With the hiring of John Beilein there was always going to be some growing pains. As with any first-time head coach in the NBA, there is an adjustment period and moments of tension. As the preseason comes to a close, we are seeing the first real signs of that.
Beilein is, of course, far from your typical first-time head coach. The 66 year old lost 56 games over his last five seasons at Michigan, a figure that could certainly be surpassed this season. Learning how to manage losing, how to allocate practice time, and how to deal with professional athletes vs. collegiate athletes will take time.
As Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported, Beilein was frustrated after the Cavs blowout loss in their final preseason game against the Boston Celtics. While it is the preseason, the loss was still a bad one as the Celtics left all of their best talent at home. For a team coming off a historically bad defensive season, there really are no signs that things are trending in the right direction.
In Fedor’s report, Beilein expressed how daunting the task ahead of him is when asked what the team will work on when they reconvene at practice Thursday:
“I think almost everything right now,” he said. “We were doing a lot of skill development and we still have to do some of that, but there’s so many things in the NBA. To guard defensively. Our timing. We’re trying to change like on the run because we’re realizing some of the things we’re doing, people aren’t adapting to it quick enough, so we have to change a little bit.”
“It’s like you put a puzzle together in practice and you go to the game and you put pieces back in the box and now you’ve got to try and do it over again,” Beilein said. “It’s not easy and we’ve just got to press on and try and grow from it.”
Another point of frustration that was mentioned was the availability of players. Darius Garland has missed time, Tristan Thompson was rested the last two games, Ante Zizic and John Henson haven’t been available. All of these factors do the team no favors as they look to develop chemistry.
But this is an area that Beilein will need to learn how to manage. There are more games in the NBA compared to college and sometimes rest is a necessity. It’s easy to play through pain when you have a week off, but that’s almost never the case in the NBA.
With where the Cavs are this season, players sitting is likely going to be a common occurrence. The team is trying to figure out what they have in their young players and develop good habits, not contend for a title. If a player is banged up, the team will likely exercise caution instead of risking them aggravating that injury and missing an extended period of time.
Beilein having these concerns isn’t necessarily surprising, but how he manages and expresses them is worth monitoring. While working on the fundamentals is nice, from a time-management standpoint there might be bigger fish to fry as the regular season approaches.
No matter how good you are as a coach or how brilliant your basketball mind is, relationship management and getting players to buy-in still must be a priority. There are no signs currently that the team is rejecting his message. But getting hung up on things that are just a reality of NBA life is the sort of thing that could cause unnecessary noise in the locker room.
The Cavs do have some veteran assistants on the staff and I’m sure figuring out this process is a collaborative effort. But this is the first bump in the road and something to keep an eye on as the team moves forward.