When the Cavaliers hired John Beilein to be their next head coach, it was embraced by some, but questioned by many in the basketball world. Why would they hire a 66-year-old college coach to lead a rebuilding NBA franchise?
Beilein was a proven basketball mind. He turned West Virginia and Michigan into top-20 basketball programs. He took to Wolverines to the National Championship game twice in 12 seasons.
Would Beilein work in the NBA? Will his program and philosophy be embraced at the next level?
Those questions can’t be answered yet. The Cavaliers enter Friday’s game against the Magic with a 5-15 record. They’ve lost four straight and 10 of their last 11 games.
No one went on the record with their comments, but the report indicates that multiple players on the roster are bothered with Beilein’s college style.
"Veterans and younger players, from all corners of the roster, are frustrated with what they see as the pitfalls of a college environment Beilein brought with him," the report said. "When the Cavs were 4-5, players viewed some of these things as quirks of a coach with a different approach."
Not one player in the locker room would go on record saying those things about Beilein and his coaching style. While young players could be frustrated with the Cavs’ recent struggles, it’s hard to imagine Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr., Collin Sexton or Cedi Osman questioning Beilein’s coaching style. Garland and Porter are just 20 games into their NBA career. Sexton dealt with plenty of adversity as a rookie and Osman just signed a team-friendly contract extension with the Cavs in October. Those young players are looking for stability and guidance. Beilein brings both of those qualities to the table.
This is about the veterans. Kevin Love has to buy into Beilein’s system. If he doesn’t then the Cavs have no choice but to trade him. Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova, Brandon Knight and John Henson are in the last year of their contracts. If they aren’t buying into the new culture, then the Cavs need to send them elsewhere.
General manager Koby Altman shouldn’t take this report lightly. There are players in that locker room that aren’t buying into Beilein’s system. The Cavs can't let negative energy poison Garland, Sexton, Nance or any of the other young players on the roster. A stable foundation begins with the youngsters.
“I really feel that we have a lot of attention from the players,” Beilein said on Friday. “Everybody’s learning, we all have different learning styles, we’re trying to do that. What’s the best way to grow a team when you have 19-year-olds and you also have 31-year-olds? It’s all not going to be the same, so we’re trying to do that.”
The Cavs might not have a choice. If Love isn’t buying in, then the organization should trade him. Beilein is a bigger part of the future than an injury prone All-Star that is past his prime. Love can play at a high level, but keeping him isn’t worth it if he’s going to be a problem in the locker room.
If Beilein is going to be successful, then the entire organization has to be on the same page. He’s trying to build a winning culture, which is much easier said than done. The Cavaliers revolved around LeBron James for so long, that he became their culture. Beilein hopes to build something sustainable in Cleveland. The only way he can do that is if everyone is on the same page — including Altman and owner Dan Gilbert.
Beilein wasn’t frustrated when asked about the report. He knows life in the NBA is different.
“We’ve got guys with contracts on the line right now,” Beilein said. “They’re feeding their families. It’s passionate, so I understand all that, but our job is what is the best way for us to continue to improve this team so that we continue to grow and it sets a foundation for the future."
Beilein is focused on the development of his team. If they have to spend more time on the fundamentals so Garland doesn’t travel as much or Sexton sees the court better, than they need to do it.
Altman needs to trade the veterans that aren’t buying in to Beilein’s philosophy. His approach has changed a lot from his Michigan days. He doesn’t hesitate to defer to one of his assistants when necessary.
A report like the one published in The Athletic shouldn’t give the Cavaliers pause. It should encourage them to double down on Beilein and the culture he’s building in Cleveland. If Altman and Gilbert continue to support him, then they’ll turn the organization around together. They’ll build a foundation that can be sustainable in today’s NBA.
“I have made huge changes in everything,” Beilein said. “Our typical practice the day before a game would be two hours and 10 minutes, now it might be 60 or 70 minutes.”
Beilein has changed the language and terminology he uses to fit the NBA, but he knows this team has to work hard if they’re going to be successful.
“We were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year. What do we do, practice less? We have to do that and we’ve got to continue to work at it,” Beilein said. “I have a lot of confidence the guys in the locker room are on board, and they’ve told me that. So we’ve just got to keep pushing through.”
Altman and Gilbert can’t hold onto veterans if they’re going to be a problem in the locker room — including Love, Clarkson and Thompson. If they have an issue with Beilein, then they can take their beef to another city.
Beilein’s system might not work in the NBA. He may fail, but a few disgruntled veterans can’t be the reason his system doesn’t work in the pros.
It’s up to the Cavaliers organization to support him during this rebuild to ensure he gets a real chance to succeed.