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Cavaliers concerned that players aren't responding to David Blatt

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Cleveland's head coach is under fire following his team's blowout loss to the lowly Pistons Sunday night. Will he last the season?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are worried that the team's players aren't responding to Coach David Blatt, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. The report, citing league sources, comes the day after the Cavaliers' embarrassing 103-80 loss to the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. The defeat dropped the Cavaliers to 18-12, just the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Blatt was hired by Cleveland in June, weeks before LeBron James announced his return to the Cavs. Blatt had spent the previous 20 years coaching oversees, most recently for Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv. To help him adjust to the NBA, the Cavaliers hired Tyronn Lue, a former NBA point guard and veteran assistant coach, to be the team's associate head coach. However, ESPN is reporting that Cleveland's players have been more comfortable working with Lue than the man he was brought in to help:

"Whispers about the lack of attention various Cavs players are paying to Blatt during some timeout huddles, as well as their apparent preference to communicate with Cavs assistant and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, have been in circulation for weeks."

Cleveland's problems have mostly come on the defense. The team is allowing opponents to score 105.4 points per 100 possessions, the eighth-worst mark in the league.

On Sunday, Cleveland let the now 7-23 Pistons hit a franchise-record 17 three-pointers. The Cavaliers also turned the ball over 17 times on Sunday and at times looked lackadaisical on the court, which is concerning the team's front office:

"But the Cavs' effort level, especially defensively, is eroding noticeably, raising the volume on questions about just how much the locker room is listening to the 55-year-old Boston native, who has enjoyed tremendous success internationally but still began this season as a relative unknown to NBA players."

When asked about the report on Monday Blatt had the following to say:

The report doesn't say that the Cavaliers are looking at options to replace Blatt, but could the team eventually fire him?

Why he would be fired

LeBron's never said as much, but one has to wonder if Blatt would have been the Cavaliers' man if the team had waited for James to make his decision over the summer before hiring a coach. You don't want to extract too much meaning from a video reel like the one below (from the Cavalier's Nov. 21 game against the Spurs), but it does tell us something.

As does the following anecdote from this ESPN report:

"James acknowledged recently that he did not formally request permission to assume the bulk of the Cavs' playmaking duties, which triggered Cleveland's eight-game winning streak earlier this month. 'No, I can do it on my own,' James said of his role change. 'I'm passed those days where I have to ask.'"

It certainly appears that LeBron, the de facto GM for the Cavaliers, is not a huge Blatt supporter.

As for on-the-court reasons: The problems with Cleveland's defense were mentioned above, and as good as Blatt was oversees (and he was great), he's still a rookie in the NBA. It makes sense that Cleveland players would be more comfortable working with Lue, a former NBA player. For a team looking to win a championship this year, a first-year NBA coach still getting used to NBA players and the intricacies of the NBA game might not be the right man.

Why he wouldn't be fired

Blatt's specialty is offense and there he's delivered. The Cavaliers are scoring 107.3 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the league. Is it his fault that Cleveland's roster is full of below-average defensive players and there's not one rim protector on the team? Is it his fault that two of the team's three stars have never played on winning teams? Is it his fault that Anderson Varejao, the team's best defender, got injured?

An argument can be made that Blatt is actually doing a good job given the tough cards he was dealt. That LeBron also hasn't looked like the LeBron of the past four years -- something which the numbers back up -- should also be factored in.

The Cavaliers are certainly off to a disappointing start, but impulsively shaking things up is usually not a good answer. Four years ago, Miami stayed the course with Erik Spoelstra after a 9-8 beginning and the decision paid off.

Blatt is just 30 games into his NBA career. If he was good enough to hire in the first place, there's no reason to fire him less than a year in.

Likelihood of firing: 7 out of 10

The word "rational" is rarely used in situations like this. LeBron promised a lot upon his return home and nobody has any reason to be patient. If things continue to head down the same path, someone is going to get blamed. In sports, that man is usually the head coach.