INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — LeBron James disdains the notion he's a coach killer.
Widely criticized in basketball circles for a perception that he pushed for Cleveland's front office to fire David Blatt last week, James said the idea that he undercuts coaches is unfair.
"But what can I do about it?" he said after shootaround on Wednesday.
"I've never, in my time since I picked up a basketball, ever undermined a coach, ever disrespected a coach. You ask any of my little league coaches, my high school coaches, coaches I've played for in tournaments, camps, my NBA coaches, I've always respected what they wanted to do."
Blatt was fired Friday midway through his second season despite having Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference standings and leading it to the NBA Finals last season.
Blatt's dismissal — he's the third coach fired on a team James has played on — led to some condemnation of the four-time league MVP. Tuesday, a limited partner with the Heat told an Israeli radio station that James tried to get Erik Spoelstra fired in Miami. Ranaan Katz later retracted his statement to the Sun-Sentinel.
Blatt was replaced by Tyronn Lue, his top assistant and a former NBA player who has known James since he was a 17-year-old high school phenom.
For many, Lue's ascension was the result of James not wanting Blatt around. There was an obvious disconnect between James and Cleveland's former coach, who was wildly successful in Europe and hired by Cleveland before James decided to return to the Cavaliers as a free agent in 2014.
The James-Blatt relationship was scrutinized during both seasons and when it finally collapsed, the LeBron-got-him-fired narrative gained traction.
Although James insists that he didn't do anything to weaken Blatt's authority, there were several incidents over the past 18 months that illustrated how he didn't do his former coach any favors. James usually referred to Blatt simply as "Blatt" and often ignored Blatt during games, preferring to discuss strategy with Lue during timeouts. James also famously changed a play designed by Blatt during the playoffs last season before hitting a winning jumper to beat Chicago.
James said his willingness to speak his mind has led to the criticism that he's not always on the same page with his coaches.
"I'm not the owner of a team, I'm not the GM of a team, I'm the player of a team," James said.
"People get it so misconstrued because I'm a smart basketball player and I've voiced my opinion about certain things, which I did when I was here my first stint with Paul Silas and Mike Brown. Which I did in Miami with Coach Spo. Which I did with Blatt and I'll do with T. Lue. And at the end of the day, they'll still have their final call. But, I don't know. What do you guys want me to do, turn my brain off because I have a huge basketball IQ? If that's what they want me to do, I'm not going to do it because I've got so much to give to the game.
"There's no difference for me telling my teammates or telling guys how to get better with their game."
GRIFFIN TWEETS APOLOGY: Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who is out at least a month after breaking his hand while punching a team employee, apologized for his actions on Twitter.
"A situation among friends escalated and I regret the way I handled myself towards someone I care about," he wrote. "I want to apologize to the Clippers organization, my teammates and the fans for creating a distraction. I am working with the team on a resolution and getting back in the game as soon as possible."
Also, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Joe Resendez, the team's assistant athletic trainer/travel manager, were interviewed in Atlanta by NBA security investigating the fight, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Jordan and Resendez were at the restaurant in Toronto on Saturday night when Griffin Matias Testi. NBA officials were trying to find out what Jordan and Resendez knew about the altercation, the Times reported.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS: LeBron James had 21 points before sitting out — and dancing — in the fourth quarter, Kevin Love added 21 points and 11 rebounds and the host Cavaliers stormed away in the second half for a 115-93 victory over the Suns. Sluggish for the first 24 minutes, Cleveland opened the second half with a 12-0 run and sent Phoenix to its 17th loss in 19 games. The Cavs improved to 2-1 under new coach Tyronn Lue, who took over last week when David Blatt was fired halfway through his second season.
AROUND THE LEAGUE: San Antonio's Gregg Popovich will coach the NBA's West All-Stars, though Golden State has the best record in the conference. The Warriors' Steve Kerr is ineligible because he coached last year. … Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic was diagnosed with an acute appendicitis and had surgery. He's not expected to return until after the All-Star break Feb. 12-14.
Cavaliers 115, Suns 93
PHOENIX (93): Tucker 4-8 2-2 13, Len 2-9 0-0 4, Chandler 3-5 0-3 6, Goodwin 3-10 5-6 12, Booker 4-9 7-8 16, Morris 5-11 2-2 13, Weems 4-6 0-0 10, Warren 5-8 1-2 11, C.Jefferson 2-2 2-2 6, Brown 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 33-70 19-25 93.
CLEVELAND (115): James 7-8 7-7 21, Love 8-17 2-2 21, Thompson 2-4 1-2 5, Irving 4-11 0-0 8, Smith 7-11 0-0 18, Mozgov 5-7 0-0 10, Shumpert 2-4 0-0 5, Dellavedova 1-6 0-0 3, Varejao 3-4 0-0 6, R.Jefferson 4-4 4-5 14, Williams 2-5 0-0 4, Cunningham 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 45-81 14-16 115.
Phoenix 26 24 21 22— 93
Cleveland 23 32 32 28— 115
3-Point Goals—Phoenix 8-20 (Tucker 3-5, Weems 2-3, Morris 1-2, Booker 1-4, Goodwin 1-5, Brown 0-1), Cleveland 11-28 (Smith 4-6, Love 3-8, R.Jefferson 2-2, Shumpert 1-2, Dellavedova 1-5, Williams 0-1, James 0-1, Irving 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Phoenix 38 (Chandler, Tucker 7), Cleveland 43 (Love 11). Assists—Phoenix 25 (Booker, Goodwin 5), Cleveland 34 (James 9). Total Fouls—Phoenix 17, Cleveland 17. A—20,562 (20,562).