The Cleveland Cavaliers are 24-18, sixth in the loaded Eastern Conference. They rank fourth in the NBA in aNET, and second in aDRTG. Las Vegas set the Cavs over/under win total at 27.5, they are on pace for 47 wins.
When LeBron James left via free agency in the summer of 2018, the rebuild looked daunting. The roster was now ill-fitting without James, they had just extended Kevin Love for $120 million, and lacked elite talent. General manager Koby Altman drafted Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Evan Mobley in consecutive drafts, cleaned up their cap sheet, signed Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and brought in J.B. Bickerstaff to coach.
Now the future is bright and the Cavs could be good for a decade, and the relationship between Altman and Bickerstaff is a huge reason why.
“Our relationship carries before my coming here, just as friends and as people and respecting each other’s work and work ethic,” Bickerstaff said. “And so we knew that we were like-minded in a lot of ways. What we wanted to build, what we wanted to be a part of, the type of people we wanted to be around, the character, and the players that we were searching for. So we knew we were on the same page on those things. So it was important for us to continue to grow that and work. We’d never worked together before. So we needed to form a working relationship. But that was easy because of our relationship and our respect for one another and our similar vision.”
People and relationships are the most undervalued part of sports. Yes, you need talent to win. Everyone knows that. But there needs to be a shared belief and connection to a mission and a vision. How does my role impact another and vice versa? How can we work together to achieve our ultimate goal?
That requires trust, buy-in, and all the interpersonal things that define a healthy relationship. The fact that the Cavaliers have two Black men overseeing a rebuild and resurgence is incredible.
The NBA is no different from the NFL when it comes to Black coaches in many regards. Black head coaches are often given less time to succeed than their white counterparts, and even when Black coaches show improvement they are often fired in favor of a white coach.
The Cavaliers won a total of 60 games over the last three seasons. Team governor Dan Gilbert could’ve easily shown Altman and Bickerstaff the door. But he empowered them instead, and his franchise is set up for long term success.
Both general manager and head coach were rewarded for their work with contract extensions. Altman was also promoted to president of basketball operations. His new deal will run through the 2027-28 season. Bickerstaff’s contract was extended through the 2026-27 season.
“I couldn’t be more excited about continuing this partnership,” Bickerstaff said. “I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. And then to be given the opportunity together to see it all the way through. That’s all you can ask for in this league.”
The coach and now president’s fates are tied together. Will the Cavaliers win a championship? Maybe, maybe not. That’s still a 1-in-30 lottery, and you need a tremendous amount of luck. But they have a clear path to contention with young talent that look like future stars, a clean cap sheet for trades, and assets. A much better position than the summer of 2018.
“The relationship that Koby and I have, and the front office as a whole and coaching staff is like we’re all together,” Bickerstaff said. “And leadership starts at the top, so if we show that unity and that sacrifice, it’s hard for players to not. And vice versa. So I think that’s the way the best teams in this league, in my mind, are the best organizations. There’s not just talent on the floor. The PA announcer is great, the community relations director is great. It trickles down throughout the whole organization. It’s not just a one-sided thing. And so, that’s what we’re building here, I believe. And I really believe we’re on our way.”