The Shmooze

LeBron James and His New Israeli Coach

By Raphael Gellar

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Rookie Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt won a European title with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Now he gets to coach Lebron James. Getty Images

One year ago, David Blatt was working with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s management on signing new players for the upcoming season. A year later, Blatt is coaching the best basketball player on the planet — LeBron James.

After spending nearly a decade at the heralded Israeli club, Blatt was recently hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is the first Israeli to ever coach a team in the NBA.

When Blatt signed the contract with the Cavs, he knew that they were heavily pursuing James, but he also knew there was no guarantee. Even if the Cavs didn’t sign James, Blatt would still be happy, given how hard he has worked to reach the NBA.

After James announced he was returning to Cleveland, Blatt realized how quickly things had changed since he signed his contract.

Suddenly the Cavilers are expected to make the playoffs, as they have all-star Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, who was the number one pick in this year’s NBA draft, and the king himself, LeBron James.

The question now is, will David Blatt live up to the pressure?

To find out, the Forward spoke with David Pick, a senior Correspondent for Eurobasket.com. Pick is currently in Las Vegas, covering the NBA summer league.

We asked Pick about what we should expect from Blatt in his first season in charge and if Blatt would be able to transform his coaching style from European basketball to an NBA style. Pick spent the season as a beat writer for Maccabi Tel Aviv and developed a relationship with Blatt on and off the court.

Raphael Gellar: When the season ends, do you think the Cavs will have had a successful season under David Blatt?

David Pick: I think this question isn’t worded fairly. How could one possibly measure how successful David Blatt would be after the season when it hasn’t even started?!

According to Summer League, with the talent he has, he’s doing a great job. Bucks and Spurs were held to a combined 138 points and the Cavs and playing great defense. Both Bennett (who struggled immensely last season) and Wiggins look fantastic.

With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving can you possibly not be successful? P.J. Carlesimo told me Cleveland’s roster “isn’t that good” despite the pieces they have — and I agree.

There’s room to add more talent for them to go far in the playoffs and become a contender. Perhaps Kevin Love could fill that vacancy, but I doubt Ray Allen or Mike Miller could.

Bottom line is: expectations of Blatt possibly taking a bad team to the playoffs to possibly qualifying for the Eastern Conference Finals are not fair — to put such weight on his shoulders.

Can Blatt take his skills and expertise in European hoops and transform it to the NBA style?

Absolutely. His defensive mindset is also showing here in Las Vegas and the fact that multiple NBA greats vouch for his success proves he’s worthy being able to transform to the NBA style of play. Cavs were called for some defensive violations and that’s something Blatt will have to work on but overall he’s in a great situation, he’s a basketball coach, he’s brought over a number of sets Maccabi played over the years such as “fist side.” “fist down,” and back door rotation … I have a great deal of faith in Coach Blatt.


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