Having a laundry list of awards never hurts your chances of becoming an NBA head coach. Winning four coach of the year awards, four straight league championships, a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics and a Euroleague Championship last season, the resume of David Blatt most certainly deserves applause.
Blatt, who has coached in Europe his entire career, with one stint as the Russian Nation Team Head Coach in 2012, was desperate to get into the NBA head coaching ranks and after his successful 2014 campaign with Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel culminated in a Euroleague Championship, the time was now to make the leap.
“Honestly, I just sort of came to the point where after this last year winning three titles in our local league and our local cup and winning the European Championship, I sort of felt like there wasn’t a lot more for me to do,” Blatt said. “Certainly I was happy and at home with Maccabi Tel Aviv but I just came to the decision that it was my time to try something else and sort of get closure to my career.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv is an Israeli club that Cavalier fans might find familiar. Former Cavalier shooting guard Anthony Parker, a teammate of LeBron James in Cleveland (2009-2010), played for Blatt from 2000-2002 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he averaged 16.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
The Cavaliers search for a head coach came down to Blatt and former Los Angeles Laker Tyronn Lue. Blatt’s offensive creativity, longevity as a head coach and success overseas were all factors that led to him edging out Lue. Lue ended up becoming associate head coach of the Cavaliers and will be the highest paid assistant coach in NBA history. Lue will be Blatt’s right hand man in showing him the ropes in the transition to the NBA and he will also be the first one to turn to when Blatt gets ejected for I don’t know, maybe arguing a James’ offensive foul.
Other NBA coaches see Blatt as an innovative mind that has a chance to do great things as a head coach in the league. Steve Kerr, first year head coach of the Golden State Warriors, desperately wanted Blatt to join his coaching staff for his savvy offensive philosophy. Kerr met with Blatt and offered the European coach to be his head assistant coach but failed to keep him from becoming the next head coach in Cleveland.
“It was pretty shocking that three weeks later, he’s coaching LeBron James,” Kerr said. “I think he’s a great coach, and he’ll do very well.
A former Princeton University point guard, Blatt uses a combination of screens, twists, weaves and back cuts on the weak side to get players open looks. On pick-and-roll plays at the top of the key, Blatt has his shooting guard rotate from the weak side to behind the rolling player, allowing for wide open three point shots while the defense focuses on the pick-and-roll movement. A key to Blatt’s offense is having great shooters and players moving constantly when they don’t have the ball. It will be fascinating to see players actually setting off ball screens and not standing around while one player isolates like in the cases of the stale offense of Mike Brown.
Here is a great video breaking down of Blatt’s offensive (prior to NBA Draft and additions of James, Mike Miller and James Jones).
Fortunately for Blatt, in his inaugural season as an NBA head coach, he will have the promising opportunity to coach James, who announced his return to Cleveland on July 11 (a new holiday for Cavalier fans).
“I’ve been living with expectations all my life; now I’ve never coached LeBron James, mind you, and I’m well aware we just got the best player in the world,” Blatt said. “Naturally, that’s going to set the standards high. But wouldn’t you rather it that way than the opposite? I know I do.”
Blatt brings forth a championship pedigree in a win now environment with the return of the king to Northeast Ohio. For Blatt it will be a challenge to command such a talented cast, which as of now includes four number one overall picks. With the added expectations that James’ return has placed on the Cavaliers, Blatt’s burden has gone from trying to transform a young roster into a playoff caliber team to coaching a team that is favored to win the NBA Championship in a matter of a week.
“You keep trying to put the pressure on me but I’m telling you, I worked in a club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, that losing a game was a national tragedy. I’m used to it, believe me,” Blatt said.
One thing is for certain, the Cavaliers won’t be let down by Blatt the way they were by Mike Brown in two stints. Instead, the Cavaliers have a legitimate chance to bring Cleveland its first professional sports championship since 1964 and the first in team history while Blatt adds to his hardware collection.