Several NBA coaches have lost and will lose their jobs this year. Some of their teams exceeded expectations, and yet they still got the ax. (Hello, Monty Williams!) David Blatt might win a championship and still get fired, and I think it would be smart on the Cavaliers’ part to do so. One might say this is unfair; that if a coach’s team does well they were clearly doing the right things and deserve an opportunity to reproduce their results. This is called results-oriented thinking, and it can sometimes lead to bad decisions.
Results-oriented thinking is what kept Scott Brooks employed in Oklahoma City, despite not running an offense much more complex than, “Give Durant or Westbrook the ball and see what happens.” Because the Thunder played well and put up good results, Brooks was able to keep his job. His inability to innovate offensively held the Thunder back and was one of several factors that kept them from having more playoff success. It wasn’t until Kevin Durant got hurt and the Thunder missed the playoffs that Brooks hit the road and Billy Donovan was brought in.
The important thing to think about when making decisions about coaches is what they add to your team. The NBA is a league driven by the players; a talented roster is more important than a good coach, but you still don’t want a bad coach running your team. Just because it can work, doesn’t mean you don’t want to maximize your team’s ability to function at every level.
If the Cavs win the Finals, or even the Eastern Conference, there’s a chance Blatt will keep his job, despite showing us pretty clearly that he’s not a championship level coach. (Pro tip: When you want to score on the final play, don’t have your best player, the best player in the league, inbounding the ball so he can’t score. Also, keep track of your time outs.) If they win the championship, it’ll likely be because LeBron James was the best player in the world, not because Blatt installed the right system and managed lineups correctly. Even if the Cavs were to win the Finals, that doesn’t mean they should ignore the possibility of improving their coaching situation.
When Blatt was hired, the Cavs were far from championship contenders. They had just won the lottery and were a young team with some assets that might be able to squeak into the playoffs. Not many coaches were clamoring for the fixer-upper in Cleveland, so the Cavs hired a fresh face in Blatt to test him out and see if he could develop with the team. Then LeBron showed up and Blatt found himself in charge of a championship contender during his rookie season as a coach.
Blatt doesn’t seem ready for this level just yet, and waiting for him to develop as a coach could end up costing Cleveland championships. James’s career has a limited window, and if Cleveland wants titles, they need to maximize the team’s capabilities at every level. That means moving on from a coach who’s not ready to manage this roster.