David Blatt Breaks Barriers by Taking on Cleveland Cavaliers’ Top Job

Outgoing coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv eschewed an attractive assistant-coaching position with the up-and-coming Golden State Warriors.

Jerry Mittleman
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Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.Credit: Reuters
Jerry Mittleman

Another barrier in the globalization of the NBA has been broken: A man with citizenship on the other side of the ocean, Israeli David Blatt, has been tapped as a head coach — for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The rest of the world has already been doing its bit in the NBA: This month the San Antonio Spurs’ UN-like roster routed the defending-champion Miami Heat in the finals.

U.S.-born Blatt, who last month led Macabi Tel Aviv to a Euroleague title, accepted the Cleveland job after seriously considering the Golden State Warriors’ offer to be their top assistant coach. The Warriors’ offer was a good one: a winning team with a young and talented roster, not to mention an affable and intelligent coach in Steve Kerr.

As an assistant, Blatt could have adjusted to the pressure-packed NBA more gradually. Instead, he’ll try to get the Cavs into the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left four years ago.

In an interview with Haaretz this month, Blatt said joining a good organization was a priority. But Cleveland will be more than a challenge. The Cavs are considered a dysfunctional franchise with a sometimes disruptive owner, one making his third head-coaching change in four years.

A bright spot in Cleveland is its first pick in this Thursday’s NBA draft. The Cavs were expected to pick Joel Embiid, a center from Cameroon who has been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. But now that Embiid is sidelined for four to six months with a stress fracture of the foot, Cleveland will look elsewhere.

The Cavs already boast a budding superstar point guard, Kyrie Irving. Their greatest need appears to be improving on-court organization and instilling a winning attitude, skills Blatt has displayed in abundance in his long career in Europe and Israel.

Blatt’s biggest adjustment may be having to deal with NBA-sized egos. And too bad he doesn’t get to coach Omri Casspi, the first Israeli in the NBA, who left Cleveland last year. In any case, Blatt is known as an excellent communicator and teacher who gets the best out of his players and teams.

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