I’ve watched several Cavs games over the past couple of weeks, and in almost every game I’ve watched I noticed that there was someone on the coaching staff of the opposing team that I recognized as a former player. There was Mark Price with the Bobcats, Patrick Ewing with the Magic and, of course, Jason Kidd of the Nets. I couldn’t help noticing that the Cavs have nobody on their coaching staff with NBA experience. I wondered how rare this is, so I checked and could not find another NBA team that does not have at least one former player on its coaching staff.
Is this a problem? I think it might be. There has been a season-long problem reaching certain players, convincing them that it is necessary to play hard every night and making them understand their assignments in various offensive and defensive schemes. There has been improvement since the acquisition of Luol Deng, but it should not have taken that long, and the fact that it did sabotaged the season.
What would have happened if there had been someone on the staff who actually knew what the players were feeling, who could have placed himself in their shoes and communicated with them on their terms? A coach who had actually experienced a back-to-back would have had more credibility when he told young players that they were capable of more than they were showing when they were going through the motions. He would have been able to use personal experience to demonstrate that the strategies being employed would work. He would have been able to relate and empathize with players who were going through slumps and injuries. He may even have been able to sit down with Kyrie and Dion and made them understand that they could make each other better if they stopped worrying about who got the most touches. It seems like there would be some value in having that experience available. It would be nice if everyone showed up in the NBA ready and eager to absorb all the information that coaches send his way, but that’s just not the way it works. Something tells me these guys would be more receptive if they were hearing this stuff from somebody they had seen on TV.
Now, I’m not implying that the coaches the Cavs have are bad coaches, nor am I saying that they don’t have the skills needed to overcome their lack of NBA experience. They have all played in college or at some level, so they are certainly not ignorant about what the players are going through. Shoot, Bernie Bickerstaff was coaching in the NBA almost before he Cavs even existed, so there’s no doubt that he understands what players are going through. But let’s face it; to the average 22-year old, the fact that Bernie Bickerstaff coached Wes Unseld doesn’t make him a legend, it just makes him old. Besides, knowing about basketball is not the same as knowing about the NBA. The travel and the pressure are on a level that must be experienced directly to be understood. A guy that has actually been there and done that couldn’t hurt. Twenty-nine other NBA teams must see some value in it.
Maybe it’s not that important. Maybe it all would have turned out the same either way. But the Cavs are likely to be one of the youngest teams in the NBA again next year, and the current environment hasn’t been all that conducive to achieving very much. Basic logic dictates that they should try something different. If they are going to carry five assistant coaches (how long until the coaches outnumber the players?), does it make sense for one of the changes to be an assistant with some playing experience? I say it’s worth a try.