J.B. Bickerstaff surprised by Beilein departure, ready to lead young Cavs

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92.3 The Fan
INDEPENDENCE, OH — J.B. Bickerstaff went through his first practice as head coach of the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

The 40-year-old will try to stabilize a position that has been a revolving door in Cleveland.

“Guys are energized. They're refreshed,” Bickerstaff said after practice. “They’ve had some time away so we can come in here with a clear mind and try to put a focus on these last 28 (games). There’s still a lot for us to be had in these last 28 games. There’s individual growth. There’s team growth. There’s the ability to lay the foundation of what we think we can look like moving forward.”

Bickerstaff becomes the Cavaliers fourth head coach since Oct. 2018. They hoped Beilein would bring stability to the organization, but his tenure ended after just 54 games. Bickerstaff was surprised by Beilein’s decision.

“No,” he said without hesitation. “It’s been pretty clear what the plan was, but never this fast did I expect it to happen.”

Bickerstaff takes over as the full-time head coach. He doesn’t have an interim tag. The Cavaliers hoped Beilein would be able to build a foundation over the next few seasons, before handing the job to Bickerstaff. The Cavs were forced to put their succession plan into action much faster than anyone expected.

Bickerstaff has plenty of NBA experience that includes head coaching jobs with Houston and Memphis. He posted an 85-131 combined record with the Rockets and Grizzlies over three seasons.

He’s been an NBA coach since 2004, spending time as an assistant with Charlotte, Minnesota and Houston. He was on the staff that drafted Kevin Love in Minnesota and has a quality relationship with the 5-time All-Star.

Bickerstaff is familiar with replacing a coach during the season. He replaced Kevin McHale in Houston on Nov. 2015. He finished the season with the Rockets, posting a 37-34 record and making the playoffs, before losing to the Warriors in the first round.

He also replaced David Fizdale in Memphis during the 2017 season. He impressed Grizzlies’ brass enough to shed his interim status, but was relieved of his duties before the end of the 2018-2019 season.

His previous experience should help prepare him for the next two months.

“This is not going to be a complete turnaround of what we’re doing offensively and defensively,” Bickerstaff said. “It’ll be small changes that we think can be helpful. When you spend as much time as we have to this point working on certain things, you just have to keep getting better at those things and then make small changes when you see fit.”

Bickerstaff was calm, cool and collected on Wednesday. He continued to work with rookie Kevin Porter Jr., which is something he’s done all season long. He’s doing what he can to get the most out of Porter, who the Cavaliers selected with the No. 30 pick last June.

New #Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff works with Kevin Porter Jr. after practice pic.twitter.com/t6TQ4ajc96

— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) February 19, 2020

Bickerstaff hopes to complete the mission that Beilein set out to accomplish when he was hired in May.

“Go after it,” Bickerstaff said, when asked about Beilein’s message to him. “He was confident in the group that we have and he had an idea of what he wanted it to look like when it was over with. He told us to go make it happen. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the future and how we get there and he was clear on that picture. Now it’s our job to go out and get that done.”