Basketball / Sports

David Blatt carries historical torch from Israel to Cavaliers

Of all the coaches who have been hired and fired throughout the history of basketball, from the roots of the ABA to the modern day NBA, never before has a team traveled 6,000 miles to find its next coach.

When David Blatt left Maccabi Tel Aviv and introduced himself to Cleveland this week, he smashed through a unique barrier. He is the first person to leave a head-coaching job with an overseas team for a head-coaching job in the NBA, and the milestone isn't lost on him.

"I know that I'm carrying a torch," Blatt said Wednesday. "I hope like hell I don't drop it."

The reasons why it has never happened before are varied, but Blatt is also a unique case study. He is American, born and raised in the Boston suburbs and Ivy League educated.

English is his first language, he has dual citizenship with Israel and, yes, he admitted he misses Boston lobsters and macaroni and cheese.

But he also believes there is a stigma against European coaches coming to America and hopes his time with the Cavaliers dissuades that notion.

"There's no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of great coaches in Europe," he said. "Just as there are many, many great players in Europe who have already found their way over and become significant players in the best league in the world."

Cavs General Manager David Griffin called it a timing issue. Blatt, 55, won every championship he could this season and felt ready to make the jump. He found a willing partner in the Cavs.

"We've got ownership that very much supports outside-the-box thinking, innovation and creativity. Those are all things I care a great deal about," Griffin said. "When it comes with a track record of success like David has, it was just the perfect confluence of events. I think that confluence just hadn't come together anywhere else before."

Blatt certainly appeared confident Wednesday, declaring he has won everywhere he has coached and expects that to continue here. He had no issue with the Cavs hiring Tyronn Lue -- the runner-up behind him for the job -- as associate head coach despite only recently meeting and chatting with Lue. And he is already doing his best to downplay the idea he is only an offensive-minded coach.

"I'm not an offensive or defensive coach," he said. "I'm a basketball coach."

Griffin said he contacted 11 coaching candidates before settling on Blatt, yet was equally impressed with Lue. Whenever Griffin contacted league personnel to inquire about a candidate, the conversation always seemed to turn back to Lue.

To lure him away from Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavs made Lue, 37, the league's highest-paid assistant coach with a starting salary next season of more than $1 million.

"I had the opportunity to have several discussions with Tyronn. Everything they told me about Ty was true and then some," Blatt said. "Really have a great feeling about him. When we were able to bring Tyronn over to the team, no one was happier than me."

As for the rest of the coaching staff, staffs in the Euroleague are small and Blatt's former assistant will take over at Maccabi Tel Aviv. He won't bring any support staff with him to the Cavs.

Blatt is an unknown among NBA players, but neither he nor Griffin seem worried it will hurt the Cavs in free agency. Griffin pointed to Blatt's former player, Drew Kennedy, making the drive from Chicago to attend Wednesday's news conference as proof of the way Blatt can connect with players.

"This is a man who builds deep, meaningful relationships with the players that last a lifetime," Griffin said. "I have no doubt whatsoever he's going to be able to connect with anybody we put in front of him."

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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