Fireable Offense: Cavs making a big mistake keeping J.B. Bickerstaff

J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2022-23 season ended abruptly with a first-round playoff knockout by the New York Knicks last week. It was a surprise to many that Cleveland got beat up and lost the series 4-1. Much of the discussion since then has been about how the Cavaliers were outcoached, out-hustled, and physically and mentally pushed around. After the series ended, the Cavs front office and their President of Basketball Operations, Koby Altman, came out and said that he was supportive of the team’s head coach,J.B. Bickerstaff, and that he and the organization are backing him moving forward.

There has been some pressure building up and conversation around Bickerstaff’s ability to coach this team and some of his deficiencies that I have also pointed out at length in the recent past. While Altman is the boss and has the final say, the opinion that Bickerstaff is the right guy for the job with this young Wine and Gold squad is very underwhelming and disappointing when considering this team’s future. We’ll have to see what plays out, but for the near future, Bickerstaff is not going anywhere, per Altman.

The Cavs are making a big mistake in keeping, let alone backing, Bickerstaff as their head coach.

I have been very critical of the coach throughout this season because I don’t feel that he has what it takes to clearly take this team to the next level. While some in the local media and fans alike want to focus on the fact that this team has improved record-wise, it cannot be overlooked that when the pressure is the greatest, this team has failed over and over again.

A quick NBA history lesson on a different team and one that has won multiple championships in the last decade can be a great example of why a change at head coach is often necessary. Look no further than the Golden State Warriors, who are currently involved in a heated series against the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to reach another Western Conference Finals. The Warriors have won multiple NBA Championships since 2015. Part of their success has to do with their current head coach, Steve Kerr, the former Cavalier player at one time. He actually took over for a successful coach that you might be familiar with because you see him on TV all the time now as a NBA commentator and that’s Mark Jackson.

Jackson coached the Golden State Warriors for three seasons from 2011 through 2014. He built some success, and many people were rooting for him to take his team beyond what they had already accomplished in his final season there in 2014. His team had a record of 51-31. That’s the same record that the Cavaliers had this past season. In the previous season of 2013, the Warriors were rising, and Jackson took them to the playoffs the first time. The team won a playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, but then lost the second-round matchup to the San Antonio Spurs.

Thus, there was a lot of excitement when that 2014 season started for Golden State and the team improved, and yet they lost in a seven-game first-round series to the Los Angeles Clippers (now branded as the LA Clippers). Soon after Jackson was gone and the team brought in Kerr and since that point, the Warriors have been unstoppable. Even the “King” LeBron James couldn’t stop them most seasons.

As a Cavs fan, we all remember 2016 in the magic of that postseason, but the Warriors have been successful for a decade in large part due to the coaching change,

While we can all be happy that the Cavs are improving, the eye test and for that matter the gut test does not lie. Those that want to continue to support Bickerstaff, and his coaching with the Cavs are mistaken. While I’m sure Bickerstaff has many good coaching skills, he can’t take this current Cleveland team much further.

The sooner that the Cavaliers organization recognizes this, the better the Wine and Gold’s future will be. Right now, you have young players like Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen, along with their leader in Donovan Mitchell playing well. Unfortunately, they don’t have a head coach that can take them much further.

Some here will point to the poor play of the bench and suggest that Bickerstaff didn’t have any choice because his players there were terrible. I’ve said many times before that that’s just a terrible excuse and not correct. These players on the bench are NBA talented and they can play the game of basketball. The rotations of his players and the way that Bickerstaff used these players including his starters, of whom many times he ran into the ground this season, hurt this team overall and resulted in a very early exit from the playoffs.

If you count the Play-In games a year ago plus this latest series against the Knicks, the Cavaliers and Bickerstaff went 1-6. When the pressure is on the most that’s just not on the players to perform well, but it’s also on the head coach.

It sounds like Bickerstaff is safe going in the next season and that’s unfortunate because the Cavaliers probably won’t be going much further than they already have gone to this point. The team will likely look to build a better group of bench players and maybe bring in a fifth starter through free agency or trade. I just don’t think any change will make as big of an impact as changing coaches. The Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson switch made a difference for the Warriors. Koby Altman, why are you afraid of trying a switch at coach with this team?

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Sure, it’s not a certainty that Nick Nurse or perhaps Kenny Atkinson, currently a Golden State assistant coach, among others, could be attainable, and Ime Udoka is off the market. But Cleveland backing Bickerstaff is clearly the wrong move, and the Cavs are in the wrong in believing they’re going further in the near future with him at the helm.