As the Cavs get ready to open the season with new head coach John Beilein, a former coach is back in the headlines. David Blatt, who led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2015, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Blatt was fired halfway into his second season -- the year the Cavs won the title. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto reflected on Blatt's brief and tumultuous NBA career.
10 teams, 7 countries
David Blatt has had a storied career. The Israeli-American grew up outside of Boston and went to Princeton University. He went on to play professional basketball in the EuroLeague for 12 years. Then he became a coach. "He's coached 10 different teams in seven different countries," Pluto said.
Blatt coached the Russian national team to a bronze medal in 2012 and spent six seasons as coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, where his record was 179-21. "In 2014, they win the European cup," Pluto said. "It was one of the biggest upsets ever. And then he's thinking, 'If I'm ever going to coach in the NBA, this is my chance.'"
Fired at 83-40
In 2014, he was hired as the Golden State Warriors' top assistant under head coach Steve Kerr. Then, the Cavs called and asked him to interview for their head coaching job. They offered. He accepted.
"Three weeks after Blatt gets the job, LeBron James decides he's coming back to Cleveland," Pluto said. "You never would hire David Blatt to coach a win-now team with a veteran like James. They thought they were going to have a younger team and build with Blatt."
"LeBron's not in the mood for some coach from Israel and Russia and everywhere else. And David Blatt didn't help himself. He bristled when they said he was a rookie coach and players didn't relate to him at all. This is a classic clashing of cultures."
"The odd thing was, they won," Pluto said. The Cavs made it to the 2015 NBA Finals and lost in seven games to the Golden State Warriors.
After that season, tensions were building. "LeBron and other guys are complaining about their minutes and everything." Then, in January of 2016, the Cavs fired Blatt. The team was 30-11 at the time, the best record in the conference. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue took over and led the Cavs to the NBA title. The team sent Blatt a championship ring. He was 83-40 as the Cavs’ coach.
After that, "Blatt interviewed for a few coaching jobs, but others are afraid that something is really wrong with this guy if they fired him at 83-40. He was offered a couple of assistant coaching jobs but turned them down." So, Blatt returned to coach in the EuroLeague.
What might have been?
"My thought was, had he gone to Golden State, he'd be sitting next to Steve Kerr beating the Cavaliers in the Finals. And, when Kerr was out much of the following season with back surgery, Blatt would have been interim coach. And we might be talking about David Blatt as one of the better NBA coaches."
"He had no chance. If you've ever worked in a job, where you did a good job but suddenly you realize you're in the wrong spot. The key person here isn't going to like me no matter what I do and then in the end, you go back and get fired and still have a good career but you just wonder, 'If I would have just gotten that job under different circumstances, I wonder what I could have done.'"