Cavaliers dismiss coach J.B. Bickerstaff after two consecutive playoff berths

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had a relatively successful season. Despite advancing to the second round of the playoffs, Cavaliers management decided a coaching change was in order.

Cleveland’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals marked the franchise’s deepest playoff run since LeBron James’ exit following the 2017-18 season.

On Thursday, the Cavs announced J.B. Bickerstaff had been relieved of his head coaching duties. Bickerstaff first stepped into the head coaching role in February 2019 following John Beilein’s resignation.

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John-Blair Bickerstaff attends a press conference

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to the media after Game 7 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Orlando Magic May 5, 2024, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.   (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bickerstaff’s dismissal came one week after the Boston Celtics eliminated Cleveland from playoff contention. 

Bickerstaff had to steer the team through numerous injuries during the regular season and NBA playoffs. All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell and center Jarrett Allen were sidelined with injuries during the Cavs’ final two playoff games.

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Bickerstaff was successful, but other issues apparently led Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and president of basketball operations Koby Altman to make a move.

The coaching change could trigger a summer shift for the Cavs, who are hoping to sign Mitchell to a long-term contract extension and could make major moves while being tied to whatever James ultimately decides to do.

James, who can opt out of his contract with the Lakers, attended Cleveland’s final home playoff game, raising speculation about him making another homecoming and playing a third stint with the Cavs in perhaps a final career act.

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In the short term, the Cavs have begun their search for a replacement for Bickerstaff.

“J.B. is a well-respected NBA coach and an incredible human being,” Altman said in a statement. “Over the past four years, he helped establish a culture that progressively drove players to become the best versions of themselves. Decisions like these are never easy, particularly when you look back at where this franchise rebuild started under his leadership.

“The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships.”

The Cavs head coach and general manager attend a press conference

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and general manager Koby Altman of the Cleveland Cavaliers are interviewed at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse Oct. 2, 2023, in Cleveland. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

While Bickerstaff was credited with building a strong culture, he had his flaws.

He struggled with in-game adjustments. His offense was often stagnant, and there’s a strong belief there should have been more development by guard Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who, along with Mitchell and Allen, give the Cavs one of the league’s best young core of players.

J.B. Bickerstaff coaches the Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff yells instructions to players in the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets Dec. 15, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

In his first full season, Bickerstaff, who was under contract through 2026, went just 22-50 with one of the NBA’s youngest rosters. They improved to 44 wins in his second year before losing in the Play-In Tournament while showing major strides.

After acquiring Mitchell via trade in 2022, the Cavs went 51-31 last season and had home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs before getting knocked out in five games by the New York Knicks. The early exit put added pressure on Bickerstaff to do more this season.

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The 45-year-old Bickerstaff went 170-159 in the regular season and 6-11 in the playoffs with Cleveland.

The Cavs went 48-34 this season and stayed among the top teams in the Eastern Conference amid the rash of major injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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