AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — David Blatt’s second NBA season seemed to be going better than his first. Now, it’s over.
Blatt was fired Friday by the title-chasing Cavaliers, replaced by top assistant Tyronn Lue, said David Griffin, the team’s general manager.
Griffin told reporters Friday night that the Cavs had been taking steps back and were lacking connection. The team isn’t in the business of being “pretty good,” he said.
Blatt led Cleveland to the NBA Finals last year. He was fired one day after expressing frustration with criticism of a team that’s 30-11 and the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Lue is scheduled to make his debut Saturday night when the Cavs host the Chicago Bulls.
Griffin said Lue is not an interim coach and has the “pulse of our team.”
Blatt was 83-40 with the Cavs.
Blatt’s firing came one day after the coach was defensive before and after the Cavs beat the Los Angeles Clippers. Blatt had been bothered by criticism that his team — led by superstar LeBron James — received after a 34-point loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors earlier this week.
A person close to James said that the four-time NBA MVP was told of Blatt’s firing about one hour before reports of the move surfaced. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said James was not consulted on the decision.
Blatt was 83-40 with the Cavs.
Blatt seemed to be adjusting to the NBA game following his struggles in 2015. One of the most successful coaches in European history, Blatt was feeling good about the way his team was performing amid overwhelming expectations. However, there was an apparent disconnect between Blatt and his players.
The relationship between James and Blatt was a running saga last season as the Cavs got off to a disappointing 19-20 start. However, the two worked through their differences and won the Eastern Conference title. Despite injuries to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs took the Warriors to six games before losing the title.
Following Thursday night’s win over the Clippers, Blatt shared a moment with James at his locker. The pair shook hands and smiled at each other, without any hint that a coaching change could be forthcoming.
Moments earlier, Blatt was on the defensive given the Golden State blowout. He argued that although the Cavs were prohibitive favorites to return to the finals they deserved more credit than they were getting.
“It’s about my team,” Blatt said. “It’s about my guys and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. My guys are out there fighting for the Cavaliers and doing the best job they can in a tough NBA — very tough — especially because this is a team that night after night has a target on its back.
“They go out there and they fight and they play and they deal with adversity like we’ve had to deal with all year. We are far from perfect and we are still not at our best, but it’s not for lack of effort and it’s not for lack of good group of guys that want to do their job as best as they possibly can and I think have done pretty well so far,” he said.
Blatt said his team was doing well at 30-11 and in first place in the east.
“Nobody gave us that,” he said.
Before losing to Golden State on Monday, the Cavs had just completed their longest trip this season, going 5-1 with the only setback against the San Antonio Spurs.