Denver — In the NBA, coaches tend to stick together, as they develop close bonds within the coaching fraternity.
Friday’s move by the Cleveland Cavaliers to fire coach David Blatt — who led the team to the NBA Finals last season and to a 30-11 record this season — brought out the ire of several coaches in the league.
Blatt’s Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference, so he had done enough winning, compiling an impressive 83-40 mark in 1½ seasons. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue was promoted to head coach and given a three-year contract.
“All we know for sure is that it had absolutely nothing to do with team performance,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said following Saturday morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center.
“It’s hard to figure out what it’s all about anymore. That one, to me, elevated all of the coach firings totally into the theater of the absurd. It was insane.”
Van Gundy pointed out that the Houston Rockets also fired Kevin McHale 11 games into the season, meaning that coaches from two of the four teams from last year’s conference finals are gone.
Although there’s a premium on winning for the Cavs, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Blatt had a .675 win percentage and had done well in the regular season.
That wasn’t enough.
“I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this can happen like this,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is president of the NBA Coaches Association, told reporters. “It’s just bizarre. … It just leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling, because Blatt’s a great guy, and he did a great job there.”
Van Gundy agreed, citing some of the difficulties that Blatt overcame in getting the Cavs to succeed this season. But possibly the recent losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors played a role in Blatt’s ultimate demise.
“It’s absurd — and I agree with Rick Carlisle — it’s embarrassing for the league. As I’ve said before, we all get into this and know no matter what happens,” Van Gundy said. “David Blatt had injuries this year and everything else. Nobody cares about that. You’re supposed to win — he did and now he’s still getting fired.”
Van Gundy said he contacted Blatt via text and also communicated with some other coaching colleagues around the league to express his dismay.
It’s raised the stakes on what coaching expectations are, and in some cases, it’s either win a championship — and maintain good relationships with players in the locker room — or bust. That’s a difficult balance to maintain for most teams, but it’s looking like the new standard.
“What’s next, (Spurs coach Gregg) Popovich loses two games in a row and we’re going to get rid of him after 17 years?” Van Gundy deadpanned. “Literally, the only thing more absurd than what just happened is (Warriors coach) Steve Kerr or Pop getting fired.
Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who led the team through the first half of the season with only four losses, had a similar weight on his shoulders, but now that Kerr has returned from his leave of absence, all eyes will be on how he steers the ship.
“Luke Walton did a good job. If Steve Kerr loses two games in a row, we might have to dump him and go back to Luke Walton — that’s where we’re at,” Van Gundy said. “That’s the only thing that would be crazier than this.”