Wednesday, October 1, 2014 Pluto: Can the star-studded Cavs win with a rookie NBA coach? The revamped Cavs are considered to be championship contenders with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. But they'll be led by a rookie NBA coach. by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ
Morning Edition Host Amanda Rabinowitz
David Blatt was hired as the Cavs coach in June. He has won championships in Europe but has never coached in the NBA.
This weekend, Cavaliers fans get the first glimpse of their new championship-caliber team. The Cavs, with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, open the preseason against reigning Euroleague champion Maccabi Tel Aviv. That’s new Cavs coach David Blatt's former team. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says Blatt will be leading this star-studded team with no NBA coaching experience.
LISTEN: Pluto on David Blatt and the CavsOther options: MP3 Download(4:17)
A coaching first for the NBA David Blatt is an American who played for Pete Carril at Princeton and has played and coached in Europe the past 33 years. At 55, he's considered one of Europe's top coaches. He guided Russia to the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. This past May, Blatt led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a stunning upset of Real Madrid in this year's Euroleague championship. He resigned at Maccabi to pursue an NBA gig. Blatt also was coveted as an assistant by Golden State and Minnesota, but the Cavs made him the first European coach to make the jump to the NBA as a head coach.
"Nobody's ever brought a coach in from Europe who's never had any experience here," says Pluto.
So, why hire Blatt? Pluto says the Cavs didn't have Blatt on their radar as a legitimate candidate until he interviewed with the team. "David Griffin, the GM, had known Blatt because he had done a lot European scouting. He brought him in, along with Alvin Gentry and a few of these others just to kind of spice up the interview process. Blatt basicaly blew their socks off. So, this guy's respected. But nonetheless, it's a remarkable thing."
Then there's LeBron James James is returning to Cleveland for his 12th NBA season. He won two titles in four years with the Miami Heat. "He never even talked to David Blatt before he committed to coming back," Pluto says. And James told reporters at Cavs Media Day the decision was entirely based on his family, regardless of who the coach was. James said his kids loved the idea of living in their home in Bath year-round, returning to their old school and being with their friends from home. "And LeBron said, by the end of that, he knew he was coming back," says Pluto.
Blatt has to get LeBron on his side Pluto says it's not about James fitting in with Blatt, but the other way around. "If LeBron thinks Blatt is an idiot, he could walk into Dan Gilbert and Blatt's not going to last long. But also, Blatt needs to have a thing where you're relying on LeBron, his wisdom and so on. But also, they are bringing Blatt in because the way he runs his offense [and] the success he has in putting teams together quickly. Because in Europe, you don't have these teams together forever, it's kind of a flow chart of changing guys. That's pressure."
Does Pluto think Blatt's ready? "I have no idea if this is going to work. I think David Blatt is a sharp guy. I think he's got a really good basketball mind. But when you get out there and things don't go well early -- and they probably won't -- how does he handle that? Because people are going to expect this team to go undefeated. They're going to turn around and beat some bad team by four points and people are going to go, 'Oh, they didn't play well.'"
Does who's coaching matter when you have a star-studded team? "A coach could mess this up," Pluto says. "The players will make it. But the coach could mess it up. If you watch the finals last year, when things went poorly for Miami, Erik Spoelstra was never really able to get those guys' attention at the very end because they had tuned him out. Now, Blatt says he has studied how Mike Krzyzewski, the coach of Duke and the U.S. National Team, handled when he was coaching LeBron back in 2012. He adjusted to this and was able to get the players back together.
A tougher situation in Cleveland than Miami "When LeBron and Chris Bosh teamed up with Dwyane Wade to go to Miami, the year before they all came, Miami had a record of 45-37 and wen to the first round of the playoffs. It was not a bad team. This year, they come to a team that's 33-49 and has not seen the playoffs in four years, since LeBron left. And also, Miami coach Eric Spoelstra had been in place for two years before those guys showed up. He wasn't some guy from Europe who hasn't coached in the U.S. before."
"This is great stuff to talk and write about, but no clue how it's going to work out," Pluto says. And, the whole world is watching. "ESPN set up a SportsCenter desk at Cavs Media Day, which is like an all-time first. I think we all can't wait to see it on the floor, even in an exhibition game where you can really see them try to work together."
LISTEN: Pluto on Browns upcoming game against Tennessee