On the heels of another blowout this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly sharing gripes about first-year head coach John Beilein and his collegiate coaching style.
The Athletic’s Joe Vardon and Shams Charania reported Friday that players are unhappy with being treated like they are still in college and with the terminology they deem to be below professional basketball.
Cavs take issue with college approach
Beilein, 66, was hired by the Cavaliers (5-15) in May to a five-year deal. He was a successful coach at every level of amateur basketball and took all four of the Division I teams he coached to the NCAA tournament, most recently Michigan. He was hired in part because the majority of the Cavs roster is between 19 and 24.
Every level of sport requires a different coaching style, and after that long at the collegiate level it’s clear it would take some time for Beilein to adjust. It seems it has taken too long and losing surely doesn’t help.
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.
Per the report, the grievances are from every demographic on the team and not just the older players or even younger players who might have expected a different style now that they aren’t amateurs.
Animal terminology not popular with Cavs
Even the terminology has been a sour point for some. Via The Athletic:
For instance, all of the team’s screens, cuts, and pivots are named after wild animals. A curl is a “polar bear” in Beilein’s system.
“You don’t go pro to do that kind of thing,” one league source said.
The “polar bear” isn’t working for the team, nor is much else. The Cavs are the NBA’s third-worst squad offensively, averaging 104.2 points per game and shooting a fifth-worst 44.6 percent. Their offensive and defensive ratings are both bottom five in the league.
Cavs reportedly turn to assistant coaches
The Cavs players are reportedly going to the assistants, specifically associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, to get coaching help, per The Athletic.
“Guys drowned out his voice, and when guys start searching for the next in line for help, I believe you’ve lost them,” one Cavs player said.
“The little things become big things, and sometimes very big things,” another player said.
“Our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA,” a third said.
Bickerstaff, 40, was an assistant coach for 12 years from 2004-16 before he served as the Houston Rockets coach for most of the 2015-16 season. He moved into the head coaching role with Memphis in 2017-18 after two seasons as the associate head coach, and he interviewed for the Cavs position. His father, Bernie, works as a senior adviser for Cavs general manager Koby Altman.
The other coaching assistants are Antonio Lang, Dan Geriot and Lindsay Gottlieb. Lang played for the Cavs in the mid-1990s and spent the past five years as an assistant with the Utah Jazz. Geriot has been with the Cavs in various positions since the 2015-16 championship season.
And Gottlieb is in her first season with the NBA following eight season’s as head coach of California. She took the Bears to the women’s NCAA tournament seven times and reached the Final Four in 2013, the school’s first trip.
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