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BY SAM AMICO
David Blatt was never intimidated by the idea of coaching in the NBA. Just the opposite, actually.
Blatt won and won a lot overseas, leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague title in 2014. He was named Euroleague Coach of the Year that same season — and won that same honor in the Israeli league four times.
“When I came to the NBA I was under the impression that this was going to be a breeze,” Blatt said Monday while serving as a panelist at a Las Vegas scouting school.
”I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the highest level in Europe. I coached in the national-team environment, coached professional teams, coached Euroleague teams, and I thought I knew basketball and I thought I knew how to coach. Which, in my mind, I did.”
“I realized that when I came over here it was a very, very different game with a whole new set of problems and a whole slew of things to deal with inside and outside of the game.,” Blatt admitted.
The Cavs were under constant scrutiny from the moment things began. They lost to the lowly Knicks at home to open the season. They sputtered to a measly 19 victories in their first 39 games. They heard all year that Love would leave (he didn’t), that Blatt would get fired (he didn’t), that they couldn’t beat the Bulls in the playoffs without a healthy Irving or Love (they did).
On top of trying to survive the rumors, allegations and hints of team discord, the Cavs always seemed to be injured at the worst possible time. That was especially the case when they finally reached the Finals — and were forced to face the Warriors without the hurting Irving and Love.
“We were playing every game with a different team,” Blatt said. ”We started off with one team, then we lost one guy so we had to change a little bit of the way we played. Played a few more games and another guy went down, played with a different team, that guy came back, then all of sudden we were playing with half of our old team and it just kind of went like that as we went along.”
It’s easy to get the sense that Blatt really believes he could have conquered the NBA in his first try had two of the Cavs’ top three players remained healthy.
“I’m really (angry) we didn’t play the final series with all of our players,” he said.
Another adjustment to the NBA: Blatt wasn’t afforded nearly as much time to prepare his players for the season — or during the season, for that matter. European teams usually get about six weeks of training camp. In the NBA, it’s more like a week before the preseason begins.
And in the NBA, there are rules about how long you can go and how hard you can push the players.
“That’s because there’s not a players union over there and I sure as hell wish there wasn’t one over here either,” Blatt said. ”We’re not allowed the luxury of calling guys in for formal workouts until a very specific date.
“Then, the moment we get them, we’re limited to four two-a-days in our preparation period, which is somewhere between three and four weeks. We used to have four two-a-days in two days overseas.”
Still, when it comes to your first season as a coach in the NBA — well, a lot of people have done a lot worse. It wasn’t a breeze, but Blatt did just fine, and now he has a season full of knowledge. That can count for a lot.