LAS VEGAS — David Blatt was running a summer league practice with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday morning, and the sound of someone shrieking suddenly filled the gym.
“I understood it wasn’t because of the weather,” Blatt said.
True, but welcome to the eye of the NBA storm, nonetheless.
Blatt will never forget July 11, 2014. It was the day he coached the Cavaliers for the first time, if only in summer league. It was the day Andrew Wiggins made his debut in Cleveland’s wine-and-gold colors. Oh, and it was the day that he learned that when his first real season running a team in the NBA begins, he’ll have LeBron James to lead his club.
He doesn’t gamble, but Blatt may have been the biggest winner in Las Vegas on Friday, after getting word that James will be returning to the Cavaliers after four seasons with the Miami Heat.
“I did not see this coming down the road,” Blatt said. “And I’ll be honest with you, it was not a condition. Good things come to those who wait.”
For the record, Blatt was hired three weeks ago, but that’s not what he meant.
The Cavs waited four years. Blatt waited half a lifetime for his NBA chance. And now that one batch of speculation is over with James having made his decision, another flurry of guessing about the Cavs remains — centering around Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft who was not mentioned in the first-person essay that James penned for Sports Illustrated to announce his move.
Cleveland has been widely mentioned as a potential trade destination for Minnesota’s Kevin Love, and any such deal would almost certainly have to include Wiggins. But with the way Blatt was talking Friday, he’s eager to see how the former Kansas star can flourish playing with and learning from James.
“I think it’s one of the best things that could happen to him,” Blatt said. “To have the opportunity to learn from a guy with his experience level, whose winning attitude, whose commitment to the game … he couldn’t possibly in his wildest dreams have a better example or a better teammate and it will help him to develop quicker.”
Wiggins finished with 18 points — not to mention more than one acrobatic display at the rim — in Cleveland’s 70-68 victory.
“It was a big day,” Wiggins said. “We got the win, and we got LeBron back.”
Once the game started, things seemed almost normal for the Cavs, surely for the first time all day. Blatt worked the sideline in an untucked polo shirt, jeans and sneakers. Owner Dan Gilbert took a seat behind the bench, and most of the fans packed into the gym at UNLV settled in to watch Wiggins match wits with Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker — the top two picks in last month’s draft.
There won’t be many laid-back nights when the season starts, not with James coming home. Blatt has met James twice, at each of the past two Summer Olympics in Beijing and London. Blatt spent the past two decades in Israel, where he developed into a top international coach and earned a reputation as an offensive wizard.
He was asked how James would change his schemes.
“I really don’t want to talk in too much detail right now. It’s not appropriate,” Blatt said. “I do want to say that to have the opportunity to coach the best player in the world is a blessing I would wish for everyone. And I know that because of the type of player he is and the type of man he is, our team will be better for it in every respect.”
And in turn, Blatt probably will be as well.
A rookie coach simply could not have asked for a better entry into the NBA.
“It’s just been a series of peaks without valleys,” Blatt said of his first few weeks on the job. “But I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that they come, too. I kind of feel like I’m jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop. But I know full well that it doesn’t stay like that forever.”