One of the biggest storylines from the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers’ season was the interplay between LeBron James and first-year coach David Blatt.
Blatt, highly regarded for his stints overseas, signed on to coach what he thought would be a young Cavs team aiming for a bottom-level playoff seed. Within days of his becoming Cleveland’s coach, he was suddenly charged with winning a title thanks to James returning to the team and the trade for Kevin Love.
Despite the insane shift in goals, Blatt’s first year could be seen as a success, ending just two wins short of an NBA championship. That said, it was hardly without speed bumps.
James seemed to have a lot of difficulty respecting his new coach, contradicting him through the media, changing plays during games and sometimes just straight up ignoring him in team huddles. Stories leaked left and right regarding strain between coach and superstar, specifically with James’ blatant disregard for Blatt.
Things were so rocky that, despite the fact the Cavs were within grasp of a title, rumors of a coaching change surfaced throughout the summer.
Blatt returned this year, and the hope was the difficult first season would make him all the wiser this time around. 12 games in, the Cavs are 9-3, but not without their warts. Still, one of the most noticeable changes between this season and last is how different the relationship is between James and Blatt.
Quite frankly, it’s finally starting to look like Blatt has earned the respect of his star player.
Last season, James seemed to go out of his way to show the world he didn’t like working with Blatt. Any time Blatt mentioned something in a post-game presser, James would blatantly disagree with it. If Blatt felt a particular loss was embarrassing, James would claim it wasn’t that bad. If Blatt said certain aspects of a game looked good, James would poke holes in them.
It was a curious, sometimes childish practice, one which occurred numerous times despite how well the team was performing.
Additionally, there were the multiple times when James could be seen ignoring anything Blatt was saying on the sideline, instead deferring to assistant coach Tyronn Lue.
If this was all just a test from James to see whether or not Blatt could handle this kind of attitude, the coach seemed to pass. If he didn’t he’d likely have been job-hunting this past offseason.
As a result, the relationship between these two has changed dramatically this year.
James has been quick to compliment his coach this season, especially after Cleveland’s recent two-game skid. Blatt reportedly sat the team down for a lengthy film session to break down everything the team had been doing wrong lately. Had this happened last year, it’s incredibly difficult to believe James of all people would’ve been OK with it. After all, James discredited a “rally-the-troops” style speech Blatt gave after the Cavs lost their season opener last year.
This time around, James not only had no problem with it, he actually encouraged it.
“Coach Blatt got on us pretty well,” James said. “Rightfully so, which he should have and we spent about 45 minutes in the film room. Yesterday was definitely not a day off. It was day off from the court, but not from us preparing and still getting better.”
Additionally, James noted that Blatt “does his job, as great as any coach can do in this league.”
Make no mistake; none of this would’ve been said last season. This also highlights just how much things have changed this year when it comes to James’ perspective of Blatt.
Having the superstar respect the head coach is huge. Despite the success seen with the Cavs, this dynamic was nowhere to be seen last year. As a result, James wasn’t the only player who could be seen tuning Blatt out.
With James now treating Blatt with significantly more respect, the hope is the team will follow along, which can’t be seen as anything but a positive.
Perhaps James really was just testing Blatt’s limits by giving him a season’s worth of disrespect. And maybe the fact Blatt is still standing despite a tumultuous first year changed James’ opinion of him.
Either way, James’ new attitude towards his coach is more than evident, and it’s tough to believe it won’t help the Cavs in the long run.