David Blatt has never been on the bench — as a player, assistant or head coach — for an NBA game.
That’s about to change, as the 55-year-old overseas sensation was named head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
Blatt, who is currently traveling, will be formally introduced Wednesday at an 11 a.m. press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“I feel strongly about my fit for the job and this team’s potential,” he said in a news release issued by the Cavs. “This is an opportune time to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. We are going to work extremely hard to achieve the kind of results we all expect and know are possible.
“This is a proud day for me personally, but I hope just the first of many more for all of us as we work towards a very bright future. I have always heard about how great of a sports town Cleveland is and have come to understand how much fans here care about the Cavaliers. This makes me feel especially comfortable to join this community, but above all motivates me to help deliver in a big way.”
Length and terms of the deal were not announced, but Yahoo Sports reported that Blatt received a three-year, $10 million deal with a team option for a fourth season. With incentives, Blatt could earn as much as $5 million per season.
“David Blatt is going to bring some of the most innovative approaches found in professional basketball anywhere on the globe,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said in the news release.
“Time and time again, from Russia to Israel and several other prominent head coaching jobs in between (Turkey, Greece), David has done one thing — win.
“He is not only an innovator, well-trained and focused on both sides of the court, but he is always learning and always teaching. … That’s just who the man is, and we are proud to call him our new head coach.”
Blatt, who spent 33 seasons playing or coaching overseas, becomes the 20th coach in Cavs history and the first NBA head coach with strictly international experience. He takes over for Mike Brown, who was fired May 12 after going 33-49 in the first season of his second stint with the team.
“David is a great basketball coach and a special person,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said in the news release. “His (ability) to communicate, to build relationships with his players and to foster winning environments at several stops throughout Europe and across the highest levels of international competition speaks for itself.
“He brings unbridled passion, energy and creativity to his craft. Those qualities have enabled David to reach a level of success that is truly unique.”
Blatt played professionally overseas from 1981-93 and coached abroad from 1993 until resigning as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach last week. He was the Israel League Coach of the Year on four occasions, and Maccabi won Israeli Cup championships all six seasons he coached the team (2001-03, 2010-14). In Blatt’s last four seasons with Maccabi, the team went 222-55, including 70-13 in 2011-12. Maccabi went 54-18 this season and won Israel League, Israeli Cup and Euroleague titles.
Blatt also won titles in the Italian League and Adriatic League. In addition, he spent six years as head coach of the Russian national team, earning a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics and a gold medal at the 2007 FIBA European Championship.
“I have watched David’s work for many years,” Griffin said. “He has an uncanny ability to adapt his system to maximize the talents of his teams year after year. That is why I am very confident he will make a smooth transition to the NBA.”
Blatt, who grew up in Boston and played for the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton, is often called an offensive genius, but his teams have also performed well defensively. He favors the Princeton-style offense he learned under Carril, but is not married to it.
Byron Scott, who coached the Cavs from 2010-13, tried to install the Princeton offense when he was hired, but eventually scrapped it because his players couldn’t run it correctly.
“People always ask me who my favorite coach was and I say David Blatt,” former Cavs guard Anthony Parker, who played for Blatt with Maccabi, told Eurobasket.com in April. “He never got the credit he deserved during our Euroleague run. He’s one of the top basketball coaches in the world.”
There were reports the Cavs offered Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue, who along with Alvin Gentry had two interviews with the organization, the position of associate head coach, but Lue is expected to remain on Doc River’s staff in Los Angeles.
The 59-year-old Gentry, who also worked under Rivers last season, accepted an associate head coaching position with Golden State on Friday. The Warriors were also pursuing Blatt for that spot.
Prior to having a sit-down interview with Blatt on Wednesday, the Cavs also interviewed Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro, Adrian Griffin and Mark Price. Prior to that, the organization reportedly offered John Calipari a $60-80 million deal in an unsuccessful attempt to lure him away from Kentucky.
“We are driven by one thing and one thing only: delivering Cavaliers fans everywhere and the city of Cleveland the kind of competitive basketball they deserve,” Gilbert said. “I look forward to David’s leadership in helping the entire Cavaliers organization realize our vision.”
EUROLEAGUE EXPERIENCE: 33 years
NBA EXPERIENCE: 0 years
HONORS: 4-time Israeli League Coach of the Year; Russian Super League Coach of the Year
TEAM HONORS: 6 Israeli Cups, 5 Israeli League titles, FIBA Euro Challenge title, Italian League titles, Italian Cup, Adriatic League title, Euroleague title