Who is David Blatt?
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’m a huge admirer of Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt. I first became acquainted with him (so to speak) in his capacity as the head coach of the Russian national team, and he’s impressed me ever since.
With Maccabi and the Russian NT, he has coached former/current NBA players including Jordan Farmar, Anthony Parker, Beno Udrih and Timofey Mozgov. Jazz ties include Andrei Kirilenko with the Russian NT, Quincy Lewis with Maccabi immediately after his stint with the Jazz, and Malcolm Thomas with Maccabi in 2012-2013.
I’ll try to not just restate what you can find on his Wikipedia page, so here are a few things about David Blatt based on my own observations…for whatever my observations are worth.
** He’s great at calling plays out of timeouts.
** He’s great at adapting his system to his players’ strengths. He builds his game plan around his players, rather than formulating his system first and then fitting his players into it. He doesn’t pound square pegs into round holes, or keep pounding regardless of whether the pegs are going in or not.
** He’s a player’s coach.
** He’s all about doing things the right way. He respects the game and is also respectful of the job that the media has to do.
** In interviews, he’s thoughtful, insightful, engaging and personable…just an all-around nice guy. On the sidelines, he’s a stomping, yelling, wildly gesticulating maniac — a sight Jazz fans that have been Jazz fans for longer than, say, five years, are probably familiar with. :)
Some of you might know him as the guy that called AK a “wild horse” a few years ago. I think you can tell a lot about Blatt, his coaching philosophy and how he relates to players from that quote.
Have you ever met a horse trainer? Andrei is like a beautiful, wild horse. He’s best when he’s roaming around and running free. We try to ask from him to play within the system, but honestly it seems like his best moments are when he’s doing what his heart and his instinct tells him to do. Most of his great plays, they come from not the structure, but from the mind and from the beautiful talent that he has.
The lucky thing is that he’s not a selfish man. He’s not a greedy player. He plays for the team, and I talk to him all the time about books and about a lot of nice things but I try to tell him very little about how to play because it seems that I just bother him if I do that.
And he was, in the second half, he was unbelievable. … Andrei did things in the second half that I can’t teach, and that Coach [Dusan] Ivkovic cannot prepare for. It’s a block from the weak side, it’s an offensive rebound, it’s a steal, reading the moment. These are not things that are teachable, and they’re not coaches’ things. That’s Andrei. Thank God he’s on my side.
A few other quotes. Blatt on his road to coaching:
You have an idea of what you wanna do in life, but you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to be and where it’s gonna take you. I did not see myself being a professional coach or a high-level coach when I was 22.
I, you know, I even came to Israel the first time with the idea of playing and then ultimately leaving and going back to the States, which I did, for a period of time before coming back to Israel. But you know, my love for the game and ultimately my love for my wife and now four children–married an Israeli girl named Kineret and I have four lovely children–you know, kept me grounded and kept me in that environment. And it was the best decision I ever made.
What he left out: After his first three years as a professional basketball player in Israel, Blatt returned to the States and worked as a Xerox salesman for two years. When he returned to Israel for his second stint of pro ball, he did so knowing he would have to fulfill compulsory military service in Israel. His playing career ended with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Blatt on what makes a successful coach:
At the end of the day, if you want to be a successful coach, you gotta know the material. You gotta be a human being, and know how to communicate and to draw the best out of the people that you’re working with. …
When I lecture to young coaches, what I like to tell them is there’s, the two most important elements of coaching are No. 1, know the material, and No. 2, be yourself.
You know, a lot of guys know the material, but they try to act like someone else, and they imitate someone else. And players are like young kids: They respond to what is true and what is honest.
Other coaches will have a great appearance and a great way of talking, but they don’t know the material. So at the end of the day, they can’t really coach a team.
So I think if you have those two elements, and like any other profession and any other thing you do in life, if you work real hard, then you’re gonna have a chance to be successful.
Finally, Blatt on what kind of coach he is:
“There are two types of coaches and two types of people — there’s macro coaches and there’s micro,” Blatt said. “I’m a micro coach. I don’t see the big picture during a game. It’s of no interest to me. I’m seeing the play in front of me.” …
“If I’m doing things in practice every day for months and months and I’m a micro guy, what do you want me to do?” he said. “I don’t give a damn what the score is. That’s important to me because the next time that happens the score may not be 20, it may be two. So I’m out there fighting for that moment, that point, and people always say to me — and it’s really fair — why are you upset?'”
In a loud whisper, he went on, “I don’t give a [expletive] about the score. I want to do things right. Because I know to do one thing and another thing and another thing and another thing right, you’re going to win. And if you let that go, then sooner or later it’s going to bite you on the butt and you’re not going to win. That’s how I am. Other guys, they see things macro — oh, that’s cool, I can live with that. And you know what, they live longer. They sleep better. They don’t get wrinkles and probably have happier lives. But what can I do? That’s the way God made me.” (CNNSI)
With that, here are a few clarifications on some misconceptions floating around the Interwebz.
** He is a scary foreign Euro coach.
Blatt is American. He grew up in suburban Boston listening to Celtics games on the radio and idolizing Bill Russell, and played point guard at Princeton in the late 1970s for long-time Sacramento Kings assistant Pete Carril before moving to Israel to play professionally. He was recruited by Harvard, but chose to go to Princeton because it had a better basketball team.
** He’s been a head coach everywhere, which is a negative because it means he can’t hang on to jobs.
Part of this is the European coaching environment. Winning seasons and successful post-seasons don’t stop the coaching carousel from turning.
Side note: Take a look at AK’s CSKA Moscow coach during the lockout season, Jonas Kazlauskas, for example. He’s well-respected and considered one of the best international coaches in the game, with a long list of coaching awards and championships to his name. To date, he has been the head coach of four countries’ national teams.
In his first (and only) season with CSKA, he took the team to championships in two of the team’s three leagues and the finals in the third league. At the end of the season, he was let go (and *second sidenote* was replaced by Ettore Messina).
The other part of this is looking at circumstances. In making the statement that Blatt can’t hang on to jobs, David Locke was probably referring to 2004-2010, when Blatt coached five teams in four countries in six years.
Spend a few minutes googling and you find out things like the first of the five teams, Dynamo St. Petersburg, was a brand-new team and Blatt was its inaugural coach. Despite Blatt taking the team to the FIBA Europe League championship and the Russian Super League finals, the team went bankrupt and folded within a year.
With Benetton Treviso in Italy, Blatt took the team to three titles: the Italian Championship, Italian Cup and Italian Supercup. The team has not won any titles in any of the three competitions since.
According to Maccabi’s website, Blatt’s stints with his next two teams, Efes Pilson and Dynamo Moscow, came to an end due to “professional and economic problems suffered by both clubs.” Dynamo Moscow still owes Blatt money. With Aris Thessaloniki, he was a mid-season replacement.
Outside of 2004-2010 (1993-2004 and 2010-present), he has only coached two club teams.
I’d say his ability to have success in different environments, with club teams or national teams, with established teams or starting from scratch, and with different rosters in different countries is a positive.
Blatt has said that he has a good thing going with Maccabi and the NBA offers he’s received in the past weren’t enough for him to take the leap (though he has never said he would only move back stateside for a head coaching gig).
Locke’s mention of Blatt in his Tip-Off yesterday was really the first time I’ve heard a non-fan mention the possibility of Blatt as a coaching candidate for the Jazz, so it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. I would be beyond thrilled, though, if David Blatt were the next Jazz head coach.
Oh, and Jazz brass and Jazz PR would probably love him too, because he reportedly would never get on Twitter (despite being an awesome quote machine) and can barely work his old cell phone.
To close, here’s a recent video of Blatt addressing his team after Maccabi qualified for the Euroleague Final Four. As you can see, his players love him:
Something else to be gleaned from this video? The NBA is missing a gargantuan revenue opportunity by not producing scarves…
P.S. One other bit: In 1999, Blatt moved from his first team to Maccabi Tel Aviv as an assistant under his mentor, legendary Israeli coach Pini Gershon. In 2001, Blatt became head coach of Maccabi. Despite winning every domestic title, making the Euroleague Final Four, and winning Israeli League Coach of the Year over the next two years, Blatt voluntarily took a demotion to assistant coach in 2003 when Gershon decided to come out of retirement. Major respect for him right there. (Maccabi won the Euroleague, Israeli Championship and Israeli Cup that season, by the way. And when Blatt left Maccabi to take the head coaching job at Dynamo St. Petersburg after that season, one Maccabi player asked, “But who will coach?”)