After LeBron James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018, getting back to winning basketball has not been easy for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, the organization is already on its fourth head coach since his departure. However, it looks as if they have finally found their coach of the future in J.B. Bickerstaff, and it only took 10 games.
John Beilein burns out as Cavs head coach
After starting 0-6 last season, the Cavs fired head coach Tyronn Lue who led them to a championship in 2016. Larry Drew then took over as head coach after Lue’s firing. However, with the team going 19-63 overall, and his contract expiring at the end of the season, Drew and the Cavs mutually parted ways.
This led to the Cavs hiring a legend in John Beilein, who took Michigan to two Final Fours and had a lot of success as a college coach. He, however, had never coached at the professional level. The Cavs ultimately went 14-40 under Beilein and he then eventually resigned on Feb. 19.
There were a lot of factors that went into Beilein’s resignation. Of course, losing was one of them, but there was also an incident where he accidentally called players “thugs,” according to CBS Sports. Additionally, several veterans on the team – including Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson – reportedly tried to orchestrate his exit, also according to CBS Sports.
This is not what the Cavs had in mind when they signed Beilein to a five-year contract this past offseason. However, the organization was forced to move on to their fourth head coach in less than two seasons as they made J.B. Bickerstaff the interim head coach.
Bickerstaff paid his dues
Being in the league since 2004, Bickerstaff has had multiple assistant coaching roles in the NBA. He also had two head coaching stints before coming to Cleveland this past offseason.
Bickerstaff was the interim head coach for the Houston Rockets during the 2015-16 season. The Rockets went 37-34 under him and made the playoffs, but Bickerstaff removed his name from the head coaching search and moved on to the Memphis Grizzlies.
In the summer of 2016, the Grizzlies hired Bickerstaff to be their associate head coach. They then promoted him to interim head coach during the 2017-18 season after the firing of David Fizdale. With star point guard Mike Conley only playing 12 games that season, though, the Grizzlies went 15-48 under Bickerstaff. However, the organization chose to keep him on as head coach for the next season, but the Grizzlies then went 33-49 that year. Bickerstaff was ultimately fired in April 2019.
The Cavaliers then hired Bickerstaff to be their associate head coach under Beilein in May 2019. They ultimately promoted to the interim head coach position after Beilein’s resignation.
Cavs excel under Bickerstaff
After 10 games as the interim coach, the Cavaliers agreed to a multi-year contract with Bickerstaff, officially making him their new head coach. The deal runs through the 2023-24 season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
This is all due to the Cavs becoming a respectable team under Bickerstaff after being a laughingstock under Beilein. In just 10 games under Bickerstaff prior to the contract extension, the Cavs went 5-5. It’s a small sample size, but a much better record than the 14-40 one under Beilein.
The Cavs were better across the board in those 10 games too as they scored over 111 points per game, compared to their 106.9 season average. They also had wins over the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Denver Nuggets, who are all championship contenders.
Young point guard Collin Sexton has flourished under Bickerstaff too. He has had career games of late with 31 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, 32 against the Utah Jazz, and 41 points against the Boston Celtics. Rookie Kevin Porter Jr. has also been impressive with 30 points against the Heat, and 16 against the Pelicans and Jazz.
The chemistry in the locker room seems to also be improved. An unnamed player told Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor that it’s “night and day” when comparing Bickerstaff and Beilein. They also said Beilein “didn’t know how to talk to people.”
The combination of Bickerstaff’s experience and the Cavs’ play of late has resulted in the organization’s first sign of possible success without LeBron James. It will still be a while until the Cavaliers are contenders again, but the road does look a little shorter with Bickerstaff as the lead man.