Wine and Gold Get Their Guy

David Blatt Introduced as Cavaliers Newest Head Coach
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

It’s impossible to determine what kind of coach a man will make based an introductory press conference. But on Wednesday afternoon at the Cleveland Clinic Courts – the eve of the 2014 NBA Draft – Cavaliers coach David Blatt left everyone feeling very confident about Cleveland’s new bench boss.

Cavs GM David Griffin introduced the 55-year-old Blatt – who brings an unparalleled overseas record of success to the North Coast. In his final season with international powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, his squad won the Israeli League, Israeli Cup and Euroleague Championship. In his six seasons with Maccabi, his team won six Israeli League Championships and finished a combined 225-55 over his last four – including a 70-13 mark in 2011-12.

Blatt also coached the Russian National Team for six seasons and in 2007, led Russia to a FIBA European Championship over then reigning World Champion Spain in Madrid. In the 2012 London Olympics, he led the Russian team (that featured a young Sergey Karasev) to the bronze medal – the only Russian basketball team to medal since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Blatt – who showed off an impressive sense of humor on Wednesday – joked about dealing with the pressure of helming such a highly-successful franchise in Israel.

“The pressure for me is something that's second nature after so many years of coaching at the highest level in competitions where you're expected to be the top club,” said Blatt, adding, “I hope I bring the philosophy of Maccabi Tel Aviv – which is never lose a game, not one, or there's going to be a countrywide investigation.”

Watch Press Conference: Part 1 | Part 2

A Boston native, Blatt played point guard under the legendary Pete Carrill at Princeton before playing professionally overseas from 1981-93, mostly with Maccabi Tel Aviv. But Blatt was quick to point out that he won’t necessarily be running the “Princeton Offense” in Cleveland.

“I'm going to see what I have,” said Blatt. “I'm going to decide, together with the coaching staff, what the best way for us to play is, and most importantly, how I'm going to win the most games.”

Blatt also answered the question of whether a coach who’s spent his entire career coaching overseas can be successful with NBA players stateside.

“I've coached enough great players in my life to know that, when guys are happy playing together and are seeing that doing it the right way brings and fosters the spirit you need to win, it doesn't make a difference where you're coaching.”

Blatt – who became the 19th head coach in Cavaliers history – maintained that he doesn’t fall into the category of an “offensive” or “defensive” coach. He’s simply a basketball coach. “My philosophy has always been the same,” explained Blatt. “Play hard, play together, play to win, and have fun.”

As for the Cavaliers recently-minted GM David Griffin, he’s completely comfortable with an “outside-the-box” head coaching hire.

“This is a man that builds deep, meaningful relationships with players that last a lifetime,” said Griffin, noting that one of Blatt’s former players, Drew Kennedy, drove from Chicago for the presser. “I have no doubt whatsoever that he's going to be able to connect with anybody that we put in front of him.”

After the Draft, Blatt will continue completing his coaching staff, one that already includes Tyronn Lue – who was hired as Cleveland’s associate head coach on Monday night.

”When we were able to bring Tyronn over to the team, no one was happier than me,” praised Blatt. “And I'm really looking forward to the kind of cooperation that he's already experienced with other great coaches and the successful environment that he's been in.”

Only time (and wins) will determine how David Blatt will fare with the Wine and Gold, but on Wednesday he impressed the assembled media with his confidence and vision. And as much as anything, it was good just to meet the actual person we’d read so much about. He might be one of the winningest coaches Europe’s ever seen, but on Wednesday, he came across as a regular guy from Boston who’s ready for his first opportunity in the Association.

He recalled listening to Johnny Most broadcast Celtics games with a transistor pressed against his ear. He joked about returning to the States because he missed lobsters and macaroni and cheese, how he couldn’t win a beauty contest against Doc Rivers and – when presented with the simple choice of “Parker or Wiggins” – deftly chose former Cavalier (and Maccabi legend) Anthony Parker.

As far as Blatt’s basketball philosophy, that will also be seen in the coming months. But one of his simple tenets will be music to the ears of anyone who watched the Spurs dismantle the Heat in the recent NBA Finals.

“When teams are playing together and the ball is moving, particularly moving fast, everybody's involved, and everybody's happy, then the game is easier to play,” concluded Blatt. “And that's the kind of philosophy I want to instill here.”