On May 13, the Cavs decided to help out to their fellow Buckeyes and poach John Beilein from Michigan, making him their next head coach. The 66-year-old choice at first seemed like a rather odd choice to spearhead a rebuild. After all, without any NBA coaching experience, it looks unlikely for a career collegiate basketball coach to turn around professional franchises. Everything, from the season schedule, players, to the expectations are drastically different. However, when one takes a deeper dive into the impact Beilein has had on great programs, it’s not difficult to imagine a similar transformation taking place here, a team with a supposed nucleus of young players like Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, and the eventual number-five overall draft pick.
College coaches making the astronomical jump to professional sports has always been great conjecture, including the rumors surrounding John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski in recent years. Typically, the changes involved in coaching paid players and college players has proven to be an uphill battle for most coaches, such as Fred Hoiberg in Chicago, Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City, and in football with Chip Kelly in Philidelphia. But there’s a reason to feel that Beilein will be an exception to this rule, much in the same vein as Brad Stevens. For one, he’s done an exceptional job at Michigan without top-tier level talent. According to Nick Baumgardner of the Detroit Free Press, Beilein has done some of his best work with players like two-star recruit Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Division III transfer Duncan Robinson, and diamond-in-the-rough Mo Wagner, who very few coaches were willing to fly to Germany and recruit. As a result, Beilein has been able to build legitimate rosters, without the yearly threat of losing his best players after only one season. Since 2007, Beilein led the Wolverines to a 278-150 record, with two national championship appearances and five Sweet 16 appearances. Considering the setting he’ll be entering in Cleveland, Beilein will have the chance to show just how accomplished of a teacher he is, with several players including Sexton and Osman who are ready to take the next step in their careers.
Currently, in the NBA, the best teams were consciously built from the ground up, utilizing draft picks, scouting, and young players with upside to put together sustainable groups. These teams all have the right head coach who knows how to not only relate to young players but guide them through the transition from college ball to professional ball. We’re talking about 19-year-old kids coming into big money, and without a believable man of character as head coach, their growth is surely stunted. Beilein has proven to be a great basketball coach, with particularly good interpersonal skills in bringing along young talent. Being Cavs fans, we all understand that the Warriors didn’t simply fall out of the sky and become the yearly title favorite. Instead, they drafted well and found their coach who understood team basketball. The World Champion Raptors merged together with a collection of young talent such as Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, surrounding superstar Kawhi Leonard in a similar fashion. Beilein has been long regarded as an innovative offensive mind who gets his guys to play as a unit, not a collection of individuals.
Baumgardner also stated in his article during Michigan’s 2018 tournament run through March, that Beilein acknowledges the underwhelming recruiting classes relative to other winning schools: “‘There may be some teams with more talent in some areas. But we have a great team. A great team.” While the Cavs’ run with LeBron and Kyrie was nothing short of rewarding, considering the first championship in 52 years, it’s time for the Cavs to come together under a singular vision led by Beilein. The rise of Collin Sexton and a top-five pick can jump-start that process. Whether the 66-year old coach can pull it off remains to be seen.