Cavs Have Reason To Believe In Coach, Father Says Of Son

Sam Amico

The Cleveland Cavaliers weren't on their way to the NBA championship -- or even playoffs -- but they were undoubtedly playing better under coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

At the time of the league's hiatus, the Cavs were 5-6 under Bickerstaff, who took over for John Beilein after the All-Star break.

Overall, the Cavs (19-46) seemed more connected, more cohesive on the court.

Bickerstaff grew up around pro basketball. His father, Bernie Bickerstaff, was a longtime coach and now serves as the Cavs' senior advisor. J.B.'s mother actually was hoping he'd go to medical school. But basketball was his passion.

"He was a great student, president of his class," Bernie Bickerstaff told

J.B. Bickerstaff's strength, it seems, has been getting the Cavs to buy what he's selling. In the NBA, that's half the battle. All coaches at this level are experts in the X's and O's. But if you can't convince your players to bring the X's and O's to life, you may as well be speaking to them in German.

"Building relationships -- even more so now than it used to be -- is really, really important," Bernie said. "Genuine relationships. Because NBA players can see through it if it's not. And to get people to buy in."

One GM once described coaching in the NBA as being similar to that of a foreman on an assembly line. The workers already know what they're supposed to do and how to do it. You just need to make sure they're staying motivated, working as a team and following the plan.

In the NBA, as in the real world, that can be a major challenge. You need the right personality and the right temperament. Then you have to hope you have the right people -- people who can adapt to your leadership style.

So far, that has been the case for the Cavs under J.B. Bickerstaff.

And let's face it, this is a team that has some major work ahead, whenever the offseason actually takes place. You don't compile a record of 19-46 and pretend everything is just fine and going as it should be.

Eventually, you need to start winning some games.

The Cavs have reasons for hope. Collin Sexton has emerged as one of the league's best young scorers. Kevin Love seems re-energized with the coaching change. Kevin Porter Jr. looks like a future star. And another lottery pick is on the way.

But none of that stuff really matters if you don't have the right man giving guidance in practice and on the sideline.

That is why J.B. Bickerstaff has given the Cavs lots of reasons to believe.

"I think the two biggest hallmarks for him are getting people to give max effort and his team being unselfish," Bernie told "Philosophically, I think those are the things he's very good at.

"And you can sleep at night when you get those two things. Sometimes, teams are just better than you. But you can sleep at night when your guys are committed and they're giving their best."

Sam Amico covers the NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers for Follow him @AmicoHoops.