CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers went outside the box, and outside the country to find their new coach.
The club ended a wide-ranging 39-day search on Friday by agreeing on a contract with successful European coach David Blatt, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting.
Terms of Blatt’s contract were not immediately known. The Cleveland Plain Dealer was first to report the Cavs coming to terms with Blatt.
American-born and Princeton-educated, Blatt spent the past two decades winning titles in Israel and leading Russia to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The 55-year-old recently resigned from Maccabi Tel Aviv, a club he led to the Euroleague championship this season, to pursue his dream of coaching in the NBA.
He’ll get his chance with the Cavs, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and fired Mike Brown on May 12 following a 33-49 season. Blatt is Cleveland’s third coach in three years and he arrives less than a week before the Cavs will select first in the draft.
Cleveland’s surprising decision to give Blatt the job came after the team talked to several high-profile college coaches and met with some former NBA head coaches and other up-and-coming assistants. This week, the team zeroed in on Blatt, who is widely considered one of the game’s brightest offensive minds.
As the sides were negotiating Blatt’s contract, the Cavs got a closer look at Duke forward Jabari Parker, who worked out at the team’s training facility in Independence, Ohio. Parker is one of the Cavs’ options with the No. 1 overall pick, a selection they are determined to get right.
Last year, the Cavs selected forward Anthony Bennett with the top pick, but he had a disastrous rookie season which began with him coming into training camp out of shape after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Cleveland was also considering Kansas center Joel Embiid, but he underwent foot surgery and is expected to be sidelined for two months. The Cavs have also worked out Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins.
While Blatt is a virtual unknown in the U.S., he’s been a coaching star on the international stage for years. NBA executives have had him on their radar for some time, and he was coveted by Minnesota and Golden State to join their staffs as an assistant.
Blatt played point guard at Princeton under legendary coach Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril, whose pass-and-cut offense has often been mimicked. Blatt has incorporated elements of the Princeton system into his offense.
His style with Cleveland will be vastly different than the team experienced under Brown, who improved Cleveland’s defense this season in his second stint with the club. However, the Cavs’ offense rarely flowed and the team was prone to empty possessions, turnovers or poor shot selection.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin knew the team needed an offensive upgrade, and he’s confident Blatt, whom he has known for years, can get the most out of Cleveland’s young players.
Blatt led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a stunning upset of Real Madrid in this year’s Euroleague championship, and in the celebration afterward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with him to stay. But the chance to coach in the NBA was too much to resist and Blatt, who emigrated to Israel after college, will return to the U.S. for the first time in 30 years.
Cleveland’s his new home.
The Cavs can only hope he stays a while.