Dribbles: Without a Doubt, Cavs' Beilein has Players' Eyes, Ears and Admiration
Random dribbles following the Cavaliers' 113-100 road win over the Washington Wizards on Friday.
1. John Beilein may be the best coach the younger generation of Cavs fans has seen. Yes, I know it's only eight games. Yes, I realize the Cavs are 3-5. Yes, I know the Wizards stink.
2. But in the NBA, the key is not only your philosophy and schemes, but how well you can sell. Because if you can't connect with your players, then you usually don't have a chance. Just ask David Blatt -- a good coach who couldn't get his message across with the LeBron James-led Cavs.
3. On the other hand, Beilein has the respect and admiration of Tristan Thompson (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Kevin Love (16 points, 12 boards). When you're a head coach in the NBA, you need that type of strong support from your best players. Again, just ask Blatt.
4. After all, if your veterans buy in, they will convince the other guys to do the same, sometimes forcibly so.
5. Beilein's strength is his people skills. He's not someone who is going to confuse or anger the players by, say, playing them 37 minutes one night, then four minutes the next. If Beilein ever did do that, the player would already know why. Beilein was a master at avoiding disarray with his college programs and has brought that stability to the Cavs.
6. For instance, Beilein approached guard Brandon Knight at the start of the season and told Knight, in so many words, he was the odd veteran out in the rotation. But Beilein had that conversation tactfully, letting Knight know he was still an important part of things. When Matthew Dellavedova missed a couple games for the birth of his son, Knight stepped in and did an admirable job. It always helps when a player in that situation trusts his coach and is emotionally prepared.
7. Again, Beilein is direct, and not always when you want to hear it. He comes across in the media as everyone's favorite uncle, but he will be firm when necessary. He set the tone at the end of a practice before the season, when the players huddled around him at center court. Beilein started to talk ... then had to pause and send a strong reminder. "Hey. When coach is talking, everyone else shuts the hell up," he said.
8. No one complained. No one rolled their eyes. Everyone just immediately did what he said. That's what is called having command of your team, and having players who want to play for you.
9. None of this is intended to label Beilein as the next Phil Jackson. But hey, for all the coaching frustrations in Cleveland lately, and even with this very organization, Beilein is off to a very nice start. It's good to see a team that is organized and playing hard and, some might say, a team that is overachieving.
10. Now, we all know this is the easy part. The Cavs have yet to be hit by any serious injuries. The trade rumors have yet to really heat up. And with five expiring contracts, they will undoubtedly be at the center of plenty of them. Contracts, trades, team discord at this level ... all are things Beilein never experienced during his three-plus decades in the college game.
11. Granted, most of that stuff is handled by general manager Koby Altman. But Beilein will have to navigate through it at some point. The old coach's line of, "I just coach the players I have," sounds good in theory. But in the NBA, it's never that simple.
12. As for the game itself, the Cavs were thrilled to see Darius Garland finally play with the confidence he displayed during his amateur career. They are giving Garland (15 points) and Kevin Porter Jr. (13) space to mess up. The same still holds true of Collin Sexton (16 points) and Cedi Osman (11). Beilein would rather a young player make a mistake and learn from it than hang out in the shadows and not assert himself. The latter was sort of Garland through the first seven games.
13. There has been a lot of talk that the Cavs will deal Thompson this season, simply because his contract is one of the expiring ones -- and he indeed would be an excellent fit for any contender. But don't be surprised if the Cavs keep him. He is fine with staying and being loyal to the team that drafted him, and the Cavs love having him around. If Thompson is still in Cleveland after the trade deadline, that's a sign both sides are more than open to negotiating a new deal.
14. Translation: This may not be Thompson's last season with the Cavs, after all.
15. Finally, we are still having the same conversation about Love this season as we had during the LeBron era. Namely, he attempted just six shots against the Wizards and that's not nearly enough. Part of that is on the young guards, who are learning the balance of being aggressive and knowing when to just ... stop ... dribbling. It is up to them to get Love the ball. But it is also sometimes up to Love to put himself in position to demand it.
16. On the bright side for the Cavs, Love didn't get the ball enough and they still won. But that's not something that is likely to become a trend.
17. For more on the game, check out my post: Cavs Show Resiliency in Fending Off Wizards for Road Win.
18. By the way, to see the box score from every game, make sure to visit the Community Page on SI.com/Cavaliers. I post links to all of them there after the game.
19. Next up: The Cavs stay on the road to face rookie R.J. Barrett and the New York Knicks on Sunday night.
20. I will be leaving three signed copies of my new book, The Ultimate Basketball Trivia Book, at a Northeast Ohio bookstore next week. Those three will be free. First come, first serve. Details coming soon.