Eight months ago, David Blatt was gearing up for his first NBA training camp. The rookie - yes, rookie, NBA head coach was walking eyes wide open into one of the highest profile jobs in the country. He was going to be LeBron James' coach. He was going to be LeBron James' coach as the Akron native returned home, and expectations for James-led teams are never modest.
Here are but some of the issues Blatt faced:
- A trip to Brazil featuring shoddy basketball facilities, weird practice times, long flights, all leading to an incongruous preseason schedule. Oh, and they played James' old team down there.
- New timeouts, less practice time, new officials, a new team, and a whole league full of new players. Did Blatt know who Markieff Morris was before the season?
- Blatt has not, and would never, and should never publicly complain about coaching James, Kevin Love in a walk year, and Kyrie Irving. But fans and NBA observers expected the Cavs to score at a historic rate, and to do so quickly.
- Dion Waiters publicly lobbying to start at shooting guard.
- The task of asking Tristan Thompson to come off the bench the year before hitting restricted free agency.
- A weird collection of young players coming off somewhat disappointing seasons in Irving, Thompson, and even Waiters (his strong six week end to the 2014 campaign wasn't quite enough to raise his season-long numbers to solid play) and players like James Jones, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood that toggled in and out of functionality. And, without delving too far into speculation, it's fair to wonder how fit James was; he ultimately took two weeks off as the team languished to get himself healthy.
Basketball's most besieged coach retreated to a quiet corridor of the Staples Center and moved to reject the caricature of himself as the victim of some sort of coup, a floundering spirit in a murky cesspool. David Blatt is a believer, forever betting on himself and there's something about this struggle that's emboldening the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.Everyone's coming for him now, including the most powerful player on the planet. So it goes for the European coach thrust into the biggest coaching burden the NBA's witnessed in a long, long time. Everyone else awaits the validation of a Blatt basketball vision so far unseen, so far unrealized on a .500 team."They haven't witnessed it yet, and I readily recognize it," Blatt told Yahoo Sports. "But they will. The ways of the NBA are very ingrained in guys here. Before we take them out of their comfort zone, we better find a team comfort zone winning basketball games."It's tough to make the kind of changes that I think we can and will in the future before we gain credibility as a team, and the belief of everybody of what we're doing."
Since his arrival, the Cavs have morphed into a solid defensive team, one that gets even better when Mozgov plays. With him on the court, Cleveland is surrendering just 101 points per 100 possessions. A major reason is that opponents are shooting just 48 percent when going up against Mozgov at the rim."We've changed our defense since Timo got here," Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue says. "We now scheme around always having a big man near the basket."