David Blatt looked the part and said all the right things as he was introduced as the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Wednesday.
The 55-year-old Israeli, who signed a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $20 million last week, seemed slightly nervous at the start of proceedings, but ultimately spoke confidently about leading the Cavs back to NBA prominence following the franchise’s struggles in recent seasons.
Since LeBron James’s infamous exit in 2010, the Cavaliers have averaged fewer than 25 victories over the last four seasons, with Blatt the team’s third coach in as many years.
Blatt will be under immediate pressure to succeed with the Cavs, but after spending the past four years at Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Boston native believes he is as ready for the NBA as he will ever be.
“You can not imagine the pressure at Maccabi Tel Aviv where if you don’t win by 20 it is like you lost,” he said.
“I’m fully aware of both the expectation and desire of the club to be a winning organization. Pressure for me is second nature after so many years of coaching at the highest level. I also think that the best way to deal with pressure is with good preparation and hard work.
“There are a lot of areas we have to improve on, but that is a good thing because based on the talent we have here and the plans we have here and the commitment we have from the management and ownership to make this a great team there is a lot of room for us to do some special things,” added Blatt. “I don’t see that as pressure as much as a challenge.”
Cavs General Manager David Griffin opened the press conference with high praise for Blatt, saying he is “truly the embodiment of every characteristic we sought out in a coach.”
Griffin added that Blatt is an “authentic leader and I believe strongly that is what drew all of us to him,” with the GM explaining that Cleveland’s coaching search was an “incredibly thorough process” during which 11 different coaches were contacted.
“Dave is an innovator and he is very open minded and bright and brings incredible energy and passion to everything he does,” said Griffin. “I’ve seen David win with slow teams and with really fast teams. He has gotten the most out of every talent he has had.”
Blatt didn’t sound too concerned about the transition he will have to make from European basketball to the NBA.
“The game is not as different as people think it is,” he said. “It is not like playing baseball and soccer. I have coached enough international games to know that when you play the game right it doesn’t really make a difference where you play.”
Blatt said he had been approached by NBA teams in the past, but felt that the time was right this summer following his amazing season with Maccabi and the offer he received to become the head coach of the Cavs.
“I sort of came to the point in my career that I felt I accomplished all I could,” noted Blatt, who won the Euroleague title for the first time last season.
“Growing up as I did listening to NBA games on the radio I had the NBA dream in my ear and heart. I was happy and fulfilled in what I was doing, but I never lost hope that I would come full circle. I’m lucky and fortunate that the great people of Cleveland chose me and I will pay them back with interest.”
There have been suggestions that Blatt’s biggest challenge will be to manage the egos of his new players. But after speaking to star guard Kyrie Irving earlier this week, as well as a few other of the team’s players, he sounded very upbeat regarding the roster he inherits.
“The guys that I see now are talented and are not that far off from where we want them to be, which is a winning team that is thinking about going the furthest and not just settling for a better season or a little bit of progress,” he said.
“A lot of people have asked how will I deal with the ego of the players in the NBA. I don’t buy that. I have had wonderful discussions with the players from the team and I found a group of guys who want to be coached and want to learn and care about winning.