The Cavaliers are known for taking chances. In 2012, they picked Dion Waiters fourth overall in the draft, who shot up the draft boards despite limited workouts and limited production at Syracuse. Last year, they made Anthony Bennett the number one overall pick, completely altering the rest of the draft’s path. Waiters has been fine, while Bennett was a massive disappointment in his first year (side note: can we please keep in mind that this was Bennett’s first year, one in which he wasn’t even fully healthy? Let’s wait a year or two before we call him a bust).
Yet for how often the Cavaliers take chances on players, they rarely do so on coaches. Their past two head coaches were notorious retreads: Byron Scott and Mike Brown, neither of whom did much of anything. Now, with the hiring of David Blatt as head coach, it seems the Cavaliers are now willing to take chances on coaches as well.
David Blatt, who just resigned as coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv last week, has reached an agreement to become the 20th head coach of the Cavaliers, replacing Mike Brown who was fired on May 12, an NBA source told The Plain Dealer on Friday.
This, however, is a different sort of risk. Blatt’s an unproven product in the NBA, but far from one as a coach. He’s helmed teams at the highest levels of basketball outside of the NBA, most recently with Macabbi Tel Aviv, whom he led to the Euroleague championship this season. He was also the head coach of the men’s Russian national team at the Olympics, who won the bronze medal in 2012. So the risk isn’t whether Blatt can coach, but whether his system and style can translate to the NBA.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect either. Several reports had the Cavaliers leaning heavily towards selecting Joel Embiid with the first overall pick, but that’s almost certainly no longer a possibility with the recent news of Embiid’s foot fracture. With Blatt on board, rather than drafting blind between, presumably, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or maybe even Dante Exum, the Cavaliers will be able to draft according to their coach’s system.
As good of a move as this is for the Cavaliers, it’s just as good for the NBA. For a long time, we’ve wondered when an international coach would get a shot at head coaching gig in the NBA. Ettore Messina’s name perpetually surfaced in rumors, but it never carried past that until the Spurs (reportedly) hired him as an assistant coach. There have been head coaches who had experience overseas, such as Mike D’Antoni and Brett Brown, but neither carried the prestige of Messina or Blatt. Now, the barrier’s broken.
It’s a risk, but a calculated one, and it proves the Cavaliers, for now at least, are heading in a new direction.