Triumphant Blatt sets sights on return to basketball’s biggest stage

David Blatt is by no means done.

By
April 18, 2018 05:24
Triumphant Blatt sets sights on return to basketball’s biggest stage

Israeli coach David Blatt led Turkish team Darussafaka to the Eurocup title last week and now is eyeing a return to an NBA sideline. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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David Blatt joined a list that is as short as it is impressive last weekend, becoming just the second head coach ever to win the Eurobasket, Euroleague and Eurocup titles, after Serbian Dusan Ivkovic.

His remarkable resume would place Blatt among the greatest ever European basketball coaches even if he were to retire tomorrow.

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But Blatt is by no means done.

He won’t be back coaching in Europe next season if everything goes according to plan though, with the 58-yearold Boston native, who moved to Israel over 30 years ago, having his mind set on returning to the NBA.

That has been the plan since last summer, when he turned down a lucrative offer from Maccabi Tel Aviv, deciding that he didn’t want to commit to a long-term contract with the yellowand- blue knowing that his end game is to be an NBA head coach in 2018/19.

The timing of Blatt’s Eurocup triumph with Turkish side Darussafaka Istanbul could have hardly come at a better timing, with the NBA head coaching merry- go-round preparing to move into top gear following the end of the regular season last week.

The New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets fired their head coaches last week, with Milwaukee, Phoenix and Memphis, sacking their coaches during the season and inserting interim replacements.

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Blatt has already been linked with the two recent openings in New York and Orlando, with the Israeli considered to be among the top candidates for the Knicks job.

The Turkish league is still ongoing, but Blatt will travel to the United States next week for an interview with Knicks executives, hoping to beat out competition from David Fizdale, Mark Jackson and Jerry Stackhouse.

“The end game has not changed,” Blatt told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week.

“I want people to know that my decision last year was based on this exact scenario. That at the end of this season there would be NBA openings, that is now the case, and that I would try to see if I can get back into the league. If it happens, then I will be very happy and if it doesn’t happen then I’ll return to the European option.”

Blatt, who guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2014/15 before being fired midway through the following campaign in January 2016, is expected to receive several requests for interviews and has permission from Darussafaka to travel to the US when necessary.

“I’ve said before that my focus when this season is finished is to try and join an NBA team again as a head coach,” added Blatt, who has no interest in working as an assistant coach. “I’ll go through the interviewing process with the teams that are interested in talking and if the right team comes up and that team wants me then I’ll go there.

“If not, I’ll be happy to stay in Europe somewhere and today this [Darussafaka] becomes a viable option.”

By winning the Eurocup, Darussafaka booked a spot in the Euroleague for 2018/19. Blatt guided the Turkish team to the Euroleague quarterfinals in his first season with the club in 2016/17.

The team underwent major changes during the off-season, with Blatt having to rebuild the roster with one third of the previous campaign’s budget.

“We took character guys that were on their way up, not proven quantities, who had a strong desire to play the game right, improve and ultimately prove themselves on a major scale and they did that successfully,” explained Blatt.

Darussafaka went 8-2 in the Eurocup regular season, 5-1 in the Top 16 and was unbeaten in the playoffs, claiming 2-0 sweeps against Buducnost and Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, before surprising the previously unbeaten Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in the final.

“I feel that this one is special because of the type of competition that it was and because of the fact that we were a very unknown, unproven entity starting the year and obviously had to go through a very serious and challenging professional process in order to be successful in the way that we did,” noted Blatt. “Kind of a journey of innocence and a very rewarding one.”

Blatt is especially delighted with the way his team grew during the season.

“Winning the Eurocup was a dream that became a reality. But to begin with, you can’t say that we had necessarily, at least on paper, the tools to do what we ultimately did. But that is the beauty of it. We committed to excellence and grew together and gradually created the environment and belief that we could go all the way. We were the kind of team that had to claw and scrap for every meter of progress that we wanted to make. But that is part of the fun of this and excitement of what we were able to accomplish.”

While he awaits to see if he gets another shot in the NBA, Blatt is enjoying some playoff action, and believes another Golden State-Cleveland final could be on the cards.

“The Warriors have not been at their best for a few months but they looked awfully good in Game 1,” he said, with Golden State since taking a 2-0 lead over San Antonio in the first round.

“I think they will be in the Western Conference Finals against Houston and although Houston right now has been playing the better basketball you certainly can’t count the Warriors out, particularly as Stephen Curry will return at some point in the playoffs.

“I honestly think that there is not a team in the East that can beat Cleveland in their current state,” Blatt added, speaking before the Cavs lost their series opener at home against Indiana.

“Regardless of the fact that they had a very tough season until after the All- Star break, they have been on a very good roll since that time and the changes they made to the team and I think that they are now the strongest team in the East again.”

Like most Israeli basketball fans, Blatt was sad to hear that Omri Casspi had been cut by Golden State the week before the start of the playoffs.

“It was very unfortunate. I thought he did a very good job this year,” said Blatt.

“Sometimes the business aspect of the NBA takes over and that is what happened.

He got injured and Steph got injured and those two factors together called for Golden State to have to make a move for another point guard and the roster spot that could become available from a financial and technical standpoint was Omri’s spot.

“It is unfortunate, but it is the business of basketball.”

Like Blatt, Casspi’s future in the NBA is also up in the air.

The indications are that Israel’s first NBA player will return for a 10th season in 2018/19.

Blatt’s prospects aren’t as clear, but it won’t be long before we find out if he will also be back on the biggest stage basketball has to offer.

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