INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – David Blatt had to travel nearly 6,000 miles from Tel Aviv for a promotion to the NBA.
And he doesn’t plan on going back.
After 39 days and searching through 11 different candidates by general manager David Griffin and ownership, Blatt was hired as the 20th coach in Cavaliers franchise history last week and introduced Wednesday.
“He’s truly the embodiment of every characteristic we most sought in a coach,” Griffin said. “He’s a guy who has passion, creativity and intelligence.
“David is an authentic leader.”
Blatt comes to Cleveland as a virtual unknown despite his international success over the last 20 years. He is the first coach to make the leap from Europe to the NBA.
“I know I’m carrying the torch, and I hope like hell I don’t drop it,” Blatt said. “I don’t plan on it. It means a great deal to me.”
Blatt, who was born in Massachusetts and played at Princeton, is well accomplished and as respected as they come in the international game. He doesn’t expect the transition to the NBA to be too difficult.
“Absolutely it’s a challenge,” Blatt said. “But I’ve got to tell you, the game is not so different as people think it is. It’s a little bit longer here. Perhaps the level of athleticism and speed all around the court is different. But it’s not like playing baseball and soccer.
“It’s still the same game…and when you play the game right, it doesn’t make a difference where you play it.”
Blatt has accomplished all he could overseas winning every title he could. He led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague championship this past season and coached Russia’s basketball team to the bronze medal in the 2012 London games.
Now a new challenge awaits: prove he can win on basketballs biggest stage – the NBA – and in a city that craves a winner.
The Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship and the city of Cleveland hasn’t won anything since 1964. But pressure to win is something that Blatt is used to after coaching overseas for 20 years.
“You can not imagine the pressure of working there where when you don’t win by 20 it’s like you lost,” Blatt said. “I’m fully aware of both the expectation and the desire o the club to be a winning organization. Pressure for me is something that’s second nature after so many years of coaching at the highest level and competitions where you’re expected to be one of the top clubs.
“I’ve won everywhere I’ve been…and I plan on doing the same here.”
But it’s unclear just what the Cavaliers will look like on the floor with Blatt, who promises to build his system around the players’ strengths.
“It’s a team game,” Blatt said. “A game played by individuals trying to become more as a unit than they could be as a collection of ones.
“I’m not an offensive or defensive coach. I’m a basketball coach.”
Blatt has already begun the process of assembling a staff by hiring former Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue, who was a finalist for the head coaching job, to be his associate head coach.
“I like to start things off with a bang and I think we did that,” Blatt said. ““I had the opportunity to have several discussions with Tyronn. Everything they told me about Ty was true and then some. Really have a great feeling about him…When we were able to bring Tyronn over to the team, no one was happier than me.”
For the third time in 4 years the Cavaliers hold the No. 1 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Despite having lost 49 games this past season and their youth, Blatt sees the Cavaliers as an up and comer in the league.
“It is a young team, and that means for me that the slate is relatively clean,” Blatt said. “There’s a lot of teaching to be done, but on the other hand there are fewer bad habits to break.”
Also on Blatt’s, as well as the Cavaliers’ radar, is the fact that LeBron James will exercise the early termination option in his contract and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Whether or not the Cavs can lure James back remains to be seen, but changes are coming the to team regardless.
“Griff is working very hard in every way possible to put the best team on the floor,” Blatt said. “That may or may not include changes but the guys that I see now are talented and are not that far off from being where we want them to be.”
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