David Blatt making jump to NBA

ByMarc Stein ESPN logo
Saturday, June 14, 2014

European coaching giant David Blatt is on the brink of making his long-awaited leap to the NBA with either Golden State or Cleveland, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Friday that Blatt, an American-Israeli who rose to prominence coaching abroad after playing at Pete Carril's Princeton, is poised to land either with the Warriors as an assistant or with the Cavaliers as head coach after barging his way into Cleveland's search in recent days.

"It will be Golden State or Cleveland," one source said.

On Thursday in Israel, his adopted country after the Boston native played professionally there and became a citizen, Blatt announced he was leaving newly crowned Euroleague champions Maccabi Tel Aviv to pursue his first job in the NBA at 55.

Blatt's destination won't be known until next week at the earliest, sources said, after a face-to-face interview with the Cavs. He already has interviewed with Cleveland general manager David Griffin over the phone and joins Los Angeles Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue in the late stages of a search that initially focused on college titans such as John Calipari, Billy Donovan and the fast-rising Kevin Ollie of freshly minted NCAA champion UConn.

The Cavs had second interviews with Gentry and Lue on Friday, meetings that were expected to include team owner Dan Gilbert. 

ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Thursday that the Cavaliers also have reached out to ESPN's Mark Jackson, who returned to the network after his May ouster by Golden State.

New Warriors coach Steve Kerr, meanwhile, continues to press hard to add Blatt to serve, in essence, as his offensive coordinator. Sources say Kerr also continues to pursue Gentry -- who currently serves as the Clippers' top aide to Doc Rivers -- as well as noted San Antonio Spurs shot doctor Chip Engelland for his staff. Engelland is likewise coveted by new Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, sources say.

The Warriors had been increasingly confident of winning the race for Blatt's services, but Cleveland's unexpected pursuit of the Maccabi coach has thrown that into some doubt.

After leading Russia to the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics -- its first Olympic basketball medal since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- Blatt guided a Maccabi team bereft of big-name stars on a Cinderella run to the Euroleague title last month, highlighted by victories over CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid in the semifinals and finals.

"Maccabi was outgunned at every position except coach," said one admiring Western Conference general manager who attended the Euroleague Final Four. "David took down two Goliaths in a weekend. He belongs in the NBA."

Until now, Blatt has resisted multiple opportunities to move back home because he was reluctant to leave behind his status as one of Europe's two most respected coaches -- along with Italian legend Ettore Messina -- to work in the NBA as an assistant. But he has since been convinced that the fastest path to realizing his dream of becoming a head coach in the NBA could require a stint first as an assistant, since Blatt's profile in his native country remains relatively small compared to his standing overseas.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are also among the teams that have expressed strong interest in Blatt, but sources say that the lifelong Boston Celtics fan has decided to focus on the Warriors' assistant job if he can't get Cleveland's head-coaching job.

Blatt said at his Thursday night news conference in Tel Aviv that it was time to leave the European game behind "to meet other professional challenges that I have in my life."

"It's been a dream of mine for almost forever to go and join a team in the NBA in some capacity," Blatt said. "I wish I could have done it as a player. I wasn't good enough. But now perhaps I'll have that opportunity as a coach."

The Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only two NBA teams left with a head-coaching vacancy.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.