John Beilein’s jump to the NBA is not going well.
Cavaliers players are already unhappy with their new coach only 20 games into the 2019-20 NBA season, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon. The Cavs are reportedly upset with Beilein because he continues to operate as though Cleveland is a college program, not an NBA team. Players have even looked to lead assistant J.B. Bickerstaff rather than Beilein.
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“Guys drowned out [Beilein’s] voice, and when guys start searching for the next in line for help, I believe you’ve lost them,” one Cavs player told The Athletic.
Cleveland has lost 10 of its last 11 games after starting the year 4-5 and dropped down to 13th in the East ahead of only the lowly Hawks and Knicks. The Cavs most recently suffered a rough 127-94 loss at the hands of the Pistons, but it seems the frustrations began well before that defeat.
Veterans and younger players, from all corners of the roster, are frustrated with what they see as the pitfalls of a college environment Beilein brought with him. When the Cavs were 4-5, players viewed some of these things as quirks of a coach with a different approach.
Now, they consider them grating. Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players. Some of that comes with this being his first year in the league.
Beilein left the University of Michigan in May to sign a five-year deal with the Cavaliers, giving him the opportunity to lead an NBA team after a successful collegiate run that spanned three decades. Cleveland is in the midst of a rebuild, so the results under Beilein should come as no surprise. The Cavs are a bottom-five team in both offensive and defensive efficiency through the first quarter of the season.
One Cavs player recognized Beilein’s limitations with the roster, telling The Athletic, “Coaching can’t fix 20- and 30-point blowouts.”
Aside from the main complaints, players also “roll their eyes” at Beilein’s terminology. He uses names of wild animals, including “polar bear” for a curl play, according to Charania and Vardon. The terms alone likely wouldn’t anger players, but in this situation, it’s something players are throwing on top of a bigger pile.
Obviously this isn’t great news for Beilein, but it’s far too early to put him on the hot seat or deem him a poor NBA coach. Again, no one expected these Cavs to be good roughly 100 games removed from LeBron James’ second departure in free agency.
Sure, Beilein could tweak his approach and understand certain strategies he used in college may not connect with professional players. However, the guys on this roster — whether it’s veterans like Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson or youngsters like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — can’t quit on Beilein. That contract just started, and Cavs general manager Koby Altman isn’t going to make a dramatic change simply because it’s weird to hear the words “polar bear” coming from the bench.