INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- As dramatic a turnaround as the Cleveland Cavaliers made from starting the season 19-20 to sitting on the cusp of the NBA Finals, the team has also undergone a transformation with how its players support their coach, David Blatt.
Back in December, when a reporter suggested to LeBron James that an endorsement of Blatt would mean a lot coming from Cleveland's superstar, James replied, "Well, listen, man, I don't pay no bills around here."
That was followed by controversy about James pushing Blatt out of the way when the coach was arguing with a referee in Phoenix, controversy about who calls the Cavs' plays and controversy over what Blatt was thinking late in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Chicago.
Now it all seems to be water under the bridge. When asked about Blatt on Monday, three days before Game 1 of the Finals against Golden State, James was effusive in his praise.
"Well, anytime someone is scrutinized really for nothing, I'm able to relate," James said. "For him in this instance, obviously, we knew that a lot of people were going to say things that, you know, didn't mean much, but that's just what they have to do. That's what helps sales. That's the [business]. People love reading the negative things more than the positive things, so I think he's handled his situation unbelievably. Being a rookie coach in the NBA, being able to take his team to the Finals, I think he's done a hell of a job."
Kyrie Irving, who, truth be told, had been more vocal in his positive opinion of Blatt than James throughout the regular season, also spoke about Blatt's growth this season.
"He was [already] a great coach coming over [from Europe], anyway," Irving said. "It was the belief we all had in him. Obviously, coming to a new team and new players, changing what's the best fit for our team and the players that we have and the coaches. We have an unbelievable staff, medically and our coaching staff, and the players, we kind of take it from there. It goes hand-in-hand. There are championship guys on this team, so the respect is always there. Coach Blatt has just stayed even-keeled, which I appreciate from him.
"When he first came in, he was an amazing players' coach already. Being able to listen and be receptive to what the players are saying and going out and making changes. If he feels like it's what's best for the team, he's the coach, and he's going to make a decision, and we all respect that. It hasn't been anyone stepping on anybody's toes. Obviously, there have been some disagreements here and there, but what team doesn't have disagreements? For us, it's just about us growing daily and us getting better as a group."
As the Cavs' fortunes have improved, both James and Irving received their fair share of attention for their on-court exploits, while general manager David Griffin has also been critically acclaimed for the season-saving trades he was able to swing back in January.
But what about Blatt? James was asked if his coach should receive more credit.
"I don't think he cares about that," James said. "It shouldn't matter. Getting credit from other people, who cares? It's all about how we credit each other, [the people] that's inside these [walls], on these floors, every day in this practice facility. The game, film session, things of that nature, so it shouldn't matter what everybody else says."
What does Blatt have to say to his doubters, now that he has his team four wins from a ring?
"I told somebody recently I'm not a vindictive person," Blatt said. "So I don't feel the need for vindication in any way."