By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
David Blatt was considered one of the luckiest men in the world back in the summer of 2014. He had won the triple crown, which included his first Euroleague title as a head coach, he had signed a four year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and one moth later, Lebron James was added to his roster.
In order to do that, he decided to leave Europe and the possibility of coaching CSKA Moscow which was in constant contact with him, announcing that he was going to the NBA. He decided that without knowing yet if he was going to be a head coach or not, while negotiating – as it was revealed later – with the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As he said in a press conference in Tel Aviv: “I am leaving Maccabi to follow my dream since I was a child in Boston”. And in some cases, dreams can turn into nightmares. Before his miracle Euroleague win in Milan, nobody expected that Blatt will be leaving for the NBA. At that time. Ettore Messina was ready to cross the Atlantic again, breaking his contract with CSKA and leaving to Blatt the coaching opening in Moscow.
And when Blatt finally took advantage of the momentum he had build with Maccabi in order to make the jump as a head coach to the NBA, this was not such a groundbreaking move at least in the European eyes. After all, Blatt was an American. He was perceived as an American everywhere he coached in Europe outside of Israel and he was the choice of an owner who has strong connections with Israel and familiriarity with Blatt’s European accolades.
Then things started to go all wrong. Blatt is known in Europe as a players’ coach, his calling card is his match up zone defense and he is used to lead underdogs to the top, like he did with the Russian national team in Eurobasket 2007 and with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Eurleague’s Final Four back in 2014. He was also a guy loved by the media, a quote machine and a coach who rarely turned down an interview request.
None of this translated to the NBA. To the surprise of many Europeans, Blatt was reported to be in constant bickering with the media, he couldn’t connect with his players and even his coaching abilities were disputed. If you could bet at one longtime coach in Europe to adapt to the NBA, Blatt will be the natural choice of many. Specially after the success that Mike D’ Antoni, an Italian-American who like Blatt made his name in Europe, had enjoyed.
Still this was not the case. Blatt never accepted the fact that to the eyes of the American public he was a “rookie coach” and his mentions of his glorious European past rubbed the media the wrong way. Every mistake he made was scrutinized or magnified and he clearly didn’t have at any point the real support of LeBron James. There’a an interesting explanation for this from Adrian Wojnarowski, however the big picture about how Blatt was perceived in the States remains the same. The success of the Cavs was credited to James and the coach was ready to be sacrificed if things went wrong.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being in the NBA finals and on top of the East, however Blatt without support from James was destined to be the scapegoat. Losing to the Golden State Warriors by 34 points pushed the Cavs organization to do something and Blatt was clearly the most expendable guy on the team.
The fate of Blatt explains in a way the choice made by Ettore Messina. The Italian was also interested in being a head coach, a position his former assistant in CSKA Moscow, Quin Snyder occupies in Utah Jazz. Despite having a better resume by Blatt, Messina, who had also served in the past as a coaching consultant of the Los Angeles Lakers, decided to make the jump as an assistant to the San Antonio Spurs.
And after being an assistant to Gregg Popovich, Messina got the only quality that was missing in his resume in order to be a respected NBA coach. That’s NBA experience…