LeBron James had one of the best performances in NBA Finals history despite the Cavaliers' ultimate loss. He carried a shorthanded team to six games on sheer talent and will alone.
Behind the scenes, however, he was ignoring and at times disrespecting coach David Blatt as much as ever, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
"There was LeBron, in one instance I witnessed from right behind the bench, shaking his head vociferously in protest after one play Blatt drew up in the third quarter of Game 5, amounting to the loudest nonverbal scolding you could imagine," Stein wrote. "Which forced Blatt, in front of his whole team, to wipe the board clean and draw up something else."
It's not the first report of James not acknowledging Blatt. Early in the season, rumors emerged that James was the one calling the plays. He actually acknowledged that he changed an end-of-game play call after his game-winner against the Bulls.
The relationship has not been good at any point, but tension reached its peak in the final series, with Stein saying James consulted with assistant coach Tyronn Lue instead of Blatt and called timeouts and plays on his own.
Normally, not having the respect of a star player -- never mind one as influential as LeBron James is in Cleveland -- would be a death sentence for a coach. That might not be the case for Blatt, simply because James is happy with having someone to "kick around," according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
"I think, at the end of the day, LeBron likes the freedom. He likes having Blatt to kick around, something he couldn't get away with with other coaches in the past," Windhorst said on SVP and Russillo. "I think LeBron is OK with him going forward. If David Blatt is OK with taking the abuse from the star player, which he does, David Blatt will be back. I think it'll be Blatt's decision more than anybody else at this point."
Reports of James' non-relationship with Blatt have been emerging all season, to the point where they have become impossible to shrug away as exaggeration. The Cavaliers made the Finals, so Blatt's job should be safe, in theory.
Blatt and general manager David Griffin addressed the reported tension between James and his coach later in the day. Griffin disputed the report, saying James said Blatt did a "hell of a job" on June 1. He also said Blatt will "absolutely" return as Cleveland's coach.
Cavs GM David Griffin on Blatt/LeBron stories: "Relative to the tone of the stories, I really don’t care. Sensationalism sells."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 18, 2015
Blatt acknowledged coaching James and the Cavaliers was "a very new kind of thing for me" and said he underwent a "radically high learning curve" during the season.
Blatt on LeBron expressing his opinion in huddles: "I think it's important he feels empowered." Says his "heart was in the right place"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 18, 2015