The Cavs are in the midst of yet another losing season when not in the LeBron James-bubble. Since the 1997-1998 season, their last winning season before the James Era, the Cavs have not had a winning season without James being on the roster. That’s 12 qualifying years since the end of the 97-98 season and 12 times the Cavs have gone home after April. To sit here and say that after only 83 games (assuming he’s still the coach when the regular season ends), across two partial seasons, that we’ve seen enough to know if J.B. Bickerstaff is worth keeping around would be a lie.
We have no clue. Bickerstaff is trying to do something that hasn’t been done in three different decades (’00s, ’10s, ’20s), and that would be to take the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs with none of the players being named “LeBron James”.
It’s pretty obvious the Cavs are not a stable franchise, and part of the issue is they let players get away with acting arrogantly. Maybe that’s just the league nowadays, but that doesn’t mean the franchise has to capitulate to every low-level demand. Carlos Boozer, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, J.R. Smith, Kevin Porter Jr., and who knows who else have all done something to hinder this team. It’s been a recent pattern of making bad decisions with players and allowing them to behave unprofessionally with little consequence. As big of a Love fan as I am, his behavior during John Beilein’s employment was childish, he poisoned the team against his coach by all accounts. That’s extremely selfish behavior.
So to expect Bickerstaff to come in, with a historical revolving door of players calling the shots and failure to launch a playoff squad without James, and revive the team in a season and a game isn’t believable. It isn’t even possible.
Bickerstaff has shown that he is aware of his team’s shortcomings and he’s trying to make them work for him. Sure, he may be playing Isaac Okoro when everyone in the league knows he’s a liability but that might not be his call. That’s part of the big issue too, management, while the team is being built to play into a style that fits Bickerstaff’s “grit and grind”, Bickerstaff can only do so much with what he’s given.
GM Koby Altman needs to get him the players to make it work. To be fair, Jarrett Allen, Larry Nance, Okoro, and JaVale McGee were all names that fit into what Bickerstaff wanted to do this year, at least on paper. We’re not talking about execution, we’re simply stating that on paper, guys like Okoro work for Bickerstaff’s style.
The problem is half the team isn’t geared up for that style. Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, and so many others don’t really mesh with the physical defense Bickerstaff wants to really use. Until there’s an agreement on how to move forward, we’re only ever going to see Bickerstaff’s partial vision. That’s not fair for him.
It’s also the big reason why Bickerstaff should be retained, even if Altman isn’t.
With rumors that Dan Gilbert’s son, Grant, expected to take over the Cavs sometime in the near future, it makes sense that things would be reevaluated then. More than likely Altman is on burrowed time. The goal shouldn’t be to shift completely from the goal of the Grind and Grind Cavs, however, but to double down with a GM who can evaluate talent better.
Give Bickerstaff some time, he really has gotten the most out of a club that on paper shouldn’t have as many wins as they actually do.