J.B. Bickerstaff’s Seat Index: Piping Posterior
J.B. Bickerstaff has three full seasons under his belt as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers (he technically coached the final 11 games of the 2019-20 season as well). In year one the Cavs won 22 games, then 44, then 51. That’s a solid progression, and he oversaw the first playoff berth without LeBron James in 25 years.
Bickerstaff’s biggest strength as a head coach is building culture, fostering community among his players and giving them a team identity. To his credit, he has also leaned into some creative decisions, from the “Triple Towers” look two years ago to some clever offensive sets with Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.
Last season was a wild success during the regular season but a crushing disappointment in the postseason, with Cleveland losing to the New York Knicks in an embarrassing five-game fashion. None of Bickerstaff’s adjustments seemed to have an effect, and his decisions on how to deploy Jarrett Allen defensively left the team vulnerable on the glass in ways he could never solve.
The Cavs feel ready to win in the playoffs right now, and they are also feeling the pressure to prove to Donovan Mitchell that he can win in Cleveland. That puts Bickerstaff’s butt firmly on the hot seat, and it’s only going to get toastier. If the Cavs go out in a similar fashion to next season, not only Bickerstaff but one or more key players could be out the door.
Some NBA head coaches do an excellent job of setting the culture and then give way to a better strategist who can help them excel in the playoffs. Mark Jackson giving way to Steve Kerr in Golden State comes to mind. Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman will certainly have that history in mind as they keep a close eye on Bickerstaff’s performance this season.
There are a few head coaches whose bums are burning already to start the year; Bickerstaff’s success has bought him some time. By the time the playoffs roll around, however, it’s very likely that his buns are broiling. Cleveland needs to win at least a playoff series to get Bickerstaff off the Seat Index and back to a comfortable furniture situation.