The title of this article is cringe-worthy. David Blatt led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in his first season as an NBA coach. The Cavs were two major starters down and still managed to make it a series worth watching. But following the Golden State Warriors’ NBA title, ESPN’s Marc Stein released a report saying that LeBron James “emasculated” Blatt throughout the Finals. And in today’s superstar-magnified world, people have to ask themselves, is Blatt the right man for James?
Historically speaking, that type of incident in basketball was shameful, and any player that disrespected their coach was typically the one that received the blame. But that was before franchises committed such obscene amounts of money to NBA stars. Kobe Bryant was only able to play in 35 games this season and made $23.5 million. Carmelo Anthony played for a team that won 17 games, was injured for half the season, and still made nearly $25 million from his contract that’s considered less than a max offer. Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat is currently under a five-year, $118 million contract. Out of 246 possible games played for these three high-cost stars, they were only able to play in 56 percent of their regular-season games in 2014-15. That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow for such major investments.
Then there’s James, who made over $21 million last season for his surprise return to Cleveland, while simultaneously making an estimated $44 million in endorsements off the court for that same season. Cavaliers head coach David Blatt? $5 million a year. The hierarchy in Cleveland has been twisted since Day 1, and that’s how it is for the entire NBA market. With conditions like this, how is James expected to be held accountable towards Blatt’s coaching decisions? In any other job on the planet, if you make more money than the boss, you’re officially the boss.
There’s no way to know for sure what words were said when Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and James were discussing his return to Cleveland in last year’s offseason. Most would presume James naturally requested some authority surrounding team decisions and player roles. That’s the case with every single NBA star today, and considering trends around the league, the Cavaliers were incredibly lucky their star investment was able to survive the season without a major injury.
What’s most interesting about Stein’s report is the timing of it. He references observations that occurred in Game 5, and yet the report wasn’t released until after Game 6. If Stein had seen these instances, why did he wait to release the information? This conundrum allows the report to be taken with a slight grain of salt.
But if what Stein says is true, that James was sitting on the bench actually declining plays that Blatt drew up, that’s a serious elephant in the room in regards to sports hierarchy and authority. Sports stars butt heads with coaches all the time; that’s the way things are regarding egos. But on a stage as big as the Finals and the coach and star aren’t even on the same page? That’s a serious problem.
It’s just another reflection of the ridiculous dichotomy regarding NBA management. Gilbert is merely following the trend set by other teams regarding major stars contracts. And to simply put it, if a franchise has a choice of either making money from a star or winning a championship, they’re going to choose the first one.
There’s no argument in the universe that can convince owners and players to make less money and change the hierarchy of NBA authority. But if one simply looks at any recent NBA championship team, there was never a superstar who overruled a coach or owner in the Finals. And teams that have balanced leadership and belief in their coach will always see better results.
So what of James and Blatt? James has already made it clear that he plans to opt out of his current contract to restructure a deal that’ll most likely keep him in Cleveland for a very long time. But if James has the nerve to complain to Gilbert about Blatt, there’s no question Gilbert will attempt to please James before he pleases Blatt.
There’s also no question that Blatt has been instructed to bow down to James’s authority. He’s “The King” after all, and that authority that James has on/off the court has never been clearer than right now. Will James and Blatt be able to amend these “issues” and return to the NBA Finals next year? With James, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith all opting out of their contracts, a lot remains to be seen.
But everyone knows with a healthy squad, the Cavaliers are incredibly dangerous, and very well could be back in the Finals in 2016. Winning usually cures all, and perhaps that can cure this supposedly fractured relationship.