn’t have left late in a playoff game against Chicago, drawing up a crunch-time play against the Bulls that James vetoed because it didn’t put the ball in his hands, assorted incidents of bad body language by the Cavs superstar relative to his coach – were largely missing this season.

But according to Haywood, they weren’t replaced by the positives needed from the head coach of an NBA championship contender. That’s why he considered Cleveland management’s move Friday to be fair.

“I remember last year telling somebody on the team, ‘I love David Blatt. But if we’re in a close game, he can’t help us,’ ” Haywood said on Sirius XM. “That’s not a shot at Blatt. But … David Blatt can’t come to a huddle and draw up a play that would get us a good shot. David Blatt doesn’t understand sometimes substitution patterns.

“The mistake he made against the Bulls when he didn’t have the ball in LeBron’s hands at the end of the game… There were obvious mistakes he was making, and you start to see it as a player, where ‘We’re going to have to win this on our own, because he can’t do for us what Gregg Popovich can do for the Spurs. He can’t take advantage of a mismatch the way Steve Kerr did in the NBA Finals – Steve Kerr made it so it was hard for us to play James Jones. They attacked him every time he was in the game.”

Actually, every coach in the NBA would attack James Jones with whomever he was guarding, but Haywood was on a roll.

“Blatt didn’t feel the game like that, and those mistakes can get you beat. When the goal is championship or bust and you don’t think that coach can get you to a championship or help you win a championship, then that’s what has to be done.

“I honestly think they’re a better team. I have no ill will toward David, I hope he gets another job. But as a guy who was there last year, I think Tyronn Lue will do a better job.”

Blatt fired, Lue promoted, James blamed?


VIDEO: Cavaliers fire David Blatt midway through second season

Cleveland head coach David Blatt – midway through his second season, seven months since taking the Cavaliers to the Finals and weeks away from likely coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars – has been fired.

And LeBron James is going to have to answer for it.

That’s just the nature of James’ superstar status and clout within the Cleveland franchise. There’s a hierarchy in the organization that includes owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin, who will be front and center in explaining the decision to dump Blatt at this point in another winning season. James and fellow Cavs stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will field the questions, too.

But in the long term, James will be the one most charged with demonstrating whether this was the right move at the right time.

The news of Blatt’s termination was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Blatt, 56, exits with an 83-40 record and a 14-6 mark in last spring’s playoffs. Even with the Cavaliers’ elimination in six games from the 2015 Finals, the injury absences of both Love and Irving (after Game 1) made it unrealistic to expect Blatt, James or anyone else to beat the Golden State Warriors.

Blatt had been successful enough in Israel and Europe to become the first international coach hired directly as an NBA head coach. But he was hired before James made his free-agent decision in July 2014 to return to Cleveland after four seasons in Miami. Blatt, ostensibly, had been hired to build a team around promising young players such as Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and others.

It also opened the door to speculation that Blatt never was the coach that James wanted, or trusted in his quest to bring an NBA championship to the market near and dear to the Akron (Ohio) native.

Tyronn Lue, the Cavs’ associate head coach, reportedly will take over immediately and be on the sidelines for Cleveland’s next game, a clash with the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET on ABC).

Blatt had been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for October/November after guiding the Cavs to a 13-4 start. Cleveland recently had gone 5-1 on a 12-day road trip, pushing its record to 28-10.

But a home blowout loss to Golden State Monday, 132-98, revealed a startling lack of preparation and focus by the Cavs. It exposed further difficulties in blending Love’s complete game with James’ and Irving’s talents. And it had James afterward saying, “We do understand we’ve got to get better. … We’ve got a long way to go.”

There was, naturally, no early confirmation of how much input James or any other players had in the decision. However, there certainly was speculation:

Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavaliers at season’s halfway point?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs? | Biggest surprise at season’s halfway mark? |
Rookie you enjoy watching most (and why)?



VIDEORelive the Warriors-Cavs matchup

> They lead the East, but in a five-day span they lost a close one to the Spurs on the road, then got blown out by the Warriors at home. What do you make of these Cleveland Cavaliers halfway through the season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Something’s amiss in the Land. It’s a combination of things, I think, but at the base the issue is how to be the defensive-based team that blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring and dismantled a 60-win Atlanta team in the conference finals while integrating the offense-first Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love into the mix. The Cavs played championship-level defense in the postseason, but couldn’t score enough, as evidenced by the load LeBron James had to carry in The Finals. They’re going to be very good offensively once Irving is back at full speed, but can he and Love defend their positions well enough to beat elite teams? Not putting Monday’s beatdown by the Warriors all on those two, but clearly, Cleveland had no concept as a team of how to stop Golden State. Who does Irving guard? Stephen Curry? Nope. Klay Thompson? Maybe David Blatt puts him on Andrew Bogut, and I’m not kidding. But it’s going to be a question against the best teams, and those are the teams the Cavs have struggled to beat this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The Cavaliers are good enough and not good enough. They’re good enough to get past any rough patches, good enough to essentially control the East and good enough to get back to the Finals without too much angst or sweat. But they’re not good enough to beat Golden State or San Antonio in seven games, not yet, not as currently constituted. J.R. Smith is too erratic on and off the court to be relied upon to the degree Cleveland does, they need more outside shooting as it is and they’re almost starting over in cracking the LeBron JamesKyrie IrvingKevin Love code. They have lots on their plates for the final three months.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They’re fine. Not perfect. Not the team to beat. But the Cavaliers are still the favorite in the East and, if you want the real perspective, in much better shape than a year ago as doubt flew in every direction and coach David Blatt was supposedly on the hot seat. You know, before they got to The Finals and then to a Game 6 without two of their best players for most or all of the series.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI think the Cavs are fortunate to play in the East, and that all they need to do is win the conference, which last I checked doesn’t go through Oakland or San Antonio. Unless my math is wrong, that puts them in The Finals, right? Look, past history has proven that whatever happens in the regular season (losses to certain teams) often carries little weight in the post-season. Cleveland is fine, in the big picture. There’s a lot of basketball left to find a groove and seek answers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com They’ve improved defensively and rank in the top 10 on that end of the floor, which is where they need to be. But yeah, that top-10 defense obviously didn’t hold up against the league’s best offense (Golden State), and their offense struggled against the league’s best defense (San Antonio). The Cavs could probably win the East in their sleep, but the Warriors and Spurs are playing like two of the best teams of all-time. The Cavs could wait to flip the switch in the postseason, but now would be a good time to play with some urgency, not let bad teams hang around through three quarters, and see if they can’t match the Spurs’ and Warriors’ point differential for a few weeks.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They strike me as a team that is well aware that they are ill-equipped to handle either the Spurs or Warriors in a seven-game series right now. That narrative about a healthy Cavaliers team surely being able to finish what they started in The Finals against the Warriors seems a bit hollow to me now. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would have made a huge difference, but I don’t know that they would have been the difference between winning and losing. And the Spurs and Warriors have taken it up a few notches since last season while the Cavaliers clearly have not. I think it’s a good thing, actually, because now the Cavaliers can assess exactly what they are and make whatever adjustments, tweaks and or trades necessary.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s acknowledge that they’ve been without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert for most of this season. But let’s also not dismiss the impression that they entered this year behaving as if they were de facto champs – as if convinced they would have won the NBA Finals if not for their injuries. If so, then they are learning is that it’s going to require more than talent and depth and potential. Instead of seeing them express the arrogance and indiscipline that led to their blowout loss to the real champions, maybe we’ll see the Cavs approach the second half of the year with humility – which is their only hope.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not sure what to make of them. Sure, they’re 28-11 and own the best record in the Eastern Conference. But LeBron’s wavering 3-point shooting numbers are at least mildly troubling to me, and while I know one game out of 82 can be viewed as an aberration, getting blown out at home by the Warriors is not ideal. I know the Cavs went all-in financially on this group of players, but I think they could still use an athletic 2/3 type who can hit 3-pointers and play defense. Things aren’t perfect right now, and the good news is that right now, they don’t have to be perfect. The question is whether things will get right by the time the playoffs roll around.