Cavaliers barely breaking even but aren't breaking apart, coach says

Cavaliers barely breaking even but aren't breaking apart, coach says
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, left, returns to the court in front of Coach David Blatt during a win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Thursday. (Harry How / Getty Images)

They are the most scrutinized team in the NBA. It's what comes with the territory when you have LeBron James, the best player on the planet. It's what you deal with when you have the talent of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on your team.

And because that team has underachieved, the Cleveland Cavaliers are always being examined.


And it has left David Blatt, the first-year coach, with a sizable burden.

"I'm just so tired of all of this personal stuff," said Blatt, symbolically with his back against the wall inside the hallways at Staples Center on Thursday. "We're all a part of this. A lot of things have been said, most of them unfairly and not truly depicting the situation.

"We've been struggling. I readily admit it. Guys are working hard. Guys are engaged. Guys are very, very much listening and attentive. You know, we're not out of the mud yet, but we're going to be, because we're going to get our team fully stocked and we're moving in the right direction."

The Cavaliers went 1-9 in a 10-game stretch before they beat the Lakers and Clippers in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday. James missed eight games recovering from back and knee strains before returning from a two-week absence Tuesday night in Phoenix.

But though they are third in the Central Division, behind Chicago and Milwaukee, the Cavaliers (21-20) still are comfortably in playoff position, standing sixth in the watered-down Eastern Conference at the season's midpoint.

There have been numerous reports of tension between the players and Blatt because of the poor play from team many expected to make the NBA Finals.

It reached a level that compelled Cleveland General Manager David Griffin to defend Blatt. Griffin said talk about Blatt's job being in jeopardy was "ridiculous."

"I don't know what is true or not, but if these rumors that these guys on the Cavaliers are trying to get their coach fired and assistant coaches are trying to undermine their coach [are true], they are punks in my opinion," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said during Thursday's telecast.

Reggie Miller, another TNT analyst, countered that by saying there was "little validity" to reports of strife in Cleveland.

"However, there is one person in this building who can stop all this nonsense, and it's LeBron James," Miller said during the telecast. "If LeBron were to get in front of a microphone and say, 'I'm tired of hearing all of this noise,' we wouldn't hear anything. 'We're rolling with this guy.' But it's the silence from LeBron James. . . . I understand he's in a tough predicament, but he could stop all of this."

James, though, hasn't gone there.

"You just don't worry about what everybody else has to say," James said. "We control what we can control and we try to focus and get better."


"Chemistry and camaraderie is a huge thing," James said. "We've got to continue to work on that. The more games we play, the more situations we'll see."


Irving shrugged when asked about the perceived issues.

"It's a part of the business, a part of what we signed up for," he said. "We have great players on our team, obviously that's going to bring some attention. We just got to find the continuity day to day and continue to take care of all that stuff internally and make sure we're always on the same page."

Blatt hasn't just had to put out fires with his players. He grew upset when asked about an article that said assistant Tyrone Lue had called timeouts instead of Blatt.

"Assistant coaches can't call a timeout in an NBA game, if you didn't know that," Blatt said. "That's a lot of nonsense and I think it's kind of cheap, I really do."

For a team with the so-called next Big Three of James, Irving and Love, the Cavaliers have looked anything but smooth. After 41 games, they ranked 16th in scoring (100.7 points a game), 13th in assists (21.7) and 23rd in rebounding (41.2).

They mainly run the standard pick-and-roll and isolation sets and very little of the Princeton offense — which requires movement and reading — that Blatt installed and had success with when he coached in Europe.

"I saw some of the variations of some of the things that we did back in the day in [New] Jersey, but some slight changes to it," said Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who ran that offense when he coached the New Jersey Nets. "But very, very little."

Still, the constant chatter about a divide inside the locker room remains a daily story line the Cavaliers just can't seem to get out from under.

"On one hand, it's not always easy to be under constant surveillance and have constant attention on you," Blatt said. "On the other hand, it says something about the team that you have and the expectations that there are. And that's a good thing, because you've got to live up to that and you've got to face the music every day and you've got to take responsibility and constantly try to get better."