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Cavaliers’ coach scores all-star player


It sort of has this feel: A highly respected director in foreign films finally gets his chance to oversee a Hollywood blockbuster and his leading man is named DiCaprio.

Or this: An editor is hired at a prominent publishing house, receives his first manuscript to emend and immediately notices the author’s name: James Patterson.

Or this: You’re hired to make improvements in a certain kitchen.

The chef is Gordon Ramsay.

David Blatt has coached basketball for teams such as Hapoel Galil Elyon, Benetton Treviso, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Dynamo Moscow, teams with more vowels than Vanna White turns on a monthly basis.

He has won championships in Italy and the former Yugoslavia and Israel. He coached Russia to a bronze medal in the 2012 London Games. He’s a virtual buffet of culture and diversity.

He probably draws X’s and O’s in 10 languages.

He also never has coached a regular-season NBA game.

Which makes this interesting: When he does so for the first time in early November, his top player will be the planet’s best.

I’m guessing Blatt’s offense, viewed as one of the most innovative and successful to tear through Europe in the past few decades, will include a set play or two for the man who on Friday brought adults and children alike to joyous tears across Northeast Ohio, inhabitants of an 18-county region of more than 4 million souls who believe a savior has returned home to deliver them their first NBA championship.

LeBron James is back, and Cleveland again is certain its Cavaliers will annually reside among the league’s best, a team now coached by a 55-year-old Israeli-American who was born in Boston and is one of the most decorated coaches in European history.

“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. I’m going to have an awfully good seat to watch the best player in the world play this year.”

He was speaking after the Cavaliers beat Milwaukee 70-68 in a Vegas Summer League game Friday at Cox Pavilion, after a standing-room only hoard watched a matchup of first-round picks Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker show flashes of their expected impact, after everyone saw a better and fitter version of former UNLV standout Anthony Bennett following his forgettable rookie season, after summer league officials again proved they have no clue whatsoever how to deal with the media crush that comes with such an anticipated game.

Think of morning rush hour through the Lincoln Tunnel.

It’s a stroll in the park compared to how those at the summer league handle these matters.

Blatt, though, should get used to such a packed scene, because with James will come the sort of media following they probably didn’t see around the halls of Dynamo Moscow very often.

I think it works.

Really well, in fact.

Blatt is hardly a young guy worried about proving his value. He has coached more than 1,000 games. He gets the whole pick-and-roll thing. You have to believe he had more than a few moments over the years when he thought the NBA would never come calling. He’ll respect the heck out of James, but I can’t see such a veteran coach being all that intimidated by him.

Mike Krzyzewski has no NBA experience and has won two Olympic gold medals with James, whom he spoke with in Las Vegas this week. Would it be crazy to think the Duke coach might have offered his thoughts on Blatt? Would it be crazy to believe Krzyzewski quickly calmed any fears The King might have had about the man who is now his coach?

Blatt coached Friday as if in a playoff game. He stood for at least 38 of the 40 minutes, intense in his instructions to players, during play and timeouts. It has been said he best understands their emotions, their attitudes, how to connect various personalities on a roster.

The Cleveland players in Las Vegas learned about James’ decision at the end of a morning shootaround, when whispers in the gym eventually led to smiles from one end of the court to the next. One of those happiest was the man now in charge of coaching the world’s best.

“First and foremost I’m happy for LeBron, because he made a very difficult decision,” Blatt said. “Obviously, he made a decision from the heart more than anything else, and I respect him for it. Second, for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the state of Ohio — if you were around Cleveland today, you would understand what I’m talking about — he just lifted a whole state by himself.

“I’m not an internal optimist, so I was kind of one of the last people that even wanted to believe it was going to happen because the possibilities are so great.”

He will soon look across a set and call for action and allow a scene to play out.

And he will see DiCaprio at work.

Sure, much pressure comes with such an assignment.

But it’s better than if Zac Efron was saying the lines.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.