There’s a new guy in Cleveland, and he is faced with the tall order of leading a team amid a completely re-tooled lineup and instantly high expectations. And it isn’t Lebron James, the top draft pick, or the sharp-shooting big man. His name is David Blatt.
Thanks to their perennial losing ways, the Cleveland Cavaliers once again landed the top pick in the NBA draft, nabbing precocious talent Andrew Wiggins, a franchise player. Wiggins already represented a marked upgrade in Cleveland, but it was not long before the Cavs would bring home the off-season’s biggest prize. LeBron’s anticipated “Decision 2.0” capped a summer of free-agent highlights that changed the course of the upcoming season. Suddenly the Cavs became instant contenders in the depleted Eastern Conference. Although LeBron’s previous team, the Miami Heat, struggled with point guard play as the weakest part of the team, LeBron now was teamed with one of the game’s best young point guards in Kyrie Irving. A highly anticipated trade sent Wiggins to Minnesota in exchange for the shooting and rebounding combo in Kevin Love. A new team, a new “Big Three.”
David Blatt was hired to a Cavs team that had seen the ups and downs of the past decade. NBA head coach is one of the most competitive jobs in the country, complete with a short leash and constant scrutiny. There is no one single formula for ascending the coaching ranks of pro basketball. Many are former players (some less than two years out of retirement). Others work their way up as assistant coaches. Highly successful college coaches might get a shot too (but not all will take it). For every Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, there are dozens of others who last a year or less, or who are fired after missing the playoffs too many times, or simply cannot win enough games to placate a fan base demanding a championship. This makes a coach’s first year in the NBA extremely important, not just for the sake of future job security, but also for adjusting to the stressful, complicated behemoth of the job that goes far beyond standing in front of the bench 82 times a year. And this makes David Blatt’s case much more intriguing.
Unless you went to Princeton or spent time following the Israeli basketball circuit, you probably did not know much about the former point guard who studied English literature when he wasn’t learning the Princeton offense from coach Pete Carril. Successful in European basketball, his coaching career also led him to a bronze medal with the Russian national team at the 2012 Olympics. But he had yet to coach in America when Dan Gilbert picked him to lead the Cavaliers. He may have had his doubters at first, but the focus was quickly shifted to bigger news (Hint: it involved some guy named James). A team with a completely new lineup had just got a brand new coach. David Blatt has begun his first job in the NBA, and it happens to be coaching a team with a very good shot at making it to the finals. Not many people get a chance to coach in the NBA, and fewer get to inherit a team that will contend for a championships many times in the next few years. Not many people get to coach one of the best players in history, who just happens to be in his prime and more determined then ever to win a championship for his hometown. Blatt also gets one of the league’s best point guards in Kyrie Irving, and a dependable 20/10 big man in Kevin Love, who can also hit 3-pointers. Cleveland also has some young talent in Dion Waiters, Matt Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson.
Coaching at any level is not always easy; coaching in the NBA is a full-time headache with a chance for redemption when the playoffs roll around. Blatt has the tough task of managing a new lineup and a fan base that has bought into the idea of “NBA champs 2015.” It won’t be easy, given the increased expectations and media scrutiny that will follow LeBron and Co. all season. If Decision 2.0 doesn’t pay off right away, Blatt’s likely to be out the door long before LeBron. A team with all-stars doesn’t always mesh right away, and the Bulls and Spurs certainly are not afraid to stand in their way. When life offers you chance to audition on the big stage, you ride it all the way to the top. Many first-time coaches have to struggle with inexperienced lineups or a take on a team from the bottom of the standings. Blatt is starting with a leg up, and this new Big Three might just take him all the way to the top. Only 5 head coaches in history have won more than 2 NBA championships. Blatt has been a head coach for less than a year, but you can’t already help but like his chances to join that list. As an English major, David Blatt read his share of great stories; he’s a part of pretty big one that’s starting right now. AN