INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Both knees wrapped in ice, LeBron James walked in a circle, waiting for his turn to speak with a larger-than-usual media contingent.
First, though, it was new coach Tyronn Lue’s turn to address the shocking developments of the past 24 hours in Cleveland.
Halfway through a championship-or-bust season, the Cavaliers are picking up the pieces.
One day after coach David Blatt was fired despite taking the Cavs to the NBA Finals last season and guiding them into first place in the Eastern Conference, James said he was surprised by the bold move but supported general manager David Griffin’s rationale behind it.
“We’re just a team that we’re a bit fragile at times,” James said following Saturday’s shootaround, “and we’re still learning each other.”
The Cavs needed a shake-up and one was provided by Griffin, who sensed the talented team was not as connected as it needed to be in order to win a championship in Cleveland, the title James covets most.
James was told of Blatt’s firing during a meeting Friday with Griffin and his teammates.
“I was just as surprised and caught off guard like everybody,” James said. “It’s unfortunate what happened yesterday, and as a team we just have to focus on what’s now, what’s now in front of us with the coach that we have now and we’ve got to continue to get better. He (Griffin) was right on everything that he said. Obviously, he sees it from the outside and the inside looking in. He’s around us every day and he felt like as good as we can be we weren’t reaching the potential to this point.
“He made the change that he felt was appropriate for this team and like it or love it or hate it or whatever, we’ve got to respect it. … He felt like it was best for the team. There’s no sugarcoating what he said.”
Lue will make his debut Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls, who will challenge the Cavs for their Eastern Conference crown.
Blatt’s top assistant the past two seasons, Lue said he won’t try to do things differently than his boss. He will, however, attempt “to do some things better.”
Lue said Cleveland’s 34-point loss to the Golden State Warriors this week shook the Cavs, breaking off a huge chunk of the team’s confidence. His challenge is getting James and the others to believe in one another, play together and win.
A point guard for 11 seasons in the NBA, Lue named Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson and Jerry West as his biggest influences. Before the team’s light practice, Lue, who worked on Rivers’ staff in Boston and with the Los Angeles Clippers, said he talked to the Cavs about what he wants to accomplish the rest of this season.
“I just talked about playing the game the right way, having more spacing, playing with more pace,” he said. “I talked to the guys about just being able to focus on the moment and the process. Just by us having a coaching change doesn’t mean we’re going to be better. We got to change. So, you can bring Phil Jackson in or whoever you want to bring in, but if we don’t change as players and as a staff and as a unit, we’re not going to be any good.
“It wasn’t about the coaching change. It was about us changing.”
Lue has known James since the forward was 17 and the two have a solid relationship. Lue, though, promised to treat him like any other player.
“I talked to ‘Bron,” Lue said. “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.'”
Griffin’s decision to change coaches led to speculation that James was behind the move. There’s no denying the four-time MVP has major influence within Cleveland’s organization, but Griffin was adamant that James was not consulted before the decision was made.
James knows there is a perception that Blatt would still be Cleveland’s coach if the 31-year-old didn’t want him fired.
“I’ve stopped that a long time ago in my career, worrying about what other people think about me or what I influence or what I don’t,” he said. “But the only thing I can worry about is how I continue to get these guys prepared and get them playing better basketball, because obviously we know we can be much better and I know we can be much better.”