Here’s a less obvious advantage Steve Kerr had over David Blatt in the NBA Finals

 

It wasn’t pleasant watching David Blatt get overpowered by the ego and authority of LeBron James in the NBA playoffs. As Blatt repeatedly reminded the media, he wasn’t a rookie coach, not after years spent running successful pro teams in Israel and Russia, but LeBron never minded overruling the guy on the sidelines or simply ignoring him altogether.

I’m betting we’d find a lot more of this around the NBA if anybody cared to follow other teams the way the media does the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most players bend to strong authority figures on the sidelines for as little time as possible, and that includes the marginal experience of dropping by college on the way to the pros.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv David Blatt during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four final match between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Palau Sant Jordi on May 8, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

BARCELONA, SPAIN – David Blatt coaches Maccabi Tel Aviv against Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague championship game on May 8, 2011. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

 

I skimmed through the Cavs’ roster to note the pre-NBA backgrounds of key players from the NBA Finals loss to Golden State. There are exceptions, like Matthew Dellavedova, who played four seasons at St. Mary’s College, and Iman Shumpert, who played three at Georgia Tech, but here is the rule.

 

Player                                          Pre-NBA background

LeBron James                         Drafted out of high school

J.R. Smith                                 Drafted out of high school

Kyrie Irving                              One-and-done at Duke

Kevin Love                               One-and-done at UCLA

Tristan Thompson                   One-and-done at Texas.

 

Now that’s not saying all of these guys have attitude problems or won’t allow themselves to be pushed by a demanding coach. That’s not true at all. Around the league, however, it’s the players who make the money and the coaches who come and go. Now mix that general dynamic into the environment at Cleveland, which centered around LeBron’s view that he always has been his own best teacher in developing the skills that make him the NBA’s best player.

Clearly, Blatt was in trouble from the beginning.

The Miami Heat have a solid core of hard-working players but even there coach Erik Spoelstra is fortunate to have a power broker like Pat Riley minding the shop. Riley is the foundation for the notion that sacrificing money and minutes for the good of the team is the secret to championship contention. If anyone else were saying it, and if Riley didn’t already have a long history of proving it, there aren’t many players who would want to hear that.

Look at these key Heat players and their backgrounds. We’re leaving out Udonis Haslem (four years at Florida) and Mario Chalmers (three years at Kansas) because they don’t fit the mold.

 

Player                                             Pre-NBA background

Dwyane Wade                             2 competitive seasons at Marquette, sat out freshman year

Josh McRoberts                           2 years at Duke

Chris Bosh                                     One-and-done at Georgia Tech

Luol Deng                                      One-and-done at Duke

Hassan Whiteside                       One-and-done at Marshall

Justise Winslow                           One-and-done at Duke

Amar’e Stoudemire                     Drafted right out of high school

 

One team presents itself as a significant outlier in this discussion, and it might help explain why Steve Kerr did so well in building a cohesive championship team in his rookie season as an NBA head coach.

His Warriors feature a majority of players who put in their time in college, running wind sprints, pushing to make grades, trying to win the trust of often-grumpy coaches who were institutions on their own campuses and didn’t much care if all their players didn’t like them.

Check this Golden State roster.

 

Player                                    Pre-NBA background

Draymond Green                   4 years at Michigan State

Andre Iguodala                       4 years at Vanderbilt

Festus Ezili                               4 years at Vanderbilt

David Lee                                  4 years at Florida

Steph Curry                               3 years at Davidson

Klay Thompson                        3 years at Washington State

Shaun Livingston                     Drafted right out of high school

 

Hey, it doesn’t explain everything when separating the top teams from everyone else, but Kerr, who had a long career as an NBA player, understands how difficult it is for coaches to maintain the focus and respect of millionaire players over the course of a long season. Could be he considered the information in the list above before deciding to leave the broadcasting game and give it a try.

Now we’ll wait and see on Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg, two college coaches getting their first taste of the NBA life this season.