David Blatt admitted on Saturday that being named the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers is “beyond a dream come true” as he returned to Israel after being handed a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $20 million.
The deal was announced by Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin on Friday, making Blatt not only the first Israeli to coach in the NBA, but also the first coach to make the leap from Europe to the NBA as a head coach.
The 55-year-old Boston native, was given a three-year deal worth about $10 million with a fourth-year team option that includes incentives.
“I need to wait for the official presentation and was asked not to say much,” Blatt said upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday. “Of course this is a wonderful feeling. This is beyond a dream come true.
I owe a big debt to Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israeli and European basketball and a lot of people who helped me along the way. This is very big and very special. It will take some time to sink in, but there is no time because there is a lot of work to be done.”
Blatt met with Cavs officials and team owner Dan Gilbert over the past few days and was offered the job on Thursday night after beating out Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue for the position.
Blatt announced last week that he is leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv for the NBA and turned down an offer to serve as the top assistant coach under new Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
“David Blatt is going to bring some of the most innovative approaches found in professional basketball anywhere on the globe,” said Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert. “Time and time again, from Russia to Israel and several other prominent head coaching jobs in between, 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. Whether you are a top draft pick just entering the league, or a seasoned NBA veteran, Coach Blatt is going to take your game and the game of the team you are playing for to a new and higher level. That’s just who the man is and we are proud to call him our new head coach.”
The Cavs have missed the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and Blatt has become their third head coach in the past three years.
Cleveland is led by 22-year-old All-Star Kyrie Irving and has the first pick in this week’s NBA draft.
Blatt coached Maccabi over the past four seasons and was also a key contributor to the yellow-and-blue’s remarkable success at the turn of the century as an assistant to Pini Gershon for three seasons (1999/2000, 2000/2001, 2003/2004) and a head coach (2001/2002, 2002/2003).
Blatt, who originally moved to Israel in the early 1980’s after playing for the USA basketball team in the 1981 Maccabiah, spent six seasons away from Israel after leaving Maccabi in 2004.
The Princeton University graduate led Russian club Dynamo St. Petersburg to the FIBA EuroCup in 2004 before moving to Italy’s Benetton Treviso and winning an Italian championship and cup in his two seasons at the club.
Blatt also led the Russia national team to the European title in 2007, while also guiding the side to a surprise bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to come to Cleveland and lead the Cavaliers as their head coach,” Blatt said. “After spending a great deal of time discussing the organization, the team and the head coach’s role with David Griffin, I feel strongly about my fit for the job and this team’s potential.
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.”