The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone outside the box — and outside the country — to find their new head coach.
The club ended a five-week search on June 20 by agreeing on a three-year contract with David Blatt, who coached Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Israeli league and Euroleague championships this year. The deal is worth at least $10 million, sources told ESPN.com.
American-born and Princeton-educated, Blatt, 55, spent the past two decades winning titles in Israel and leading Russia to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
He is the first coach in the history of European basketball to move directly to an NBA head coaching position. Shortly before the Cavaliers offered him the job, he reportedly met with Golden State Warriors new head coach Steve Kerr and was offered a job as an assistant. That meeting occurred during an airport layover in Los Angeles as Blatt was flying home for his father’s funeral.
Last month, Blatt led an undermanned Maccabi Tel Aviv squad to back-to-back victories in the Euroleague semifinals and championship, a feat that impressed even NBA executives.
“Maccabi was outgunned at every position except coach,” one NBA general manager told ESPN. “David took down two Goliaths in a weekend. He belongs in the NBA.”
Blatt grew up in Framingham, Mass., and attended Hebrew school as a youth. During his sophomore year at Princeton, a coach for a kibbutz team recruited him to play in Israel for the summer. Blatt loved it, and by the time he competed for Team USA in the 1981 Maccabi Games, winning a gold medal, he knew Israel would be part of his future.
“From the time that I came here in ’79, I knew that I wanted to play in Israel professionally for some years,” he told the Israeli daily Haaretz.
He played nine of the next 12 years there, retiring in 1993 to become a coach. At Maccabi Tel Aviv, he began as an assistant under legendary coach Pini Gershon. Maccabi has won the Israeli championship 51 times and the European championship six times since the team’s inception in 1932.
Blatt will have his work cut out for him with the Cavaliers, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and went 33-49 last season. He is the team’s third coach in three years. — jta, jns.org & ap