Cavaliers coach John Beilein can help players develop, equipping them to win and secure bigger contracts. He also came to Cleveland after a lengthy career in college basketball, where he was always in charge and never had a player on a clear NBA track from the moment he enrolled.
The question was always: Which would happen first – Beilein convincing the Cavs players he’d help them or them pouncing amid his lack of experience with players who carried themselves as professionals?
Just 20 games into his Cavaliers tenure, Beilein appears to be losing the battle.
Joe Vardon and Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Cavaliers players are bristling at new coach John Beilein because he’s treating this season like they, and he, are still in college, numerous sources told The Athletic.
It’s already gotten to the point where players are looking past Beilein to his lead assistant, J.B. Bickerstaff, for guidance, those sources said.
Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players
The article quotes multiple unnamed players. The most damning: “Our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA.”
Cleveland has lost 10 of 11. Losing almost certainly contributes to the frustration. But it goes both ways. Issues with Beilein almost certainly contribute to the losing.
The problems aren’t disappearing soon. The Cavs have a bad roster and must figure this out while likely continuing to struggle in games.
Beilein is not good at quickly getting new teams up to speed. His worst seasons, by far, at Canisius, West Virginia and Michigan were his first seasons. All three programs blossomed from there, surely drawing on the lessons Beilein imparted those first years.
But Beilein never had to deal with NBA players who are more empowered to gripe. College seasons are also much shorter. Harping on the fundamentals over a long NBA season will be exhausting for everyone involved.
This was a complication of hiring Bickerstaff as lead assistant. He previously served as head coach of the Rockets and Grizzlies, bringing valuable understanding of the NBA. The problem: Players know that. They can turn to Bickerstaff, undermining Beilein’s authority.
We’ve seen this before in Cleveland. Cavs players scoffed at David Blatt, an NBA newcomer from Europe. Soon enough, lead assistant Tyronn Lue – who played in the NBA and had extensive experience as an NBA assistant – became head coach.
Without the pressure of trying to win immediately with LeBron James, Beilein has a better chance of weathering this storm. But for all his experience, this is a brand-new challenge.