Thirty-one days after David Blatt left Maccabi Tel Aviv to move back home, LeBron James left Miami to do the same.
One of the biggest benefactors from James’ choice is the new coach of the Cavs, who has endured a whirlwind month. He left Israel, chose the coaching job with the Cavs over an assistant’s job with the Golden State Warriors and then watched unexpectedly as the world’s best player tumbled softly into his lap.
Blatt always knew the possibility loomed for James to return, although he never actually expected it to happen and didn’t really factor it into his choice between the Cavs and Warriors. Yet he has most certainly scratched the right lottery ticket by choosing Cleveland.
“I kind of feel like I’m jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop,” Blatt said.
He can’t jump much higher now.
He came to Cleveland expecting to continue in this rebuilding project. But the Cavs aren’t rebuilding any longer. They’re not completely built, but the identity and expectations have changed dramatically in just a matter of days.
Blatt and James don’t really have a relationship. They met twice at the Olympics, first in Beijing and then London. While James was winning gold with Team USA two years ago, Blatt coached the Russians to bronze.
The two exchanged texts in recent days following James’ announcement, but have not spoken since James’ decision to return to the Cavs.
“I’m leaving him alone,” Blatt said. “He’s been through enough the last few weeks.”
While James attended Sunday’s World Cup final in Brazil alongside Anderson Varejao, Blatt was back at summer league talking about lineups and rotations. Truthfully, that’s tough to do right now.
Everyone within the organization concedes this isn’t the final product. The Cavs still need more shooting and are desperate for another big. After trading Tyler Zeller, the only healthy center is Varejao — and given his lengthy injury history, that’s quite a risk.
Until the Cavs determine if they can sign shooters like Ray Allen or Mike Miller or another free agent center (the market is thinning rapidly for big men), or until the Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves break this staring match and intensify trade talks regarding Kevin Love, Blatt isn’t yet sure what the final product will resemble.
He just knows the Cavs’ talent level, and expectations, are soaring.
“Our limitations have changed and been raised exponentially,” Blatt said. “There are a lot of possibilities to be considered.”
One of Blatt’s biggest strengths, according to those who know him best, is taking the pieces he’s given and making them fit. Coaching in the Euroleague presents an eclectic mix of nationalities, cultures and skill sets. Blatt has proven capable of winning in a variety of ways.
At his introductory press conference, Blatt dismissed the idea of NBA egos and the impact they have in locker rooms. He might be willing to rethink that by the end of the season, but now he has a locker room enforcer in James.
All of the pouting and sulking by the Cavs’ young guards that teammates and coaches privately grumbled about last year is about to change. Armed with his new max contract, Kyrie Irving will be expected to win and perform like a max player.
He’ll now have more talent around him than he’s ever had in his life, so there is no longer any reason for one-on-four drives to the basket. For all of his gifts, James wasn’t ready to assume the role of veteran leader when he was here the first time. But he is now.
“I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach,” James wrote in his letter announcing his return. “I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.”
That will make Blatt’s job of commanding the locker room, and this team, much easier.
“It’s just been a series of peaks without valleys,” Blatt said. “But I know full well it doesn’t stay like that forever. What gives you the best possibility to succeed ultimately is to keep an even keel, to stay the course, to be involved with good people and good players and great organizations like I am now. Hopefully at the end of the day, we end up on top.”
By Jason Lloyd - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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