David Blatt: 'I Feel That I Did Not Realize My Potential in the NBA'

American-Israeli basketball coach David Blatt weighs in on his hopes to return to the NBA and his experience coaching a Turkish team and... avoids questions on his relationship with Lebron James

Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt with LeBron James at an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Philadelphia, November 2, 2015.
AP

The baketball coaching career of American-Israeli David Blatt has included positions with Maccabi Tel Aviv as well as teams in Italy and Russia and a stint as coach of the National Basketball Association's Cleveland Cavaliers, which was cut short mid-season.

After Blatt was fired in Cleveland, the team went on to win its first NBA championship with considerable help from its star player Lebron James.

Blatt has just wrapped up a winning season with the Turkish team Darussafaka Istanbul, which captured the EuroCup championship last week, beating Russia's Lokomotiv Kuban 67-59 in Istanbul. The Boston-born Blatt, a four-time 'Israeli League Coach of the Year,' played college basketball at Princeton, followed by his membership on a number of Israeli teams. His most recent coaching stint at Maccabi Tel Aviv was from 2010 to 2014. He then went to Cleveland, where he remained until 2016, when he became head coach of Darussafaka.

Blatt spoke this week with Haaretz and made no secret of his desire to return to the NBA. Here is what he had to say:

Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN reported that a meeting has been scheduled for you with the New York Knicks next week in the United States.

"I've been scheduled to talk with the New York Knicks, yes. I can't tell you where and when exactly, but it will in fact happen."

The president of the Knicks, Steve Mills, is a good friend of yours from college.

"Steve is a friend from outside of basketball, yes."

Could it be that he still owes you a favor from the Princeton days when you helped him with some work or agreements?

"He doesn't owe me anything, but we've been friends for 40 years."

It could always help.

"Not necessarily."

Aren't you going to have an interview with the Orlando Magic?

"I haven't spoken with other teams, but I believe I will also have interviews with other teams."

Do you think that kind of team is more appropriate for you at the moment, when it is still in the building stage and without expectations of going far, like there were in Cleveland after Lebron [James] arrived?

"No, I don't think so."

I read something interesting about you. In a book by Brian Windhorst, who is known to be a writer [who is close to] Lebron, he revealed that Lebron acted out of spite from the moment that he decided that he didn't want you [as coach], that he didn't pay attention to you at practices, that he did the opposite of what you asked, that he called you a rookie coach at news conferences. To what extent is this correct?

"Mmm. I didn't read the book and I can't respond to remarks that I myself have not seen, but to this specifically, I have no response."

That's the sense of the remarks.

"I have no response. Next."

EuroCup Champions Interview: David Blatt, Darussafaka Istanbul

I spoke to you after you were appointed the Cleveland coach and the truth is that you got angry with me when I asked you how you would get along with Lebron and if you knew how to give him control of the team.

"I got angry? You remember my getting angry. I don't remember [that] at all."

I remember that you also got angry when I raised the issue of expectations for an immediate championship and the fact that in the NBA, the superstar manages the team. It turns out that I was right that this would be the main difficulty.

"It turns out that you were right. I don't know if you were right or not. Look. I learned a lot from that chapter in my life and I tried to make the best of it."

What's the most important thing that you learned from that chapter?

"That there are a lot of things to learn about the game, that it's a different game overseas [in the United States]. Almost everything is different."

Tyronn Lue [Blatt's successor as head coach of the Cavaliers] was on sick leave before the playoffs. He's not the only one who has suffered from medical problems. Is the job of NBA coach really so pressured that it is a negative influence physically and mentally?

"I don’t think the job there is harder or more pressured than any [other] place. It could be that there are places where it's harder, but I don't know if what happened to him was the result of physical problems – I hope not – or other problems as some people have claimed. I can tell you that I hope Tyronn's okay. I see that he has returned to coaching and I'm pleased about that."

At this point you have EuroBasket, EuroLeague and EuroCup championships, titles in Israel, Italy and Russia, even an Olympic medal. Is what you're missing now just an NBA championship?

"I was in the NBA finals. I even have a [championship] ring, even though I wasn't there in real time. I'm not lacking anything. What I am lacking is just personal satisfaction, realizing my potential and that of my players to the fullest. I want to try to return to the NBA, because I feel like I hadn't realized my potential there, but even if it doesn't happen, I will return to help my teams realize their potential even if it's the EuroLeague. Okay? That's about it for me, man."

Okay, can I just ask final questions?

"No. That's it."

Just a question in the spirit of Independence Day?

"Ah, absolutely."

I'll be Yair Lapid [the leader of the Yesh Atid party and a former television journalist]. What is being Israeli in your eyes?

"Israeli in my eyes? (Long pause). Family, a country and self-realization.

Is there anything that you like less in Israel or Israeli culture (than in other countries)?

"That people forget these things. It happens a lot."

And one last thing. Did you get a phone call from [Turkish President] Erdogan as a result of winning the EuroCup?

"No, but Erodogan did tweet congratulations to the Darussafaka organization and about the honor that the team brought Turkey, and that was very nice."

Did you even have the chance to talk to him?

"No, but I would be pleased if it happens."

Israel and Turkey had complicated relations as a result of the Marmara affair [a 2010 confrontation between the Israel Navy and a Turkish ship seeking to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in which 10 ship passengers died]. Have you felt a change over the past year?

"I think relations have improved recently.  We still haven't returned to the better periods from a number of years ago, but I would be more than pleased to help where I can on this goal, because Turkey has a lot of elements and parameters that suit relations wonderfully with Israel and will contribute to it. It can also be an important partner as it once was. I hope that we will know how to navigate matters back in a positive direction. Okay?"

Okay. Thanks for the time and good luck.

"Stay positive."