Cleveland Cavaliers fans, you’ll love David Blatt. Plain & simple he is a premier coach with a high level basketball IQ that knows not only how to coach on the floor but off of it too. After over 30 years both playing and coaching in Europe, the 55 year old American-Israeli will take his talents to the greatest basketball league in the world, the NBA.
Blatt’s dream growing up as a boy in the United States was to be part of the NBA and by being the first European head coach to jump across the pond to take up the same post, he will fulfill that fantasy by taking over the reigns of a young energetic Cavs team. With Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry joining Steve Kerr in Golden State as Associate Head Coach, Blatt has signaled to the basketball world that he will be a pioneer and as I predicted would not go to the NBA to be an assistant coach but to be the top dog of an organization.
Not only has David Blatt been Europe’s #1 coach winning the 2013-14 Euroleague title with dark horse Maccabi Tel Aviv, he has won a European National Championship with Russia in 2007, he also picked up an Olympic bronze medal in London at the 2012 games. Along with those accomplishments the former Princeton point guard who learned his trade under legendary Pete Carril between 1977-1981 picked up 5 Israeli League title with Maccabi, 6 Israel State Cup Championships (a knockout tournament open to all clubs in the country), a EuroChallenge, Italian & Adriatic league titles not to mention that he also coached domestic ball in Turkey, Russia & Italy.
A winner with a winning mentality Blatt takes no garbage from his players as seen in the video above while coaching the Russian National Team. The no nonsense coach is not afraid of critics and knows how to adjust his club’s game and can break down the opposition team’s offense & defense using a rotation of 10 players.
His intelligence and prowess, knowledge and understanding will make him one of the surprises in store for the league this coming 2014-15 season. Just listen to Blatt speaking after his underdog Maccabi Tel Aviv team won the Euroleague title.
He allows his players creativity on the court and loves the big time, big shot points guards that take the bull by the horns and will for sure be a great motivator and educator for Kyrie Irving. Former NBA player currently plying his trade in Europe Jeremy Pargo hit big shots for Blatt as did Boston College guard Tyrese Rice just this past May helping Maccabi defeat highly rated CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague semi finals.
His players are loyal to him, work hard and leave it all out on the floor. Just ask Cavaliers standout Anthony Parker who was quoted as saying to Eurobasket.com & One.co.il David Pick, “People always ask me who my favorite coach was and I say David Blatt. He never got the credit he deserves during our Euroleague run. He’s one of the top basketball coaches in the world”.
Or just ask the always smiling sharp shooting USC product David Blu (Bluthenthal) why he came out of retirement in the middle of this season when coach Blatt came calling after playing much of his career under the Boston native.
Cleveland will be getting a coach who enjoys opening up the floor and spreading around the offense with no egos. But he also loves the guys that will step up and want to take the ball to the hole, play suffocating defense in Blatt’s press that causes tons of turnovers, players that are fearless and not afraid to go the extra mile.
While coaching in the Euroleague, every game is played like an NBA playoff match up where every possession is worth its weight in gold especially as the preliminary round turns into the Top 16 and then into the quarterfinals & finally the Final Four. The domestic league is different as the other clubs in Israel are always trying to knock the perennial champion, Maccabi off its perch as #1. The Tel Aviv team has won 100 titles in its existence, the most by any professional club in any sport in the world.
Will the NBA be a challenge for Blatt? It sure will as he’ll have to adjust to a number of different realities starting with the travel. Usually European teams play one domestic league game and one European match for a total of 2 games a week. Domestic travel in most countries is not as great as in the NBA and players rarely have to sleep in a foreign bed, while away games in Europe are every other week. Blatt will not be used to the travel schedule, especially when the Cavs are on the road and it can be red eye flights, back to back nights with games in different cities and the constant movement.
Practice during the season in Europe allows for the coaches and players to change things up and work on fundamentals in greater depth. The NBA travel will not allow for Blatt to be the same educator as he has been in the past. Some of that education will have to take place on the court during one of the 82 games.
And the 82 games is another part of the equation for Blatt. Maccabi Tel Aviv played 81 games total this past year including pre-season games & tournaments and post-season games both in Israel & in Europe between October and May.
David Blatt will also need to use his traditional long bench in the NBA because games in North America are 2 minutes longer per quarter, so instead of a 40 minute context he’ll have to deal with another 8 minutes per game.
The players, contracts & salaries dictate a lot in the NBA and that will be another adjustment that Blatt will have to make. While earnings in Europe are respectable, they are still nowhere near the NBA and contracts are shorter term usually 1-2 years rather than the longer term ones in North America.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier that nearly every possession in the Euroleague is so important, Blatt lets his feelings be known on the bench when a play doesn’t work out because of player ego, lack of patience, poor shot selection or stupidity. he will stomp his feet, turn around and yell at his bench and make an almost immediate substitution. watching him coach for so many years it is easily predictable who will sub for who and when a sub will take place. In the NBA he will not be able to make those whole sale changes and be patient on the sidelines. He may seem to some like a dictator, but nevertheless his record speaks for itself.
My fear of David Blatt not succeeding is exactly that. If the team doesn’t get off to a good start will he be able to keep the ship afloat, his players happy through a long season and not have a mutiny on his hands. Also, Blatt is not used to losing and the potential of a season where a club may have to “play out the string”. While this shouldn’t be the case with the Cavs, a club that has young talented players and some savvy veterans along with the #1 one overall pick in the upcoming draft it should be something to watch out for as injuries can definitely play a big factor in a team’s campaign.
Knowing David Blatt, his style, attitude and personality he will be able to handle the challenges above and be super successful coach by adapting to NBA standards. He will surely be an asset to the league for years to come by leading Cleveland to the promised land.