By any account its been a historic summer for the NBA. One of the league's most pathetic franchises was sold for a record $2 billion after it's widely despised owner was deemed incompetent (after further exposing himself as a racist asshole). A new commissioner continued to display a vision and compassion that the former commissioner seemed to lack late in his tenure. The league's model franchise hired the NBA's first female assistant coach. The league's biggest star in a generation, Lebron James, willingly relocated from one of the league's most desirable free agent destinations to Cleveland (I dont think you can truly appreciate how monumental this is unless you've spent some quality time in Cleveland...not that anyone should). Not only that, but now that same star is convincing other high quality players to choose Cleveland as their free agent destination. Finally, James will be coached by the first European Head Coach with no NBA experience as a player or assistant coach. That coach? David Blatt.
While Blatt's hire may by the Cleveland Cavaliers may not be the historic moment that Becky Hammon's new job represents, it does represent a significant sea change in the way NBA front offices look at hiring a head coach. While the recent hires of first time coaches Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr were significant, each of them had significant experience as NBA players. Blatt, on the other hand, had never played or coached in the NBA. Blatt is American and played college basketball at Princeton but since then he's made his career and his reputation as a basketball mind in Europe.
During his time in Europe, Blatt served as an assistant coach for storied European franchises Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow before eventually becoming a head coach in Israel, Turkey and Russia. Perhaps most notably, Blatt became the Head Coach of the Russian National Team, who he led to an unlikely European Championship over the host and favorite, Spain.
Most recently, Blatt won the Euroleague Title for Maccabi Tel Aviv, leading a collection of decent European players and good to average former College Basketball players (Tyrese Rice and Alex Tyus might ring a bell) to a victory over a Real Madrid team featuring five former or current NBA players (all of whom were 1st round picks). While Maccabi Tel Aviv is regarded as one of the most well run and successful franchises in European Basketball, they neither possess the pedigree nor financial wherewithal to attract the caliber of players that clubs in the Spanish, Greek and Russian league can, and do.
When Blatt became the head coach of the Cavaliers a couple of short months ago, it was newsworthy and significant. Since then, the below average team he took over has added the game's most transcendent star and possibly (wink wink) another top 10 player. Blatt was always going to need some time to adjust his coaching style to the NBA. Now, he'll be doing it with the biggest possible spotlight on him. He'll be learning on the fly and doing it under the weight of great expectations and with the basketball world watching.