There's nothing wrong with Cavs a new coach can't fix, Koby Altman says

May 24—The only thing that needs fixing to make the Cavaliers better is finding the right coach to replace fired J.B. Bickerstaff, according to the team's president of basketball operations.

Koby Altman held his season wrap-up news conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence on May 24. He dismissed perceived issues with Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell as a backcourt tandem as being "overblown." He said the same thing about 7-footers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley being paired together.

Since the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Celtics on May 15 in the fifth game of the Eastern Conference semifinals, speculation that Garland will be traded if Mitchell signs a four-year, $208 million contract extension has been rampant. Allen has also been linked to numerous trade rumors. Allen missed the last eight games of the playoffs with what Altman revealed was a broken rib.

"I don't see why we should (break up the pairing of Mitchell and Garland)," Altman said. "There's way more data that speaks to it works than it doesn't. Over the last two years, including the playoffs, they're a net positive plus five together on the floor. They have a great relationship on and off the court.

"Everyone wants to throw out the first year (2022-23) together when Darius actually had one of the best years of his career. He wasn't an All-Star, but he actually had more efficiency and that was with Donovan."

This is the first time since John Beilein was hired in 2019 that the Cavs are conducting a coaching search. That was at a phase when the Cavs were embarking on a major rebuild after LeBron James left through free agency to sign with the Lakers. Bickerstaff, an assistant under Beilein, took over halfway through Beilein's first season.

Koby Altman said the #Cavaliers need a coaching change because they need a fresh approach and a new set of eyes. He doesn't want the team to get "complacent." J.B. Bickerstaff was fired Thursday.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) May 24, 2024

Whoever is hired will be coaching a team that is playoff-ready. Altman is expected to hire someone with previous head coaching experience, which means hiring a coach who has been fired. Altman basically said Bickerstaff had reached his limitations as a head coach. Now it's time to find one that could get more from the same players.

"It's a massive undertaking," Altman said. "First of all, when you had a person, a man as good as J.B. to get to the conclusion of, 'OK, we need to go in a different direction,' that search five years ago is completely different than this one. It's not something that he did specifically. I think for us it's with this group, finding someone with a new approach, someone with a different voice, a fresh set of eyes to help us move forward."

Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, former head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and James Borrego, former Charlotte Hornets head coach and now the assistant head coach of the Pelicans, have been named as candidates to replace Bickerstaff. But Altman said "It's not true" that the Cavs already have a short list of candidates.

"We absolutely have to find the right leader," Altman said. "There's pressure in everything we do, so I get the importance of this. This is a very highly specific job requirement. In terms of the questions we're going to ask, very, very specific to the talent level, very specific to how we can achieve even more than we have. And obviously, some characteristics that we talk about from a cultural standpoint, but there'll be very highly specific questions that I think I'll have."

Altman cited the Warriors, Bucks, Nuggets and Celtics as teams whose core players were together for an extended period before achieving success. He is using those examples to say it would be a mistake to break up the core four of Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Allen after just two seasons together.

"I don't see any big major sweeping changes — I just don't," Altman said. "Like I said, more data speaks to this works than it doesn't. You can't win 99 games over (two) regular seasons, make it to the conference semis and be like, 'This doesn't work.' Again, this just being year two of this iteration of this core being together, I have a lot of excitement for the future for this group and belief in this group.

"The other piece that the outside doesn't see is you meet with every player and they have a really strong belief in the core of the group. Their fellow teammates, they think they can win here. There's a lot of camaraderie and belief.

"They like each other, and so it's hard for me to glean anything other than 'How do we pour more into the group that we have?' Sure, there's some moves you can make around the periphery, but what are the levers we can pull? What can we tighten up? Where's our upside? Where's the low-hanging fruit in-house to elevate this thing?"

Altman said he hopes to have a head coach hired before the NBA draft of June 26-27.