Cavs’ Blatt crushing critics one meaningful win at a time
No first-time NBA coach has been as analyzed and criticized as the Cavaliers’ David Blatt — maybe ever.
During the Cavs’ series vs. Chicago, a national writer who’s covered the league for more than 30 years told me he’s never seen a coach so loathed by the media. The writer wasn’t saying that for the record, but the point remains the same — it’s clear Blatt has some people with poison pens working against him.
Sometimes, I look at Blatt during his news conferences and think, "This poor guy truly is all alone up there." And that’s not just because Blatt sits at the podium by himself. It has more to do with the fact reporters and Blatt often appear to be at odds.
Some of this is because Blatt can indeed be condescending. He can be snarky even when answering a non-pressing or non-controversial question. Such as: "What did you think of the team’s defense?"
Rather than just going ahead and providing a simple answer, Blatt might smile and fire back with a question of his own: "You were there," I heard him answer once. "Didn’t you see it?"
That’s actually not a terrible way to go about handling things. Blatt likes to have some fun. It’s just that not everyone sitting across from him sees it that way.
So when Blatt makes any sort of perceived blunder — such as trying to call a timeout when his team has none, or comparing himself to a fighter pilot — reporters can deliver the news with a vengeance.
They analyze, they criticize.
As for Blatt’s team winning 34 of its final 43 regular-season games, or compiling an 8-2 record in the playoffs despite the loss of Kevin Love and injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, well, that’s no credit to the coach.
At least, that’s too often how the media portrays things. The Cavs are only winning because of LeBron James, the critics insist. Anything good that happens is solely because of assistant Tyronn Lue, the detractors maintain. Blatt is about to be fired, the national pundits exclaim.
It’s true, as Cavs general manager David Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert have each been forced to come to Blatt’s defense in just his first season — using words such as "ridiculous" and phrases such as "parade of silliness" to describe reports of Blatt’s demise.
Griffin and Gilbert are right. A lot of the things written and said about Blatt have been downright childish. And a lot of it is solely because he doesn’t cater to reporters in the buddy-buddy manner that they sometimes demand.
Blatt isn’t the first coach to be perceived by the media as pompous. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and former Chicago and LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson have been extremely difficult at times. As another reporter once told me about Jackson: "He’s more important than you and his priority is to let you know."
The difference is, Popovich and Jackson have been in the NBA forever and own lots of championship rings. Blatt, on the other hand, never coached or played in the NBA. Instead, he spent years overseas. But he too won and won a lot — it’s just that no one in the United States really knew about it.
Still, what really matters about Blatt as the Cavs enter the Eastern Conference finals vs. Atlanta on Wednesday: His team is very confident and extremely united.
And that’s a major assist for the coach.
Think about all the tall tales, all the doubts. Think about how Love was lost for the postseason, how Irving is playing on one good leg (if that), how LeBron hasn’t been able to find the range on his jumper.
Yet the Cavs keep defending. They keep fighting. They keep winning.
Along the way, Blatt has defeated coaches such as Popovich and Media Golden Boy Steve Kerr of Golden State in the regular season. Then Blatt’s team bounced another media favorite, Brad Stevens of Boston, from the playoffs. Then the same thing happened against the highly respected Tom Thibodeau of Chicago.
That’s not intended to rip other coaches. Most do fine work.
But some of them couldn’t have overcome the rumors, hints of discord and random allegations that always surround Blatt.
They would’ve taken it out on their players. They would’ve pointed their fingers at ownership. They may have even lost their jobs. And most of them would receive a pass from the media.
Not Blatt. He only has Cavs management, his staff and the players in his corner. He only has his team’s success to show he belongs.
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