After several extensive interviews, the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered their vacant coaching position to David Blatt. Blatt most recently coached Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and won gold with the Russian National Team in FIBAEuroBasket 2007. Although Blatt certainly boasts a solid resume, the soon-to-be hire is a bold one which comes with several risky aspects.
First and foremost, this hire reduces the chance of a LeBron James reunion with Cleveland. Hiring a rookie coach may not seem like a big deal, but Cleveland could have done much better if they were trying to impress James. To lure the league’s best player back to Cleveland, the Cavs needed to sign a head coach with coaching experience in the NBA. Even better, hiring a coach who James has supported like Mark Jackson would have bettered the chance of the Cavs adding James.
Blatt’s basketball philosophies are a bit of a question, although signs point to him running the Princeton offense in the NBA. Blatt is a former Princeton point guard under Hall of Fame coach Steve Carril. Cleveland is quite familiar with this offense, as Byron Scott ran it with the team just two years ago. This experiment did not bode satisfying results, however, as the Cavaliers never ranked higher than 23rd in the league in offensive efficiency. The Princeton offense depends on teamwork and passing, something this Cavaliers team rarely displays, as they finished this past season 21st in assists per game. Blatt will have his hands full with the likes of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, as neither are known for their consistent ability to make others better. Several Cavaliers players struggle with making the simple play, instead electing to over-dribble and force a play that is not available. Additionally, the Princeton offense flourishes with big men who have elite passing skills, and the Cavs roster as it currently stands does not possess a player who fits this mold. Blatt will need to be an offensive genius to make the Princeton offense work, as Cleveland simply does not have the personnel to run it effectively.
Furthermore, understanding this expected hire from general manager David Griffin’s perspective is difficult. Griffin, who is known to favor a high-paced offense, recently spent 17 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, observing countless entertaining teams focused on fast-break basketball. The decision to bring in a coach like Alvin Gentry for an interview makes sense with respect to Griffin’s style. However, giving their coaching job to a someone who will run the Princeton offense is odd, since it is known to be a slow developing offense. Simply, Blatt’s philosophy does not gel with Griffin’s beliefs.
After firing Scott and Mike Brown in back-to-back seasons, hiring a coach who has never coached in the NBA is extremely risky. This move is unlike any other in NBA history, as Blatt will soon become the first head coach to go from Europe to the NBA. Certainly, Blatt has the chance to become very successful in his new role in this league. Without any type of sample, however, this option is seemingly too risky as Blatt has never dealt with the strong egos of NBA players or with the NBA game itself. The style of this league is much different than Blatt has ever seen, and the Cavs must feel confident he will be able to adapt (and adapt quickly) to its differences.
It will be interesting to see just how long Cleveland’s management gives Blatt, as Brown was fired just one season into his five-year contract. The expected hire of Blatt, however risky, is not surprising. Let’s remember that this is the same Cavaliers team that hired Brown in 2013 after firing him just three years earlier.