INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers coach David Blatt got right to business Saturday in his first NBA practice after two decades working overseas.
"I'm a basketball coach, and I do it with passion and with pleasure," Blatt said. "This isn't intimidating to me at all. It's an honor to coach such a great group of players."
It helped, of course, that four-time MVP LeBron James, All-Star power forward Kevin Love and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving were on the court as Cleveland opened training camp.
Instead of running a rebuilding project like most first-time NBA coaches, Blatt is leading a team with legitimate championship hopes.
"It beats the alternative of not having me, Kevin and Kyrie," James pointed out. "It's going to be tough no matter what, but Coach is very efficient and he's going to see how we come together."
James spoke to the team before practice, hoping to set the tone for the day and make the adjustment easier for the former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach.
James delivered a simple message, saying, "We've got to build our habits and character now, and we've always got to protect each other."
Love also spoke to his new teammates on the eve of camp, stressing the need to keep all outside influences as far away as possible.
"I told them we're in this thing together and we can't let anybody else in our circle," Love said. "It has to be a fox-hole mentality where we take care of one another at all times."
When Blatt became the first European coach to make the jump to the NBA in late June, the Cavaliers were coming off a 33-49 season. They missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
Less than one month later, everything had changed after Cleveland assembled its own "Big Three."
Irving signed a multi-year contract extension, James returned as a free agent after four seasons with Miami, and Love was acquired in a trade with Minnesota.
Each of them admitted being intrigued with the free-flowing style that Blatt has imported.
"It was an interesting practice because he has a greatly different style of European offense that will allow us to do whatever we want with the ball," Love said. "For me, it's exciting, just being a triple threat in it. It's going to be gratifying having teammates that can put the ball in the hole when I find them."
The Cavaliers also signed Mike Miller and James Jones over the summer, along with versatile small forward Shawn Marion. They continue to hope that Ray Allen will join the squad for additional depth.
In the meantime, Blatt says he has a good idea what his rotation will look like.
Center Anderson Varejao and shooting guard Dion Waiters are expected to round out Cleveland's starting five, while power forward Tristan Thompson, Marion and Miller provide other options.
"I've never paid much attention to the traditional position definitions," Blatt said. "I like having ball-guards, and I like forwards more than forward-centers. I know that sounds European, but I like guys that play facing the basket from those spots.
"Look, everyone knows what the guys we have can do, so we're not reinventing the wheel. But I think sharing the load and being responsible on the court will be good for them and for the entire team."
NOTES: The Cavaliers traded guard Keith Bogans and a 2018 second-round draft pick to Philadelphia for a second-rounder in 2015. Cleveland also received a trade exception worth approximately $5.3 million, which should drop them below the luxury tax threshold. Bogans was acquired in a trade with Boston two days earlier. ... Cleveland center Brendan Haywood, who missed all of last season with a stress fracture in his right foot, was a full participant at practice. "We did not think that would be possible one month ago, so we were very pleased," Blatt said.