Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Hello, David Blatt. Welcome! My name is pressure.

Hello, David Blatt. Welcome! My name is pressure.

Someone famously said, pressure makes diamonds and it also makes ex-coaches. Oh yeah, that was me! Over in Cleveland, rookie Cavalier head coach, David Blatt will soon find himself hurtling toward a collision course. This road will be littered with swollen expectations and intense pressure. Its hard to imagine Blatt ,or Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert, had this in mind a few months ago.  Blatt signed on this past June for a three-year deal worth $ 10 million  At that time , the biggest issue was who the team should take with the No.1 overall pick  in the 2014 NBA draft: Jabari Parker, Joel Embid, or Andrew Wiggins. The wounds of taking Anthony Bennett with last years No.1 pick were still  very raw. To say Bennett "underperformed"  is an understatement. But, its still way too early to call the out of shape, very raw 20-year old a bust.

Faster than you can say, Holy King James! The Cavaliers signed their prodigal son, unrestricted free agent LeBron James, traded their 2014 No. 1 pick Wiggins, last years No. 1 Bennett, and Miami's 2015 protected first round pick to the  Minnesota Timberwolves  for stretch-4 extraordinaire Kevin Love. Now add point guard prodigy Kyrie Irving and rabid Cavalier fans are happier than a ton of Republicans at Eric Holder's resignation party.  Enter the Cavalier version of the  "big three." Since King James skipped town and took his prodigious talents to South Beach, the Cavs ( and the city of Cleveland) had sunk into abyss of blame, owner-led histrionics, and dysfunction. 97 wins -215 losses, three head coaches( including the same one twice, Mike Brown) , and hope of a better tomorrow as the primary lubricant. But in sports,as in life, its better to be lucky than good. 

LeBron, Love, and Kyrie notwithstanding, championships  are won on the court-not in the blogs, media, or fantasy drafts. As we saw with Miami's "big three" Wade, Bosh, and LeBron it took time to gel. Chemistry is a delicate alchemy. Forget about Miami losing to the Mavericks in the 2010 NBA Finals 4 games to 2, there were spasms of doubt throughout that first year. LeBron and Wade  took turns on offense with Chris Bosh scratching his head wondering what his role would be. Then you add many naysayers doubting whether LeBron and Wade could even play together.  It was only after that tumultuous  first year did the Heat get it right. They would  make the Finals four straight years and win back-to-back rings.

Blatt operates at a demonstrable disadvantage as a first year coach-there is no learning curve.  This team is expected to win multiple rings-NOW. Okay, we have heard the paleo-refined, 2.0 LeBron preach patience to the championship-famished Cleveland fans. That and a token will get you through the first few losing streaks. But , Blatt does not have the luxury of a championship-ring laden GM like Pat Riley, to intervene and stand up for his coach. Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert may a a billionaire. but his hoops cred is.... nil.

Conversely, Blatt can boast of some real  global hoops cred. He recently led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a surprising upset over Real Madrid to win the 2014 Euro League championship. As a result he was named coach of the year He also guided Russia to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and won an Italian league championship in 2006 with BenettonTrevisio. To his credit, Blatt is known to be an excellent communicator with a flair for offensive innovation., Since he played college ball under the legendary coach Pete Carril at Princeton, we can expect a free flowing motion offense. That will be an immense departure from the unimaginative inert offensive style of former Cavs coach Mike Brown .

Another plus for Blatt is the symmetry and balance of his new "big three." LeBron can use his ethereal talents to create, penetrate, facilitate. post-up, or just take over a game as needed. Love can play inside or outside, has a great deep game, and  will be the recipient of many great passes from LeBron. Irving has one of the best handles in the game, and will excel in the pick-and roll. Questions still abound, however, over Irving's durability and leadership. The later he will learn from King James.

Managing international players and NBA superstars are a whole different sort of  hard and soft 
skill set. Expectations are high and patience will be short. As Brandon Sanderson said in the novel, The Way of Kings, " Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you hold them, he more likely they are to crack."

We'll speak again David in May. Welcome to the NBA.

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