The relationship between LeBron James and David Blatt has been a topic of great debate this season, especially after James overruled Blatt’s final play call – and then hit a game-winning jumper – against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals this past Sunday.
Former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, however, feels the incident has been overblown.
“I think everything’s okay,” Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Obviously this is Blatt’s first year coaching in the NBA. He’s an experienced coach because of all the years he’s coached in Europe, but LeBron is doing what superstars needs to do in order to help his coach – especially a young coach in terms of NBA coaching experience – through a difficult time. Let’s face it: Playoffs are a lot tougher and more challenging than the regular season. Blatt has run into a couple of different things that may have been new to him or different to him, and so LeBron has been there, done that. He’s doing what a veteran player of his caliber should be doing.
“It’s not strange or different for players and coaches to have dialogue in a huddle or to possibly do something different out on the floor,” Brown continued. “There are plenty of times when a coach makes a play call to a player bringing the ball up the floor, and if the point guard doesn’t feel that it’s the right thing for them to run right now, he may make the play change himself. That happens all the time in my opinion in the league. This happened to be a very intense situation with a big spotlight on it, and the tough part about it, you hate that it got out, but it got out and they have to deal with it.”
Brown, a Spurs assistant in the early 2000s, said even Gregg Popovich lets players have their say in the huddle.
“We just want to win,” Brown said. “I don’t care if it’s the video coordinator or the intern that gives us the idea. If you have an idea that’s better than the next guy’s and I feel that it’s going to work, then heck yeah, we’re going to ride your pony until it stops working.”
Brown also discussed the fickle nature of head coaching. Scott Brooks was fired after an incredibly successful stint in Oklahoma City. Monty Williams was fired in New Orleans after finally leading the Pelicans to the playoffs. There are reports that Tom Thibodeau will soon be out in Chicago.
These are successful coaches.
“It’s just part of the business,” said Brown, the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2009. “My first run in Cleveland, my last (two) years we won 66 games and then 61 games . . . and Cleveland just chose to go in another direction. In L.A., we won the division my only full year there and finished third in the West and took Oklahoma City to the sixth game in the second round and they chose to go with another direction early in the following year. So I’ve experienced it as a coach in this business. You just kind of chalk it up and you move on. You understand it’s nothing you want to fight, because going in, you know what the business is about. With those three guys they’re all great coaches, there’s nothing they can do about it. When it happens – because it’s going to eventually happen to everybody – you just move forward and you move on to the next job to try to help the next team.”
Getting back to James, Brown said the four-time MVP is a vastly different player now than he was during his first tenure in Cleveland.
“He was a great player when I had him, but he was still young,” Brown said. “I think when we first got together, he was in his second year maybe or going into his third year, so he was young. He did not obviously have a great feel of the league, and he still had huge upside in a lot of areas even though he was as talented as he was back then. Now you just feel the maturity that he has. Not that he was immature in a bad way back then, but you feel the maturity that he has on the floor, off he floor. You feel the confidence. His basketball abilities just keep getting better and I think they can still get better because he works so hard. He’s a lot different player now – especially after winning two championships – than he was back then.”