(I long ago laid down my brief for the double standard to which Cam Newton was being held. That doesn’t mean I somehow knew he’d be this good now. I didn’t. I just knew that he was being judged by a set of criteria that black athletes, including QBs, typically face, that have little to nothing to do with performance, and everything to do with race and culture.
In the second half of the Panthers’ Newton-led demolition of the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, I tweeted the following:
That wasn’t meant as a knock against Buck, per se. It just reflected the extraordinary fact that, even now, there is a perceived need to explain Cam. Having fun while black is, I am afraid, a real thing).
OK, on to David Blatt.
A few points:
1) everyone’s a Kremlinologist, trying to figure out what role LeBron played in Blatt’s getting fired. If LeBron is lying, obviously the whole organization is lying, since everyone in Cavs-ville is saying the same thing. I think it’s obvious enough that Blatt would not have been fired if management thought LeBron would be upset about the move. That doesn’t mean that LeBron went to GM David Griffin last week and said, “you must get rid of him, now!”
2) the reason folks are so caught up in LeBron’s role is because of a larger anxiety about “inmates running the asylum.” This is not a new worry in the world of sports, though it’s always presented as one. Though it shouldn’t need repeating, NBA players have gotten coaches fired before. Magic, all of 23 years old in 1982, was directly responsible for the canning of Paul Westhead. Former coach Scott Skiles complained this weekend that it used to be the case that you had to lose before you got fired.
Here’s Westhead’s W-L records during his tenure with the Lakers, starting in 1979-80, Magic’s rookie season:
1979-80 – 50-18, won NBA title (he took over after the previous head coach, Jack McKinney, suffered a serious accident. That accident, incidentally, secured Pat Riley his first coaching job, as Westhead’s assistant).
1980-81 – 54-28, lost in first round of playoffs (Magic missed half the season with an injury)
1981-82 – 7-4, fired.
See all the losing there? Me neither.
Doug Collins also got fired, presumably because of another star player, Michael Jordan, after a season in which a young Bulls team went 47-35 and made the conference finals.
This is both old news and readily forgotten.
3) I don’t know whether the coaching change really helps the Cavs. One criticism of LeBron since he returned to Cleveland is that while he’s a great player, he’s not such a good general manager or coach. There are lots of assumptions embedded in this line of argument, but there is little doubt that Cleveland’s roster, even apart from James’ signing, is much better than it was in the summer of 2014. The additions of Mozgov, Shumpert and JR Smith undoubtedly helped the team substantially last season. The move that has been most criticized was the trade for Kevin Love, in which No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, regarded as a future superstar, was dealt to Minnesota. Wiggins may be awesome some day, but in a season and a half in the league so far, he’s not even been an average player. Because many “analysts” believe that taking as many shots as possible is the only relevant skill in basketball, they’ve missed this simple fact. By his standards, Kevin Love played poorly last season, thought he’s been much better so far in 2015-16, which means he’s playing at an all-star caliber level. If anyone thinks the answer to the Cavs’ supposed problems with offensive flow and better ball distribution is a shoot-first wing player who is a below average distributor and below-average shot maker, then I don’t know what to tell you. And if your answer is that Wiggins would be so much better under the tutelage of LeBron, then we’re in a full-on tail-chasing exercise.
Perhaps Blatt’s firing is related to the fact that he never cultivated any allies in the organization, whether among the players or in the front office. Regardless, Cleveland’s real problem is that while it’s good enough to make the NBA finals again, it’s clearly inferior to the two Beasts of the West. Does Tyronn Lue change that equation? I am dubious. But short of adding another impact player to the roster – and Cleveland’s cap situation makes that a challenge – I don’t know where else they look.
4) Cleveland could have won a championship last year. They lost a hard-fought six-game series, playing essentially all of it without two key starters. Coming into this season, their most likely growth area, unsexy as it is, was the continued improvement of Kyrie Irving, one of their few players on the good side of the age curve. Irving doesn’t turn 24 until March and was showing signs of approaching elite status by the end of last year. Instead, he missed the first two months of the season with an injury and has been a shell of his 2015 self so far. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ two best players, Draymond Green and Steph have taken huge strides forward from last season, including Steph’s transformation from mere worthy MVP to “are-you-freaking-kidding-me” superhero status. And the Spurs – well they’re just operating in their own, extraordinary universe.
Cleveland could still win it all this season, insofar as they still have a pretty clear path to the NBA finals. Once there, they won’t have to play some monstrous post-apocalyptic hybrid of two of the greatest teams of all time. They just have to lace-’em-up against one all-time great squad. And maybe Kyrie will go nuts, LeBron will be superhuman and JR Smith will enter one of his crazy shooting zones (the good kind, not the bad kind).
But all of the chatter, tsk-tsking and hand-wringing about the circumstances of David Blatt’s firing, fair or unfair, misses a prosaic reality. Whether the Cavs can win it all this year depends a lot more on the players on the floor than the guy patrolling the sidelines. And there’s little reason to think they can close the Jimmys and Joes gap with either the Spurs or the Warriors.