Anybody that has watched NBA basketball for a long time knows the Bickerstaff name. Bernie Bickerstaff, J.B. Bickerstaff’s father, was a long-time NBA coach for the Washington Bullets, Seattle Supersonics, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets and also the Cleveland Cavaliers. Needless to say, J.B. has basketball coaching in his blood.
J.B. Bickerstaff's coaching journey
Just like his dad, J.B. was a longtime assistant coach before he got his first head coaching chance in 2015-16 with the Houston Rockets. He took charge of Houston after they fired Kevin McHale early in the season, lost in the first round, and was unfortunately let go by the Rockets. J.B. got his next chance with the Mike Conley and Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies after they fired David Fizdale in the ‘17-’18 season. But after a 33-win season, Bickerstaff was let go by the Grizzlies. (I’m starting to sense a trend).
Once again, Bickerstaff took over midway through a season when the Cavaliers let go of John Beilein in the ‘19-’20 season. Since his first full season, J.B. has improved regular season wins each and every season culminating in a 51-win season last year and a return to the playoffs for Cleveland. Let’s not forget that Bickerstaff is the first coach to lead the a Non-LeBron James Cavs team to the playoffs since 1998. Let that sink in.
More than just coaching
Coaching nowadays is more than just knowing the game. As Bickerstaff has said himself, its about motivating people. And having people buy in and sacrifice for the common goal. By all accounts, J.B. seems to be the perfect balance of knowing the game and managing people. In that same article by reporter Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, Donovan Mitchell says that Bickerstaff preaches “accountability.”
And the thing about accountability is not only are the players held accountable, but also the coaching staff.
Fast forward to today, the calls for accountability seem to be getting louder with the Wine and Gold's inconsistencies. Now, the Cavs Twitter mob that is calling for J.B. to be fired does not fully represent the whole fan base. But this topic is starting to be discussed on other platforms as rumors have seemingly been out there about Bickerstaff's seat potentially starting to get hotter.
Now let's be sensible, Bickerstaff is not above criticism. The Cavaliers seem were the #4 seed in last season’s playoffs. They hosted the Knicks and they cracked 100 points only once in the series (their only victory as well). This playoff hangover is seemingly carrying over into this regular season because the team is lacking a sense of urgency.
The playoff hangover is seemingly affecting Bickstaff as well. In the first 20 games, he is still figuring out his bench rotation. Heavy minutes for the starters have led to games where the guys look gassed by the 4th quarter (see Blazer game). All of these points are valid points for criticism, but not fireable offenses.
Back in October 2021, right before his first full season in charge, Bickerstaff sought to establish a culture. Details, Toughness, Together, Compete & 1 More are the 5 guiding principles of J.B.’s Cavs. These principles were crafted and molded throughout his time with previous mentors and his father Bernie. J.B. is known for being an effective communicator and teacher and this is needed for a young team. Bickerstaff is also loyal to the players who have gotten the job done for him in the past. He is not afraid to play Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley for big minutes when analytics suggest playing one big man and pairing him with 4 shooters. Going forward, it seems that the Cavaliers have to get back to those 5 guiding principles.
One point that I agree with is that good organizations stand by their coaches. To me, it does not bode well if they don't back him. If J.B. is their guy, they need to back him and let him continue to develop the culture of the club. This period for the Cleveland Cavaliers feels like the growing pains of a young roster with new additions from the offseason. Progress in the NBA is not linear; sometimes to take a step forward in this league, you might take a couple of steps back.
We are a quarter into the season so far, there are many more games to show what the Cavs are made of. Let’s re-evaluate after 40 games and see where they stand.
Personally, I believe J.B. Bickerstaff has a lot more to give.