Despite their longstanding reputation as a hard-luck team, the Cleveland Cavaliers have held their coaches to a nearly impossible standard. Since LeBron James joined the team in 2003, the Cavs have had eight head coaching changes. John Beilein is the most recent head man in Cleveland.
Paul Silas came in to mentor the young phenom, but team owner Dan Gilbert fired him in 2005. Brendan Malone finished out the season before Mike Brown replaced him. Brown held the job from 2005 to 2010, which ended up being the third-longest tenure in team history. After Mike Brown, the team saw Byron Scott, Mike Brown again, and David Blatt before Tyronn Lue took the team to three consecutive NBA finals with a victory (with some believing they’d repeat the following year). Despite uplifting the entire city of Cleveland, Lue was let go in 2018, and Larry Drew took over. Drew found his way onto the hot seat quickly, and it wasn’t long until John Beilein signed a five-year contract to begin the 2019 season.
The rebuilding process begins in earnest under John Beilein
With a championship in the bag and LeBron chasing his dreams in Los Angeles, everyone in Cleveland is acutely aware that the rebuilding process has begun. The Cavaliers are actively looking to deal star Kevin Love, planning for five or 10 years down the road instead of trying to make the playoffs again now.
With low expectations for the near future, it would make sense that there isn’t a lot of immediate pressure on the head coach to win. Unfortunately, the hot seat in Cleveland might claim another victim soon, as John Beilein’s unpopularity is quickly growing among the team.
Beilein’s accomplishments before the Cavaliers
John Beilein coached Division I basketball from 1992 to 2019. He took Michigan’s men’s team to the NCAA Final Four twice, impressing critics and fans with his clean, straightforward style. In 2017, NCAA fans voted Beilein as the “cleanest” coach in college basketball, awarding him the title in a landslide.
Unfortunately, the popularity and respect John Beilein garnered for his reputation didn’t exactly follow him to the NBA. While he was hyped up by most fans as the Cavs’ new coach when he initially signed the deal, some were more hesitant. Many observers were concerned that despite his reputation in college ball, Beilein wouldn’t be likely to translate that success to the NBA. Too many things are different at the pro level, and the team wasn’t likely to be a contender anytime soon.
Tristan Thompson’s shouting match with John Beilein
In early December, anonymous sources within the Cavaliers organization reported that players started butting heads with Beilein following a 1-10 run. Some players revealed that Beilein was getting talked over in team discussions, with players “drowning out his voice” and that he’d lost them to the extent that concerns were going directly to assistant coaches who players considered “more ready for the NBA.”
On the flip side, some Cavs dispute the narrative that Beilein is the only problem. While the transition period with a new coach is rocky, “Coaching can’t fix 20 and 30-point blowouts.”
The discord escalated as the Cavs dropped to 6-19, with more and more reports coming out of Cleveland. Surprisingly, one of the most vocal critics of Beilein has also been his biggest defender. Beilein pulled Tristan Thompson from a game after the two were seen yelling at each other mid-game. However, Thompson recently took to the press to defend Beilein, stating that they had worked out the issue and that he’s behind the coach:
“There was a lot going on in the game, and I think I was just frustrated and voicing my frustration. Obviously, camera and media is going to make it bigger than it actually is. Me and coach talked about it, and we’re good. He understands my passion for the game. I understand his passion for the game. It’s just family members getting into a quick discussion. It happens like anything. We’ve moved on.”
John Beilein offered a similar olive branch in his comments to the media, and it appears that things have cooled down between the men for now.
The bottom line in Cleveland
As low as the expectations are for the 2019-20 Cavaliers, the consensus opinion is that Beilein needs to show he’s capable of coaching at an NBA level. A certain amount of leniency as the coach signed a five-year deal and no one expected the transition to be flawless, but time is ticking for Beilein. Pressure creates diamonds, but it also bursts pipes. The world is waiting to see which is the case with the Cavaliers.