David Blatt received a generous gift for his first year coaching in the NBA: the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The coach’s reputation for a brilliant offensive style should mesh well with James, who can shoot from the perimeter as well as he can drive into the lane.
Blatt transitions to the NBA after 20 years coaching overseas for teams in Israel, Russia, Greece and Turkey. His most recent position was as head coach for Maccabi Tel Avi, which finished with a 54-18 record in the 2013-2014 season and won the Israel League, Israeli Cup and the Euroleague Championship.
Here’s what you need to know about the Cleveland Cavaliers coach and how he’ll work with King James:
1. Blatt Won Championships With His Israeli & Russian Teams
Blatt returns home to his native America after finding success with the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team in Israel over the last four seasons. His teams won six Israeli Cup Championships and five Israeli League Championships. The team had an overall record of 225-55 under Blatt’s leadership.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Blatt led the Russian national basketball team to its first medal (bronze) finish since the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2007, his Russian national team brought down defending world champs Spain at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) European Championship in Madrid.
2. He Possesses One of the Greatest Offensive Minds in Basketball
Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin has great expectations for his team’s new coach. For someone considered to have one of the greatest offensives minds in the game, according to ESPN, Blatt’s Cavs should excel with top scoring players James, Kyle Irving and rookie Andrew Wiggins.
Griffin told reporters at the coach’s introduction on June 21 what kind of style Blatt will bring to Cleveland:
David Blatt is going to bring some of the most innovative approaches found in professional basketball anywhere on the globe. Time and time again, from Russia to Israel and several other prominent head coaching jobs in between, David has done one thing: ‘win.’
The Cavaliers former coach Mike Brown, who coached LeBron during his first stint with Cleveland, held a more defensive philosophy. When the Cavs fired Brown in 2010 (the first time), it was speculated the team did it as a move to “keep LeBron happy,” according to Fox Sports.
3. He Can Manage Player Personalities
Blatt’s former players sing his praises about their coach’s relationship with his athletes. Jeremy Pargo, who played for Blatt’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2010-11 season, and Russia’s Andrei Kirilenko, who was a member of the 2007 championship team, both complemented Blatt’s capability to bring out the best in his players.
Pargo told Eurobasket in June that Blatt is a “great coach” who runs his team similar to the NBA style:
Blatt understands emotions of players, their different attitudes, and knows how to get it all into one. Those are ingredients one needs to be a successful coach in the NBA.
Kirilenko also wrote about Blatt’s ability to make each of his athletes feel important in a blog post for Russian website Sport Today:
He gives everybody a chance to feel that he is very important and the result of the team depends on each player. That actually helps players to feel confident.
4. He Won a Gold Medal With the 1981 USA National Team
The Israeli American, who grew up near Boston, Massachusetts, played college ball at Princeton University under Basketball Hall of Fame winning coach Pete Carrill from 1977 to 1981. His senior year he played in the Maccabiah Games, or the “Jewish Olympics,” which are held in Israel to bring Jewish athletes form around the world to learn more about the country and its culture. Blatt competed with the USA national basketball team and won a gold medal.
He remained in Israel to play in the country’s Super League where he played his entire professional career from 1981 to 1993.
5. He’s the First European Coach to Join the NBA as a Head Coach
At 55 years old, Blatt will be the first NBA head coach to come from the European leagues. After his contract expired in June with the Maccabi Tel Aviv, he left the team to find an opportunity in the NBA. In addition to Cleveland, Blatt had offers from the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves, reports ESPN.
David told reporters at his introduction with the Cavs that he was excited about coming to Cleveland:
I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to come to Cleveland and lead the Cavaliers as their head coach. We are going to work extremely hard to achieve the kind of results we all expect and know are possible.
Watch the video above to hear Blatt’s philosophy on coaching the Cavs.
Blatt will receive assistance from Tyronn Lue, who the Cavs hired on two days after Blatt and made him the highest-paid NBA assistant head coach in history. Lue spoke with the Los Angeles Times about how he’s “looking forward” to working with Blatt, James and the team.
Yeah, there will be some pressure on Coach, on all of us. But I think we’re ready for it. We’re all looking forward to it, to be honest.