David Blatt is Called LeBron's Stooge

Speculation resides in the nether reaches of the journalistic aquarium just past the diver and the treasure chest in the corner behind some rocks. Bubbling beneath those rocks this week was some suggestion about the relationship between Cavaliers Coach David Blatt and LeBron James.

We’re not here to disparage ESPN’s TMZ wing. They have to earn money somehow too. We just want people to pause a moment before buying too many cases of their latest tonic. The rumor as presented by the inimitable Brian Windhorst was that LeBron calls the Cavaliers plays and Blatt repeats what James tells him.

The supposition apparently is that Blatt is so much LeBron’s bitch that the best ballplayer in the world dictates to this proud Ivy League grad and winner of 17 European championships as well as a Bronze medal in the last Olympics. Blatt I suppose is sort of Lenny to the King’s George in Cleveland’s version Of Mice and Men. Of course, that sounds a lot more like the relationship between ESPN and the NFL’s Roger Goodell, but that’s beside the point.

Let’s just examine the premise. LeBron James calls plays. (So does Kyrie according to a report in the Plain Dealer yesterday confirming Windhorst basic assertion.) Tom Brady calls some of his own plays too. Does that make Bill Belichick a worse coach? Or is he a better coach for not being so caught up in his ego and able to give discretion to a player that’s also pretty savvy about the game?

By all accounts, even beyond his physical gifts, James is a basketball savant. Do you have any doubt that if the reverse were true we’d be reading stories about how Blatt won’t listen to the suggestions of the best basketball player in the world?

Earlier there were stories that Blatt let his assistant call timeouts. We’re no experts in management theory, but we’ve noticed a wide variety of successful strategies with regards to coaching temperament in the NBA. It’s not about being the Great Santini and Gordon Gekko rolled into one.

Chuck Daly was an eternal pessimist and KC Jones an even-keel optimist. Pat Riley was a salesman and Phil Jackson wanted his players to discover their own path and role. Byron Scott doesn’t mind throwing his team under the bus. Blatt never has a disparaging word about anyone (outside of journalists).

(For example, he thought it was unfair to call Sunday’s 76ers game “ugly.” We don’t care how hard they played, call a spade a spade, sir. That game was U-G-L-Y and there is no alibi. But that’s simply not his way.)

That Knute Rockne shit is so old-fashioned it uses a rotary phone. In general, different people respond to different things and a good leader tailors his pitch to his audience. But for most adults, the peremptory tear-you-down-to-build-you-up approach is disrespectful and better-suited to high school or maybe college players. These are professionals (in most cases anyway).

Motivation by fear and intimidation might work for the cold-calling slobs of Glengarry Glen Ross (see, “Always Be Closing”), but among professional athletes with longer, bigger contracts than you it’s probably a poor move. Yet some can only see power in brashness and loud-talking rather than Roosevelt’s famous dictate about quiet manners and a cudgel.

So what? LeBron James calls some of the plays. Does that mean some reporter’s going to make a down payment on some brass ones and ask the anointed one why he ran that particular play at the end of the game? “You know the one where you’re dribbling in place for 20 seconds and then chuck it from three?” Still waiting. Blatt’s simply an easier more captive mark for the press.

It won’t be us, because while we think James’ shot selection can border on Dion-esque at times, they’re far more exception than rule and the man’s the world’s finest basketball player. He’s earned a little deference.

In the meantime, there’s the overarching question. Even if LeBron and Kyrie are calling plays, and even if that is somehow strange in the NBA – and we’ve gotten no indication it is for superstars – isn’t the real question why he didn’t start taking James’ advice sooner, if this is the result?

Of course from the backseat it only looks like you’re turning a wheel. Given how well they’ve performed what exactly is the issue we’re discussing? Given that context, it’s almost like someone has made it their mission to call out Blatt’s manhood. The team’s winning. His job – if it ever was – certainly isn’t in jeopardy at the moment.

But hey, that’s no reason we can’t say a 55-year old guy who’s been coaching longer than said reporter’s been writing is a cowering puss who takes his marching orders from James and lives in fear for his job. That certainly doesn’t sound like most people that come here from Israel, but you know, that’s just speculation.

The Cavaliers had a couple days off and haven’t lost a game since the season started when they have. There’s probably a little pride on the line for James who’s lost to Miami his last two visits there, sandwiched a February 11 home victory in which Wade didn’t play.

At the moment the Heat would play the Cavs in the playoffs, but they’re tied with Brooklyn for the 7th slot and there’s still plenty of time for that to change, especially with the Boston Celtics just a ½ game behind. Kevin Love, who’s back has bothered him all year long, is still smarting from an elbow Sunday and will be a game-time decision.

Then on Sunday it’s the Chicago Bulls which will be another test of sorts, given the disclaimer that both team could be resting players, despite the fact it’s a nationally televised game. These days teams like to coast into the finish, and there’s no doubt well-rested is a good place to start. Then again, if you dispatch your first opponent in four games, you’ll get your rest.

We’ll be at the Q for the Heat game tonight we’ll be tweeting with commentary and live video.
As always you can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne and find my columns now (nearly) daily in the Cleveland Scene blog. You can fine all my recent columns here, and all my work at chrisparker.contently.com.

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