LeBron James 'surprised and caught off-guard' by Blatt firing

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, January 24, 2016

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio --LeBron James stressed Saturday that he did not influence the Cleveland Cavaliers' coaching change, saying he was "surprised and caught off-guard" by the decision to fire David Blatt.

James addressed the media less than 24 hours after the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers fired Blatt and replaced him with assistant Tyronn Lue.

Cavaliers general manager David Griffin on Friday disputed the notion that James was part of the franchise's decision-making process regarding Blatt, saying the four-time MVP "doesn't run this organization."

James echoed those comments Saturday. He said he is not worried about the perception of his impact on coaching decisions.

"That's not my concern," James said. "I found out about it just like every other player on this team at 3:30 yesterday. ...I think [Griffin] was right on everything he said. ... Like it or love it or hate it, we got to respect it."

A source close to James told ESPN that the Cavs star "didn't know this was coming" before Griffin gathered the players at the practice facility to inform them that Blatt had been fired.

Sources also told ESPN's Brian Windhorst that although James' fondness for Lue and his desire to be coached by a former player were well-known throughout Cleveland's organization, James was not directly consulted Friday on the Cavs' decision.

"For me, I can't get caught up and worried about what other people are thinking," James said. "I stopped doing that a long time ago in my career. ... The only thing I can worry about is how I can get these guys better prepared and we can play better basketball."

James addressed his relationship with Lue, who also spoke to the media Saturday.

"We've been friends since I was 17 years old, but at the end of the day, he's still the coach and I'm underneath him," James said. "He will coach me and push me, and I'll listen to everything he has to say and go from there. Don't try to make it a story of why me and Coach Lue are so tight. I think it's a lot of coaches and players that's close in this league. It just happened to be me."

Lue said he was required to communicate with the players often during the course of games as he directed the team defense.

"Me and Bron were friends before when I played. We had a great relationship then," Lue said. "But what you guys don't understand from what you see is that when the players are coming and talking to me as an assistant coach, like, I'm the defensive coordinator. So if guys are getting scored on or guys are in the wrong spots or guys are not doing the right thing defensively, they come and talk to me because I'm in charge of the defense.

"Like, if you watch the Clippers, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, they go and talk to Lawrence Frank. Or in Phoenix, to [Mike] Longabardi, the defensive coordinator. They're going to talk to him. Or in New Orleans, with Darren Erman, the guys are going to talk to him. So that's the position I was put in, and the media kind of took it and ran with it like they're going to talk to me more than Blatt, which is not the case at all. It was just mostly defense."

James was asked what qualities he has seen in Lue over the past season and a half being coached by him.

"Very detailed," James said of the 11-year NBA veteran. "That helps a lot. A guy who played the game as well, so he's won a championship -- multiple championships -- so there's nothing that he hasn't seen. He's played for Phil Jackson, he's coached with Doc [Rivers], he's been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now. We're going to give him whatever he needs. We've got to follow his lead."

While Lue, 38, isn't much older than James, 31, he made it clear he would be assertive when dealing with the Cavs' captain. Lue has spent plenty of time with superstars, being teammates with the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal and being the assistant coach of teams featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Paul and Blake Griffin.

"I talked to Bron," Lue said, referring to a conversation the pair had Friday night. "I told him, 'I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. And if I can hold you accountable in front of the team and doing the right things, then everybody else has got to fall in line, fall in place.'"

James said a championship remains the goal for the Cavs, despite the shakeup.

"We can put together four great months to the end of the regular season to build a lot of things to go into the playoffs, and then everything that we've built, we can go from there," James said. "Obviously, there's a lot of time. ... I love our position that we in. I would hate to be in 14th in the East and try to fight our way out. We're still in first place for a reason. We can be much better than we were."

If that championship goal is realized, it will be without Blatt, who guaranteed Cleveland would win the title at a speaking engagement in Israel during the offseason.

Lue said he and Blatt spoke on Friday.

"He said, 'I thank you for everything you've done for me. I know you had my back 100 percent,'" Lue said.

While Lue and Blatt appear to be on solid terms, that does not mean that Lue will directly emulate the man he replaced.

Asked what he would do "differently" than Blatt, Lue replied, "I'm not going to say 'differently.' I will say do some things 'better.'"

The Cavs are an Eastern Conference-best 30-12 despite losing Lue's debut Saturday, 96-83 at home to the Bulls.

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