Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin sent shockwaves through the NBA on Friday, as he fired head coach David Blatt despite a 30-11 start to the season.
Less than a week removed from an absolute embarrassment of a home loss to the Golden State Warriors in an NBA Finals rematch, Griffin was adamant the loss had very little to do with his decision to move on from Blatt and hand the keys to the franchise to Tyronn Lue. In fact, it was completely in regard to what he witnessed first-hand in the team’s locker room.
“I’m in our locker room a lot,” Griffin stated in a press conference Friday evening. “There’s just a disconnect there right now. Halfway through the season I think we have the time to right the ship and I know that’s crazy with a 30-11 record. We were 30-11 with a schedule reasonably easy and I’m judging a lot more than wins and losses.”
Griffin also discussed various reports that LeBron James had input in this decision, which he vehemently denied, reiterating that this decision was solely his and the basketball operations team, which he then went to owner Dan Gilbert with to get his “blessing” to move on from Blatt.
The press conference was both a breath of fresh air and a wake-up call of sorts for the fans, players and organization. On one side, it was nice to see the leader of the franchise taking ownership of a perceived problem with this team acting swiftly to right the wrong. But on the other hand, Griffin pretty much threw the players on this roster under the bus—which some may view as a good thing moving forward.
From firing the coach they didn’t like to calling them “individuals,” Griffin has seemingly shifted the pressure from the new coach of this team (Lue), and put it squarely on the shoulders of the players on his roster. And quite possibly, this was the best takeaway from the entire press conference.
When James shocked the league and came back home to Cleveland, there was this sense of entitlement that championships would just fall from the sky and line up outside of Quicken Loans Arena with the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. After today, that sentiment should no longer exist in that locker room.
In fact, it seems as if that sentiment was heard loud and clear—as Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported on Twitter that some players thought the team meeting was to let them know power forward Kevin Love had been traded. Instead, they were welcomed with the news that their coach had been fired.
How surprised were Cavs players today? When team meeting was called, some players speculated Kevin Love had been traded
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 22, 2016
The dismissal of Blatt today should be taken as a changing of the guard within the Cavaliers organization. While it will initially look as if Griffin is putting the blame on Blatt, he is openly telling the team “here, I’ll give you the guy you want…it is now on you to turn this around.”
Any person with two eyes and a television could tell you the team was not responding to Blatt for whatever reason. That same person could tell you they saw players interacting with Lue every game as well. So, at the bare minimum you should see much more communication between Lue and the players than you ever saw between Blatt and the same group.
At the same time, the players better be ready to be held accountable for this team moving forward. Lue is a former player with championship experience, and he now has the freedom to express anything and everything openly. This means criticizing star players, putting them in their place and even changing up the rotation and minutes distribution. To put it bluntly, it is time for the players to put up or shut up with Lue.
The final thing I think is very important to take away from today is the Windhorst tweet mentioned about Love. Regardless of your personal feelings toward Windhorst, if various players on the team think Love could get traded, there may be more to the “internet trade rumors” than we all truly think.
If Lue cannot find a way to work Love into his system before the trade deadline, I would not put it past Griffin to decide to make a move to bring in someone that could be a better fit for the system Lue wants to run.