Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Cavaliers fire coach J.B. Bickerstaff after consecutive playoff runs over five years in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Thursday, the team announced. Bickerstaff had a 170-159 regular-season record as Cleveland’s head coach across parts of five seasons. The Cavaliers reached the playoffs in the last two of those seasons, but even as they competed for a top seed in the Eastern Conference this season, there was reportedly tension underneath the surface.

“J.B. is a well-respected NBA coach and an incredible human being,” Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said in a statement. “Over the past four years, he helped establish a culture that progressively drove players to become the best versions of themselves. Decisions like these are never easy, particularly when you look back at where this franchise rebuild started under his leadership.”

Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and Pelicans associate James Borrego are expected to be among the candidates for the job, according to Shams Charania of the Athletic.

In a report released after Cleveland’s season-ending loss to the Boston Celtics, The Athletic’s Charania, Joe Vardon and Jason Lloyd detailed several incidents that hinted at Bickerstaff’s hot seat. After a December game against the Houston Rockets, Altman reportedly criticized Bickerstaff in front of his entire staff for playing star guard Donovan Mitchell too many minutes. Players were also reportedly frustrated with the offense and the lack of structure in practices and shootarounds.

Bickerstaff’s teams had also developed a habit of underwhelming late in seasons. Over the past three seasons, the Cavaliers have gone 30-33 in games played after March 1 of that year. Those declines tended to follow Cleveland into the postseason. The 2022 team failed to reach the playoffs despite having two chances to get in through the Play-In Tournament. In 2023, they lost to the New York Knicks in the first round despite having a home-court advantage and playing against an injured Julius Randle

This postseason, they very nearly lost in the first round again with home-court advantage, this time to the Orlando Magic. They ultimately won that series in seven games thanks to Mitchell’s heroics before bowing out in the second round against the Boston Celtics. Mitchell, according to The Athletic, “did not have great confidence in Bickerstaff.”

Mitchell’s future is likely informing every decision Cleveland makes this offseason. He is eligible for a contract extension this offseason, and if he does not sign it, he will become a free agent next summer. Should he inform the Cavaliers that he does not plan to extend, Cleveland would have to explore trade scenarios for fear of risking losing him for nothing. Even if Mitchell stays, Cleveland would still need to explore possible moves involving Darius Garland, its other small, offensively-oriented guard, and Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, as Cleveland’s offense only really worked this season with one big man on the floor.

It is going to be an offseason of change for the Cavaliers. This is just the first of what will surely be several moves Cleveland makes as it attempts to recover from yet another playoff disappointment. 

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