Interview

David Blatt Talks LeBron, Transition to NBA

The Cleveland Cavaliers have picked up both LeBron James and all-star Kevin Love in the offseason. The team’s new Israeli-American coach gives Haaretz his take.

AP

I see that your son Tamir has signed on for four years with Hapoel Tel Aviv. Very nice.

“Yes, that is very nice.”

Did anything in particular lead to that choice?

“Tamir is starting a career at the higher levels. He played for Ramat Hasharon and will now be part of Hapoel Tel Aviv. But I don’t do newspaper interviews about my son. That's my son’s career. It has nothing to do with me.”

Yes, but he’s still your son. Surely you’re part of the decision-making process.

“We parents are part of everything, you know.”

Okay, so how long will you be in Israel?

“I’ll be going back to the United States very soon.”

When you signed with Cleveland, were you aware that the team was going to be built with players like LeBron James and Kevin Love?

“We wanted to build a team that would be good for the present and the future, and I think we’ve succeeded. About whether we could be sure when I signed that it was going to come out the way it did — I couldn’t tell you that.”

Did you have the slightest idea you were going to get LeBron?

“LeBron was a free agent. We were among the teams that were capable of bringing him in, but to say that it was 80 to 90 percent? No, that’s not true.”

But you knew it was on the agenda.

“The possibility was there.”

It’s a big deal to get players like that, plus Shawn Marion, and Kyrie Irving is already there. How do you deal with the expectations that creates? You’re the number-one contender for the championship.

“Now you’re sounding like a reporter who isn’t serious.”

Why?

“Do you know how many times I hear things like that? There are always expectations of one kind or another in professional sports, and they’re nothing to be afraid of. The main thing is to work well and right, and with the belief that you can fulfill the potential of the team you have. Sometimes it takes longer, but you have to stick with the team’s principles, values and path. I think we’ve gotten off to a good start.”

Yes. You know how it works in the NBA. Some teams are built to be a championship contender. In some cases, as has happened with you, a team that was one of the weakest in the league becomes a championship contender over one summer.

“There’s no doubt that when you bring in players of the caliber of LeBron and Kevin Love and Shawn Marion and Mike Miller, you upgrade yourself in quite a few ways. David Griffin, our general manager, deserves a lot of credit, as do the Cleveland Cavaliers’ owners, who show the whole state of Ohio how committed they are to the team’s success — present and future.”

When they sat with you, did they say: “David, we want to build a team this year that’s going to go all the way?”

“I think that sooner or later every professional team wants to accomplish that goal.”

But in the NBA, there are seasons where you don’t think about the championship at all, but only about future drafts.

“True, that’s also part of the plan. They told me this year that they wanted to build a team for the present and the future.”

It’s well known that in the NBA the general manager and management set the signing policy. How much of a role do you play in deciding who the incoming players will be?

“I’m involved in decisions about building the team, but in the end the decisions are made by the general manager.”

How exciting is it for you to make such a sharp transition to the biggest stage, with the best players? After all, LeBron and Love are superstars.

“Don’t forget that last year I worked with a team that’s the European champion. I had a great time, and I’m going to have a great time coaching players at the highest level in the world.”

One last thing: How is the playing style hat you will be teaching different from the style that you taught your previous teams? We know how different NBA basketball is; there’s more isolation, more decision-making by the stars.

“First of all, I’ve used various styles with all my teams because there were different players, and you need to know how to adapt the team’s style and method to the talents and skills on the team. I’m glad to say that Cleveland is going to have a great deal of talent in the coming season.”