Cavaliers' turnaround continues under J.B. Bickerstaff's drama-free approach
With fewer than 10 games left in the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers already surpassed last season’s 44 total wins. They're currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and have their sights set on home-court advantage in the playoffs. Ideastream Public Media commentator Terry Pluto says it’s a huge turnaround.
“When you really put in perspective how far they've come in just a couple of years, without having traded for a LeBron James or somebody else that makes an instant difference, this doesn't happen that often.”
The last time a Cavs team made the playoffs without LeBron James was the ’97-’98 season.
“They've done it primarily through trades and the draft. You know, the trades, the big one was for Donovan Mitchell. But I would argue nearly as important was a trade they made in 2020 for center Jarrett Allen," said Pluto. "Then they turned around, they drafted Evan Mobley [and] Darius Garland. Neither one were a number one pick. And you have a coach that looks like he knows what he's doing, that is not fighting with the front office. He's not fighting with the star. The Cavs have just had gone through so many coaches.”
J.B. Bickerstaff took over head coaching duties after John Beilein resigned in February, 2020.
“Until he arrived, after LeBron left, it was a bunch of young guys running around, taking shots, padding their stats, losing games [and] waiting for the lottery to come around. Then let's do it again," Pluto said.
Bickerstaff, he said, has the team focusing on defense.
“He took a team that was ranked last defensively, and within three years he's had them to now in the top three. And with young guys, it's not easy to sell," he said. "You have to just have the same message over and over again because you talk about being unselfish.”
Pluto believes that this Cavs team is largely underrated by the fans.
“There's this expectation, a longing for the title, like, 'Let’s win one win without LeBron.' And believe me, I can tell you, Dan Gilbert, the owner, Koby Altman, the president, and Mike Gansey, the general manager, they certainly want to put their stamp on a franchise without LeBron," Pluto said. "Nonetheless, it just takes time. When you're looking at the Cavs' starting lineup, they're 26 years old and younger. The NBA tends to punish younger teams.”
Pluto said most of the current lineup will be with the team for several more seasons.
“I think people are missing the point, that whether they win around in the playoffs or go to the Final Four, whatever it is, you’re really starting your journey of having an exciting, a contending NBA team,” he said.
They're just fun to watch, Pluto said.
“The Cavs are entertaining. They really don't have any drama. You know, you look around the rest of the NBA, you know, guys wake up one morning and they want to be traded. You know, other guys just disappear from their teams," Pluto said. "You don't have any of that garbage going on here. And it's a team that I think Cavaliers fans, a reason the attendance started to grow so big a year ago, they were embracing this.”