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LeBron James' new coach: NBA rookie David Blatt eager to work with game's best player

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – New Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt walked over to a team official during the Cavs' workout Friday morning with a simple question:

"Is it true?" Blatt asked.

"It" would be LeBron James' decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to Cleveland, and, yes, the news was true. Blatt, who has never coached a game in the NBA, will suddenly be coaching the sport's best player.

"I'm happy for LeBron because he made a very difficult decision," Blatt said. "He made a decision from the heart more than anything else. Second of all, for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the state of Ohio. If you were around Cleveland [Friday], you would understand what I'm talking about. He lifted a whole state by himself."

What's yet to be determined is whether Blatt is the right coach to help James guide the Cavaliers to a championship.

Blatt left Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv to become the Cavaliers' third coach in five years. He also had an offer to become the Golden State Warriors' associate head coach under Steve Kerr.

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The Cavaliers gave David Blatt a three-year contract with a team option for a fourth season. (AP)

The Cavaliers gave David Blatt a three-year contract with a team option for a fourth season. (AP)

A Massachusetts native and former Princeton point guard, Blatt earned a reputation as one of the best coaches in Europe with stops in Israel, Russia, Italy and Greece. He also coached Russia's national team from 2006-14. He was named the 2014 Euroleague Coach of the Year after leading Tel Aviv to the Euroleague title last season.

Blatt said he has spoken with James on two occasions during the Olympics. Coaching in Europe and coaching the NBA's biggest star are two vastly different things, but Blatt doesn't seem intimidated.

Blatt's 17-year-old son also gave him some advice.

"He barely talks, but he sends me this great quote: 'Danger is real, fear is a choice,' " Blatt said. "Obviously, I'm going to work with a great, great player. One of the great players of all time. But he's a basketball player, and I'm a basketball coach and we're going to work together beautifully."

Asked if he felt more pressure with James' return, Blatt was prevented from answering by a team media relations official.

A day before the announcement, one league source said Blatt was not confident James would be returning to the Cavaliers. Blatt was just hoping like everyone else in the Cavaliers organization.

"Having the opportunity to coach the best player in the world, that's the best thing I would hope for everybody," Blatt said. "I know because of the type of player he is, and the man he is, our team will be better for it in every respect."

Blatt also has All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft, on his roster. In James, he adds one of the NBA's greatest scorers ever with a career average of 27.5 points per game. Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, who played professionally in Russia and Italy, says Blatt has a reputation as a defensive-minded coach.

"I know he knows his stuff and the players love him," Vanterpool said. "He's a good person with good basketball knowledge."

Blatt said he hasn't determined what system he will run with James.

"I would imagine with the recent series of events, we would probably play offense differently," Blatt said.

Paul Silas, Mike Brown and Erik Spoelstra were James' three previous coaches in the NBA. Now he gets Blatt, an NBA rookie whose job just became all the more exciting.

"I kind of feel like I'm jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop," he said. "But I know full well that it doesn't stay like forever."

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