The Cleveland Cavaliers hiring John Beilein is the ideal marriage for both sides.
The only reason why the news that Beilein was leaving Michigan for the NBA sent shockwaves through basketball circles on Monday morning is because Beilein’s name hadn’t yet surfaced, despite the fact that former Beilein player Mike Gansey is the assistant general manager in Cleveland.
But this wasn’t really all that shocking.
The Cavs needed a teacher, a coach, someone who could work with a young group that will likely endure growing pains the next few years. Beilein is a noted program-builder, a maximizer of talent and someone who checked every single box besides that of his age.
“He fit everything we were looking for,” one Cavs source told Stadium.
This is a franchise that won just 19 games this past season, and has a 14 percent chance – the same as New York and Phoenix – to win the Zion Sweepstakes on Tuesday night. There’s no quick fix for the Cavs.
Beilein is considered one of the elite X’s and O’s guys in college basketball and has been for a while now. He took West Virginia to the Elite Eight in 2005, then went to the Sweet 16 the next season with the Mountaineers. He then left for Ann Arbor in ’07, taking over a Michigan program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tourney in nearly a decade and hadn’t gotten through the first weekend since 1994.
He made Michigan nationally relevant, going to the NCAA tourney in eight of the last nine seasons, including a pair of appearances in the national championship game.
He flirted with the NBA a year ago, interviewing with the Detroit Pistons. There was chatter he had recent interest in the Orlando Magic job as well. While his offense hadn’t been nearly as potent over the last couple years, Gansey and Cavs GM Koby Altman understand Beilein will pay immediate dividends for a team that ranked 29th in scoring this past season.
“With Beilein, we’ll win some games we shouldn’t,” the Cavs source said.
Beilein is 66 years old. This was likely his last chance at an NBA gig, an opportunity for a guy who began his career as a high school coach to get a shot coaching at the highest level. Why not go out rolling the dice? If Cavs owner Dan Gilbert decides it’s not working and makes a move in a year or two, Beilein can easily return to college and get just about any job he wants. However, the current timing was ideal for Beilein as he was preparing to watch his top three Wolverine scorers leave early for the NBA: freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, sophomore Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews, who had one year of eligibility left.
Michigan is in rebuilding mode.
“They weren’t going to be very good this year with Beilein,” one Big Ten head coach texted me after hearing the news. “Now they could be an NIT team.”
Beilein takes over a franchise that will likely stay in the bottom tier of the NBA – unless the ping pong balls bounce Cleveland’s way. And even if Cleveland does get Zion Williamson, Ja Morant or R.J. Barrett, they could still remain one the worst teams in the league.
Next year, though, will offer opportunities. The Cavs will have more than $100 million in expiring contracts. Tristan Thompson’s overpriced salary comes off the books after next season; the same can be said for Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova.
It’s not as if Altman and Beilein can go out and lure big-time free agents. Draymond Green isn’t going to be yearning to play with Kevin Love, Collin Sexton and Larry Nance when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Let’s face it: There weren’t many guys who wanted to come to Cleveland even when LeBron was in town.
This isn’t meant to be a quick fix. Altman and Gansey wanted to get a guy who has a proven track record of developing players, and that’s been Beilein’s M.O. Consider the many players he’s brought to Michigan without hype whom he’s propelled to the NBA like 2016 first-rounder Caris LeVert and Trey Burke, who went ninth overall in ’13. And Beilein has won as many NCAA tourney games (18) since 2013 as any college coach in America despite doing it without the ready-made pros and McDonald’s All-Americans.
It’s a roll of the dice for Gilbert and Altman, hiring someone with no NBA experience. The goal will be to surround Beilein with a staff that can help him acclimate quickly to the pro game, but there’s no concern about his coaching acumen and ability to get the most of his players.
The worry, instead, is whether management can provide Beilein with enough talent.