12:48pm: Blatt called the notion that he doesn’t have the attention of his players “unfair” as he insisted that it’s not the case, as he spoke to reporters, including Joe Vardon of Northeast Ohio Media Group and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com (Twitter links)
10:46am: There’s a growing concern in the Cavaliers organization about the way the team’s players are responding to coach David Blatt, report Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN.com. The Cavs are off to a 18-12 start and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, disappointing for a team many picked to win the title after the return of LeBron James and the trade that brought in Kevin Love. There have been “whispers” that some of the Cavs players have issues with Blatt, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reported late Sunday, as we passed along. That chatter has been about the lack of attention the players pay to Blatt in huddles as well as the deference they instead give to lead assistant coach Tyronn Lue.
In particular, the perception that the team isn’t expending full effort, especially on defense, is a worry, and the lack of energy and competitiveness is one that Blatt has acknowledged, as Windhorst and Stein observe. Blatt is in his first year as an NBA coach after extensive experience, and success, as a coach overseas, and while he dislikes to be referred to as a “rookie” coach, he’s never faced a challenge quite like the one before him in Cleveland. The Cavs, after four straight years of having missed the playoffs, returned just five players from last year’s team, a league low. The addition of championship-tested veterans like Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones only heightened the expectations surrounding the club.
The team’s defensive shortcomings likely owe at least in part to the lack of a player who can effectively protect the rim, a need that GM David Griffin has sought to remedy for months. The team’s issues at center are even more profound since the loss of Anderson Varejao to a torn Achilles that’s expected to end his season, and the Cavs are just 1-2 since he went down, having lost to the Heat and the Pistons, both sub-.500 teams. Kyrie Irving also missed the team’s last two games, encompassing a win over the Magic and that Pistons loss, with a hyperextended left knee.
The team hired Blatt in June, with owner Dan Gilbert the driving force behind the move, according to the ESPN scribes. That took place weeks before James committed to signing, and it seemed at the time Blatt joined the team that bringing aboard a coach who had never before held a job in the NBA in any capacity would put the kibosh on the hope that James would return to Cleveland this year. That fear proved to be unfounded. Still, James has said that he didn’t make a formal request of Blatt to alter his role in the team’s offense before doing so, as Windhorst and Stein note, and the four-time MVP refused to answer a question Sunday about whether the team’s recent struggles were a learning experience for Blatt.