Our weekly look at four topics — players, issues, numbers, trends — that are impacting and, in some cases, changing the game.
First Quarter: John Beilein was doomed from the start
The short-lived marriage between John Beilein and the Cleveland Cavaliers predictably came to an end Wednesday, months after it was painfully obvious he wasn’t built for the pro game.
He left a comfortable situation at the University of Michigan, where he tired of the atmosphere of changing rosters with transfer players and early-entry prospective draftees and often didn’t recruit the best of the best players, preferring lesser talents he could develop.
And he thought that the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers was a better option?
And the Cavaliers thought Beilein was a good option when a successful rebuild likely means changing rosters on the fly?
Beilein seemed like a fine coach at Michigan, bringing the basketball program to a level of prominence it hadn’t seen since the Fab Five days. He said the right things, had the support of the administration and didn’t mind being in the shadow of the football program.
The challenge of the NBA seemed to appeal to him and he had a quiet but serious flirtation with the Detroit Pistons in 2018 after they fired Stan Van Gundy. Luckily for the Pistons, it didn’t happen and they went with Dwane Casey, saving Beilein from becoming the rare combination of hero and embarrassment in the same region.
But Beilein didn’t take that as a sign he should stay where he was, believing his attention to detail and ability as a teacher would translate. His biggest problem? Not understanding the basic incentive structures of the NBA relative to college.
In college, the players aren’t just incentivized to buy in to the coaches; it’s the only path to success. In the NBA, it’s an option for players but far more important for the coaches to earn the players’ trust and respect, especially when the coach comes from college and the players are more likely to dismiss the guy as some random dope.
Players actually get paid as professionals compared to being free labor in college, and their contracts are guaranteed — with full knowledge it’s easier to get rid of the coach than to change the players.
Along with the whole “thugs/slugs” thing, Beilein was never going to get the players on his side and it didn’t seem like they bought his explanation about his error being a slip of the tongue.
Taking all of that away, Beilein can be a good man, a smart coach with the best of intentions. But the simple fact that he never seemed to want to coach pros while he was in college should’ve given the Cavaliers pause before hiring him — and it caught up with them 54 games into the season.
Second Quarter: The Cavs are responsible for this mess
Now, let’s be sure to acknowledge the second half of this disastrous equation, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James gifted the franchise with a return in 2014 following a four-year stint in Miami, leading them to a championship and four straight NBA Finals appearances.
Yet they have had more head coaches (five) than trips to June in that span, so John Beilein is just the latest on the ill-fated merry-go-round.
Executives under owner Dan Gilbert don’t get second contracts (see David Griffin). Championship-winning head coaches like Tyronn Lue can get canned six games into the season (2018-19), the franchise’s first after James departed for Los Angeles.
Gilbert hasn’t been around much this season, recovering from a devastating stroke last May, and it was said he was fond of Beilein, leading to his hiring. And there’s a school of thought that says Beilein didn’t have his biggest advocate in the building to support him. But top executive Koby Altman was behind Beilein coming to the Cavaliers, as opposed to the college coach being forced on him.
Where was the experienced staff to make up for Beilein’s obvious blind spots? Who were the veteran players to be conduits and advocate’s for Beilein’s transition to the pro game? Beilein was what he was, and didn’t try to sell himself as anything other than a college coach in his mid-60s. During James’ time in Cleveland, it became very easy to pin a lot of the organization’s drama on him — James’ demands and needs in his pursuit of championships, the emotional leverage he held over Gilbert. A lot of the other issues seemed to be glossed over in the meantime.
But there was ineptitude before James, contention with him and now it’s back to business as usual without him.
Who’s leading this mess and what’s the path out of it?
Every move seems reactionary and not forward-thinking.
If someone doesn’t take control, All-Star Weekend 2022 will be a repeat of what 2020 was for the Chicago Bulls: a shining light on the host organization being a borderline embarrassment for the entire basketball world.
Third Quarter: The interesting case of Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh was obviously very disappointed when he wasn’t listed as one of the finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame during All-Star Weekend.
The late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were the NBA’s headliners, along with Tamika Cathings, Kim Mulkey, Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich and college coach Barbara Stevens. The Hall’s selection process is arbitrary and secretive. We don’t know who’s making the selections and what the criteria is, other than Jerry Colangelo being the frontman.
Bosh’s career ended early due to potentially life-threatening blood clots, but his case is pretty solid. The championships he won as an integral piece in Miami with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The All-Star appearances with the Toronto Raptors. The way he could effortlessly transform from a postup big to a floor-stretching center in small-ball lineups, as the Heat were forefathers of sorts of the modern game we see today.
He has a case, a great one.
Are we putting Bosh through the velvet rope before Chris Webber? Before Ben Wallace?
It’s a tough sell, even with the two championships, to let Bosh through but leave Webber on the outside looking in.
Webber took a Sacramento Kings team that hasn’t been worth a damn before his arrival and since his departure to the brink of a title — only to be stopped by the greatest 1-2 punch this league has ever seen (Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant) and the most questionably officiated game in the last 20 years (Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, which the Lakers won to force a Game 7).
Championships mean a lot, but carrying a franchise on your back and doing it well has to count for something, even if you couldn’t switch prime Webber with Bosh and get the same results.
Wallace’s play in Detroit defined an era — a tough basketball era that ironically was bemoaned by more than a few at the time but yearned for now in the age of high-scoring games.
Wallace being the catalyst for the most unlikely champion in history, the 2004 Detroit Pistons, has to count. His record-tying four Defensive Player of the Year Awards has to count if we value defense the way we claim.
Neither Webber nor Wallace were finalists this time around, after being in the field of 13 last February. Webber’s past with the University of Michigan is likely preventing his path to induction, as petty as that is. Wallace’s prime being shorter and him being a non-scorer is probably blocking his day in the sun.
For Bosh, he’ll get in, certainly, and it’ll be deserved.
But for this season — especially considering Bryant, Duncan and Garnett all entered the league in the same era, one year after the other, it seems fitting they’ll go in together when the inductees are announced in April.
Bosh entered the league six years after Duncan, which feels like a lifetime away and the game was changing.
If Bosh is elected next year, he’ll have his own day without having to be obscured by guys who were his predecessors and, honestly, greater.
And when that happens, it’ll probably mean that much more to him.
Fourth Quarter: Who’s got next?
With Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and late addition Devin Booker making the All-Star team for the first time this season, they’re removed from the list of “best players to never make an All-Star team.”
And with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson likely to return to All-Star form next season, it’ll be harder for new faces to crack into the rotation.
But, it’s still fun to think of who’s on the precipice and who’ll really go for it next year, especially considering the competitive nature of the All-Star Game.
So here are the best five who aren’t yet All-Stars:
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: Book him in Indy.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies: Next year will be as tough as this year.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: Sitting right in his prime, has to happen soon.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls: Like McCollum, his team has to be better to get recognition.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics: Many felt he could’ve made it over Jayson Tatum, his All-Star teammate.
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