Getting a new coach won’t fix the Cleveland Cavaliers’ problems

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images /

While the resignation of John Beilein may help the Cleveland Cavaliers in the short-term, the team’s problems were much more than an ill-fitting coach.

The John Beilein era ended quickly and ignominiously for the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, as the former Michigan coach resigned after coaching just 54 games for the struggling franchise. It was an awkward fit from the very beginning; hiring a 67-year-old coach with no NBA experience was a questionable move regardless of his success elsewhere.

Apart from the massive difference in playing styles between the two levels, there’s an equally large adjustment to be made in terms of how a coach must relate to their players. And if the adage about old dogs not being able to learn new tricks is true, at least in this case, it was equally true about an old coach. He was never able to win over his players, annoying them with didacticism as they confused him by not being as receptive to his methods as the college students he had coached at Michigan and West Virginia. I guess it’s easier to demand allegiance from players when their remaining on scholarship is in your hands.

Beilein’s resignation is likely to help the Cavaliers in the short-term. For anyone who watched the Cavs this season, it was evident that there was little cohesiveness on the team at any level. Even among the league’s other bad teams, they still stood out for the level of discord that was evident both on and off the court. Many nights, the most riveting part of any Cavs game was not the basketball itself, but seeing just how that turmoil would manifest itself.

The Cavaliers are in the second year of a rebuild following four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, a streak ended by LeBron James’ leaving for Los Angeles. The problem is they don’t seem to realize that they’re in the midst of a rebuild, or even really in need of one. Instead, they’re still being run by owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman as if they are just one move away from making another deep playoff run. The higher-ups in management seem to be the only people in the world who fail to realize how absurd this belief is.

It’s hard to have much faith in Cleveland getting things right. Koby Altman’s brief tenure as GM has not been great and the misguided hiring of Beilein is just the latest in a series of blunders by Altman. While the team did not have much leverage while trying to deal him, less than two years later, all it has to show for the deal is Collin Sexton.

After the Cavs lost LeBron James, Altman quickly extended Kevin Love’s contract in the hopes of giving the team a semblance of stability. However, now the two parties are stuck together in a union that neither appears eager to be a part of. There was also the recent trade for Andre Drummond, which gave the Cavaliers an All-Star caliber player at little cost, but does not seem to help the team in any real way. Does Altman expect to be able to flip Drummond for assets after the Cavs were able to acquire him for so little? Or does he think that, with Drummond in the fold, they have come closer to becoming a playoff contender next season? Both hopes would appear to be misplaced, which makes figuring out Cleveland’s motivations in making the deal a hopeless endeavor.

When LeBron left town for the first time in 2010, the Cavaliers were unable to make the playoffs in four seasons without him and did not look poised to make a return trip anytime soon if not for his return. While it was under different front office leadership, Cleveland hurt itself with a number of bad personnel decisions, most notably drafting Dion Waiters at fourth overall in 2012 and Anthony Bennett with the first pick in 2013. Things would be very different for the team now if it had taken, say, Damian Lillard and Victor Oladipo instead, both of whom went soon after the players Cleveland drafted. Similarly, the Cavs took Collin Sexton with the eighth pick last year and already it seems evident they would’ve been better off going with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who went a few picks later. For a rebuilding team unlikely to attract desirable free agents, being able to draft well is imperative. The Cavaliers have struggled to do so for quite a while.

Sexton puts up impressive enough scoring numbers on a decent field goal percentage, but it’s still not clear whether or not he’s actually, well, good at basketball. If you’ve heard analysts talk about Sexton, the things they tend to praise — his grit, ferocity and competitive intensity — don’t actually have anything to do with his ability. He is one of the worst passing guards in the NBA, averaging just 2.7 assists to his 2.2 turnovers per game, and has yet to showcase that he has the ability to successfully run an NBA offense. Cavaliers fans understandably want to believe that Sexton is a young player the team can build around, but as of now, it appears such beliefs are misplaced.

J.B. Bickerstaff will be taking over for the rest of the season, making him the team’s seventh head coach over the last eight seasons. This is an astonishing rate of turnover for any franchise, but it’s made even more unbelievable by the fact that, in the midst of all this, the team made four Finals runs and won a championship. You would think that would have been enough to halt the madness, at least temporarily, but it was not. It is more likely that it is an institutional problem than the fault of any individual coach. Unreasonable expectations during both good and bad seasons combined with an eternal lack of patience have gotten the Cavaliers into this situation, and considering how their most recent moves are characterized by those same tendencies, it is not likely that the team’s fortunes will improve anytime soon.

Next. 5 long-term head coaching options for the Cavaliers. dark