J.B. Bickerstaff

And-Ones: Kawhi, Team USA, FAs, Musa, Coaches, More

With 11 of 12 roster spots reportedly locked in for USA Basketball’s 2024 Olympic roster, the program could go in a number of different directions with the 12th and final slot. The list of players in contention for that final roster spot includes plenty of big names, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports that Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is currently viewed as the leading candidate.

Leonard’s teammate Paul George, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, Magic forward Paolo Banchero, and Nets forward Mikal Bridges are also in the mix, sources tell Charania.

Leonard hasn’t represented Team USA at the Olympics or a World Cup before, but has support from some of the stars on the roster, including Kevin Durant and LeBron James, says Charania. George won gold with Team USA in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, while Brunson, Banchero, and Bridges competed in the 2023 World Cup.

It’s possible that more than one player in that final group of candidates could ultimately make the cut if any of the top 11 have to drop out due to an injury or for personal reasons. Of course, Leonard is currently dealing with a nagging knee issue of his own, though there’s no indication at this point it would prevent him from playing in July.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic takes a look at the NBA’s 2024 free agent class, evaluating what sort of stars, starters, and rotation players will be available. As Leroux observes, a handful of stars are on track for potential free agency, but few – if any – are good bets to change teams. That group includes LeBron James, Paul George, James Harden, Pascal Siakam, and Tyrese Maxey.
  • In an interview with Dean Sinovcic of Nacional.hr, former first-round pick Dzanan Musa, who spent two seasons in Brooklyn from 2018-20, didn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the NBA as early as this offseason, but said he’s focused for now on trying to win Liga ACB and EuroLeague titles with Real Madrid (hat tip to Sportando).
  • Sam Amick of The Athletic considers what’s at stake for each NBA head coach in the postseason, suggesting that the pressure will be on Joe Mazzulla (Celtics) to at least reach the NBA Finals. Jason Kidd (Mavericks), J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers), and Darvin Ham (Lakers) are among the others who will be motivated to avoid early exits, Amick adds.
  • In a conversation about end-of-season awards, a panel of five ESPN experts weren’t in agreement on who should win Most Improved Player or Sixth Man of the Year. Three different players – Malik Monk, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Naz Reid – earned votes from the five-man panel for Sixth Man honors.
  • Which NBA players were the most underpaid this season? Despite being on a maximum-salary contract, Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tops the list from Frank Urbina of HoopsHype.

Thunder’s Mark Daigneault Wins Coaches Association Award

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault has won the Michael H. Goldberg award for the 2023/24 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reports that Daigneault has been named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year.

This award, introduced in 2017 and named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg, is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself.

However, it isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award will be announced later this spring.

J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers), Chris Finch (Timberwolves), Joe Mazzulla (Celtics), and Jamahl Mosley (Magic) also received votes from their fellow coaches for this year’s NBCA award, per Wojnarowski.

Daigneault, who is just 39 years old, has overseen the rebuild in Oklahoma City since 2020. After winning just 22 games in his first year on the job, the Thunder increased that total to 24 in 2021/22, 40 in ’22/23, and 57 in ’23/24. That 57-25 record this season made the Thunder the improbable No. 1 seed in the West in their first trip to the playoffs during Daigneault’s tenure.

As Wojnarowski points out, Oklahoma City was one of just two NBA teams this season – along with Boston – to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. The Thunder’s 118.3 offensive rating ranked third in the NBA, while their 111.0 defensive rating was fourth.

The NBCA Coach of the Year award has frequently been a bellwether for the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor, which bodes well for Daigneault. In five of the seven years since the award’s inception, the winner has gone on to be named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Stein’s Latest: Bickerstaff, Mitchell, Kidd, Stone, Donovan

Pressure is mounting on the Cavaliers, who have stumbled to an 11-16 record after the All-Star break after once sitting at 36-17, NBA insider Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack post. While an 18-2 record spanning through December and January improved coach J.B. Bickerstaff‘s standing within the organization, he may be on the hot seat following this disappointing stretch of games.

As Stein writes, Bickerstaff is still dealing with the fallout from losing to the Knicks in the first round of last year’s playoffs in just five games. Frustration is growing in Cleveland after last season’s playoffs and this season’s lackluster recent stretch, according to Stein.

The Cavaliers as a whole are feeling pressure, given the need to sign Donovan Mitchell to a contract extension this offseason. Mitchell is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract next year if there’s no extension and there’s a “growing belief” from rival teams that the Cavs might be forced to trade their superstar if the two sides can’t agree to an extension, Stein writes.

The Cavaliers paid a hefty price to bring in Mitchell in 2022, sending out Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton and multiple first-round picks for the All-Star guard.

We have more from Stein:

  • The Mavericks are 16-2 since they inserted Daniel Gafford and Derrick Jones Jr. into the starting lineup, and have officially secured their second 50-win season since Jason Kidd took over as head coach in 2021. An offseason extension for Kidd seems likely, according to Stein.
  • Likewise, the Rockets‘ strong play in the second half of their season means general manager Rafael Stone may also earn a contract extension, Stein writes. The Rockets are hovering around the .500 mark after winning just 22 games last season. The Ime Udoka hiring and the additions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks are among the reasons for Houston’s impressive season, which were all accomplished without sacrificing any of its core pieces. Still, future decisions regarding whether the team will continue to build around Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green or trade for a higher-profile star are percolating, per Stein.
  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan‘s name was thrown around in regard to the newly opened Kentucky coaching job, but Stein expressed skepticism about the chances of him moving back down to the college ranks, where he most notably coached at Florida from 1996-2015. It looks like Stein’s skepticism was warranted, as Kentucky is reportedly targeting BYU’s Mark Pope to be its next head coach, meaning Donovan will stay with the Bulls, tweets NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson.

J.B. Bickerstaff Says He Was Threatened By Gamblers

Meeting with reporters before Wednesday’s game, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff talked about receiving threats from gamblers last season, writes Tom Withers of The Associated Press. After Bickerstaff reported the threats to the NBA, one of the people responsible was tracked down, but no charges were filed.

“They got my telephone number and were sending me crazy messages about where I live and my kids and all that stuff,” he said. “So it is a dangerous game and a fine line that we’re walking for sure.”

With sports betting now legal in 38 states and the District of Columbia, gambling has never had a more prominent role in the NBA. Withers notes that a sportsbook operates inside the Cavs’ arena, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, and fans are able to place bets on their phones during games.

“It brings added pressure,” Bickerstaff said. “It brings a distraction to the game that can be difficult for players, coaches, referees, everybody that’s involved in it. And I think that we really have to be careful with how close we let it get to the game and the security of the people who are involved in it. 

“Because again, it does carry a weight. A lot of times the people who are gambling like this money pays their light bill or pay their rent, and then the emotions that come from that. So I do think we’re walking a very fine line and we have to be extremely careful in protecting everybody who’s involved.”

The question of whether gambling has become too pervasive in the NBA crops up occasionally, most recently when Minnesota center Rudy Gobert received a technical for making a “money” gesture at officials after fouling out of a game at Cleveland earlier this month. Gobert accused the referees of letting gambling concerns influence their calls and was fined $100K for his comments.

Bickerstaff didn’t pursue that route, but he said the influence of betting has “crossed the line.”

“The amount of times where I’m standing up there and we may have a 10-point lead and the spread is 11 and people are yelling at me to leave the guys in so that we can cover the spread, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “But again, I understand the business side of it and the nature of the business of it. But I mean, it is something that I believe has gone too far.”

Central Notes: Beasley, Giannis, Rubio, Pistons

Appearing on a B/R Live stream with TNT and Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes (Twitter link), Bucks guard Malik Beasley said he bypassed offers worth more money from the Lakers and Mavericks to sign with Milwaukee.

Beasley opened up about his experience in free agency, saying it was “tough” because he closed out the year on a rough note, averaging just 3.0 points per game in the playoffs with Los Angeles after averaging 11.1 PPG during the regular season. The 27-year-old guard said the Lakers wanted to re-sign him on a deal worth about $6MM but explained there were some unknowns regarding his role with Austin Reaves re-signing early in free agency.

Beasley also said he had an offer from the Mavericks worth between $3-6MM, but was again unsure of what his role would be, given that Dallas had a roster filled with guards and shooters.

The seventh-year guard ended up signing with the Bucks on a one-year, minimum contract for a chance to have a bigger role.

“[Bucks general manager] Jon [Horst] is such a great person,” Beasley said. “We talk a lot and he was like ‘You have an opportunity to start here, you have a chance to win a championship.’ And I think for me, most importantly, [the Bucks have] some veterans around [the] team. Most of the teams I have been on, aside from LeBron and AD, they’ve been young.

Beasley earned a prominent role with Milwaukee right away, starting all 33 of his appearances this year. He’s averaging 11.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per night while shooting a career highs of 48.8% from the field and 46.9% on three-pointers (on 6.3 attempts per game). He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

We have more notes from the Central Division:

  • Opening up about his time with the Lakers, Beasley blames himself for how his tenure in L.A. ended (Twitter link via Haynes). “It was more of the past things that happened in my life that caused me to not play at my best,” the Bucks wing said.
  • Out of the Bucks‘ 10 losses this season, four have come at the hands of the Pacers. Giannis Antetokounmpo is bothered by those losses, writes The Athletic’s Eric Nehm. “Now, when you go back home and you sleep and you wake up, you think about it,” Antetokounmpo said. “Now, when you go back and work out, you think about it. In the All-Star break, when you’re gonna be on an exotic beach with your family, I hope you think about it, you know? … But at the end of the day, it’s good because it gives us time to fix things.
  • Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell had a feeling former teammate Ricky Rubio was going to retire, Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor writes. “I feel like he could breathe,” Mitchell said while paying tribute to Rubio. “I’m not speaking for him. But I feel like it’s just one of those things where it’s kind of like that indecision of what you want to do can be a lot. I’m just happy that he finally has time to feel like he can breathe and go pick up his son from school and be with his family in Spain. He’s been playing this game professionally at the highest of levels and had this expectation of himself since he was a teenager.
  • Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff also paid tribute to Rubio, as detailed in a story from ESPN. “I owe Ricky a debt of gratitude that there’s only a couple of guys who I could say at this point have had the impact on me that way,” Bickerstaff said. “He helped us, in a brief period of time, turn this organization into what you see in front of you. His presence allowed me to coach the team in a certain way where no one was too big to sacrifice.
  • The Pistons are widely expected to make a trade of some sort after setting the NBA record for consecutive losses in a season, and The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III thinks Detroit will add some veterans around the margins. In his mailbag, Edwards confirms there’s great interest league-wide in Pistons vet Bojan Bogdanovic but says he doesn’t expect Detroit to trade him just to trade him. The Pistons are in a difficult position, Edwards writes, because the young players who would bring in a difference-making haul are guys the team should build around.

Cavs Rumors: Mitchell, Rubio, Allen, Bickerstaff

The injuries that will sideline Darius Garland and Evan Mobley well into the new year aren’t expected to significantly impact the Cavaliers‘ plans for this season, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, who says the franchise remains committed to its core of Garland, Mobley, Donovan Mitchell, and Jarrett Allen.

As Fischer writes, there has been “incessant chatter” among rival executives about the possibility of Mitchell leaving Cleveland in 2025, when he can opt out of his current contract, with speculation about his next destination focusing on the New York teams (the Knicks and Nets). However, those whispers haven’t affected the Cavaliers’ resolve to this point, Fischer explains.

In the event that the Cavs begin to struggle and slide down the standings without Garland and Mobley available, it’s possible the front office will have to reconsider its approach to the trade deadline. But Koby Altman and his group seem to have the “sturdy backing” of ownership, per Fischer, so the odds appear slim that a substantial change in direction will occur in the coming weeks.

Here’s more from Fischer on the Cavaliers:

  • One move Cleveland might make on or before the February 8 deadline would involve Ricky Rubio, according to Fischer, who suggests the team would like to turn Rubio’s salary slot into a player who could contribute this season. The veteran point guard announced in August that he’d be pausing his career to focus on his mental health, and there has been no indication that the “pause” will end anytime soon, so he’d be a buyout candidate if he’s traded to a new team, Fischer adds.
  • While the Cavs have no plans to trade him, Allen would receive “plenty” of interest from playoff contenders if he were ever made available. League sources tell Fischer that the Pelicans are one team that has long had its eye on Allen and would be interested if Cleveland is willing to listen to offers down the road.
  • There was some noise early in the season about whether J.B. Bickerstaff‘s hold on his head coaching job might be slipping, but Fischer hears from sources that the Cavs don’t seem to be in any rush to make a change on the sidelines. Injuries to Garland and Mobley may actually reduce the pressure on Bickerstaff, Fischer points out, since expectations for the club will be tempered without those two young stars in the lineup.

Central Notes: Karnisovas, Haliburton, Bitadze, Bickerstaff

Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas briefly addressed the media on Tuesday about his team’s slow start. Karnisovas expressed his disappointment and took his share of the blame for the team’s struggles, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago relays.

“We see what everyone is seeing and are just as frustrated,” he said. “We’re disappointed, but I’m not running from it. It’s my responsibility.”

A report from Johnson earlier in the week indicated that Karnisovas and coach Billy Donovan are in no imminent danger of losing their jobs.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Losing to Portland at home on Monday was more damaging than a typical defeat, in Tyrese Haliburton‘s view. It’s the type of matchup the Pacers can’t afford to lose in their quest for a postseason berth. “This is a bad loss,” Haliburton told Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star. “This is a really bad loss for us as a group. …  We’re just not playing well right now, being honest with you. These are habits of losing basketball to not alternate and to not win games that you’re supposed to.”
  • In a post for subscribers, Fieldhouse Files’ Scott Agness talks to former Pacers center Goga Bitadze about his time in Indiana. “It was rough,” Bitadze said. “Good. Ups and down. Mixed emotions overall.” Bitadze, a 2019 first-round pick who struggled to find a role with the Pacers, has started 12 of 15 games with Orlando this season, filling in for injured Wendell Carter Jr.
  • There’s intense pressure on Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff to win big this season, according to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. The organization believes it has to show that it made the right move by acquiring Donovan Mitchell in the blockbuster with Utah prior to last season. A strong year would also help secure Mitchell’s future with the franchise. Mitchell has an opt-out for the 2025/26 season and could always request a trade prior to that if things go sour.

Cavs’ Bickerstaff Talks Strus, Niang, Mitchell, More

Cleveland’s 51-31 record in 2022/23 was the best mark for a Cavaliers team without LeBron James since 1992/93 and resulted in the franchise’s first playoff berth since James’ most recent departure in 2018. Unfortunately for the Cavs, their postseason run was short-lived, as the Knicks quickly dispatched them in a one-sided first-round series.

Speaking to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff admitted that the playoff loss “took some time to process.” But now that he’s a few months removed from it, Bickerstaff is more willing to focus on the Cavaliers’ regular season success and to find silver linings in their early postseason exit.

“I think when you sit back, look at the regular season – and I think the regular season was a test that was passed – and then you get to the playoffs where things ramp up a notch, it was the greatest learning experience our guys could have had, that I could have had,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s the opportunity to be in a position you have never been in before and a responsibility that you’ve never had before. Nothing worth having has ever come easy to anybody.

“At the end of the day, you sit back and look at it and the season was successful. The experience our young guys gained in the playoffs is only going to make them better. That’s the reality of it. We get caught up in the emotion of it all in the moment because we are all so competitive. But in reality, we’re not above the process either. There are steps that just can’t be skipped.”

As Bickerstaff notes, many of the Cavaliers’ core players – such as Evan Mobley and Darius Garland – are still young and were experiencing a playoff environment for the first time. He believes they learned important lessons during that five-game series and will benefit from the experience going forward.

Here are a few more highlights from Fedor’s interview with Bickerstaff:

On how adding Max Strus and Georges Niang as free agents will impact the Cavaliers’ playing style in 2023/24:

“I don’t want to give away too much. But the spacing on the floor becomes different. The attention that goes to those two guys because of Georges’ career 40% 3-point shooting and Max Strus’ ability to make shots off the move, defenses have to make different decisions now than they had to last year. Those are different dynamics that we added.

“Our offense can improve and be more dynamic and difficult to guard — even though we were a top-10 offense in the regular season. You learn from the playoffs about how to become more difficult to guard in that setting. I think there is a more dynamic nature that we can have offensively. Those are things I’m studying now and we will implement this coming season.”

On Donovan Mitchell‘s potential long-term future in Cleveland:

“He was with us in Las Vegas and stayed longer than most. He worked out with the guys and went to dinners. … There were conversations we had with him during free agency about trying to get the people we needed in here. There were conversations he had with the guys we were able to bring in.

“All those things tell you that Donovan is all in. If a guy is not attentive to free agency and how we are going to get better as a team, if he is not attentive to his teammates over the summer, if he is not attentive to working on the individual things that may make him uncomfortable but also are best for the team moving forward, to me that would be a guy who is not engaged. I have seen the opposite. I have seen a guy who is all in.”

On whether he’s feeling pressure to live up to increased expectations in 2023/24:

“Pressure from what? I think the funny thing for us coaches when it comes to pressure is you want to have a good team and you want expectations. If you have a team with no expectations, as a coach, competitor, and player, that is ultimately not the job you’re looking for. The word pressure is kind of comical, to be honest with you, because you have a good team and that’s what you want.

“… Pressure isn’t a word that coaches really think about because it’s our job to continue to get better. I think we have done that here. From where we started with this team to where we are now, there is no way to say we haven’t done the job building this the right way. Look at the environment. Look at individual development. Look at team development. There are no holes. Our job is to continue to do what we’ve already done but also continue to get better. That’s what we want.”

Cavaliers Notes: Bickerstaff, Mitchell, Love, Draft

The Cavaliers were disappointed by their first-round playoff exit, but they never considered making a coaching change, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. President of basketball operations Koby Altman said in a post-playoff news conference that the organization remains committed to J.B. Bickerstaff, and Russo doesn’t believe next season should be considered “make or break” for him.

The Cavs continue to show progress under Bickerstaff, reaching the 51-win mark this season for the first time in six years. They also claimed the fourth seed and gained some valuable playoff experience for a roster that largely lacked it. In addition, Bickerstaff has strong support from his players, Russo adds.

“Since Day 1, I fell in love with the culture that they built here,” Ricky Rubio said. “I fell in love with how J.B. treats everybody, and it’s something that, that’s why I came back. And, of course, when you see results, you can look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish he could do this or that better.’ But at the end of the day, in the heat at the moment, it’s super hard to really see sometimes. And I think what he built here is something special. He’s a great locker room guy.”

There’s more from Cleveland:

  • Lauri Markkanen had a breakout season in Utah, but Russo doesn’t think the Cavaliers would have been better off by holding onto him, Ochai Agbaji, and the collection of draft picks they gave the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell trade. She points out that Markkanen benefited from returning to his natural position of power forward in Utah, which wouldn’t have happened in Cleveland with Evan Mobley on the roster. She adds that having a superstar in Mitchell is more valuable than the various pieces that were surrendered to acquire him.
  • The Cavs’ buyout decision with Kevin Love looks worse than it actually was because of Miami’s run to the Finals and Cleveland’s playoff failure, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com states in a mailbag column. He notes that Bickerstaff removed Love from the rotation because he wasn’t producing and the team had other players who were more effective. Back and thumb injuries contributed to Love’s down season in Cleveland, but he only shot 30% from the field in his final 15 games with the Cavs and was frequently targeted on defense.
  • Holding just the 49th pick in this year’s draft, the Cavaliers had to be disappointed by seeing so many prospects decide to return to school, Fedor adds. Sources tell Fedor that Kentucky’s Chris Livingston will work out for the team next week, and a session has been scheduled with Eastern Michigan’s Emoni Bates. Fedor also hears that Cleveland invited Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson to work out, but he’ll probably turn it down because he believes he’ll be off the board by No. 49.

Cavaliers Won’t Consider Replacing J.B. Bickerstaff

The Cavaliers‘ moves this summer won’t include a coaching change, writes Kelsey Russo of The Athletic. Speaking to reporters on Friday, president of basketball operations Koby Altman quashed any rumors that the team might consider replacing head coach J.B. Bickerstaff following a first-round playoff exit.

“Yes. Absolutely,” Altman replied when asked if the organization remains committed to Bickerstaff. “There’s no question about that. I mean, look what he’s accomplished. It’s actually funny, I’ve not heard that, maybe because I haven’t been reading or not on Twitter, but I’ve not heard that noise. So that’s not even a question. […] End that speculation.”

Bickerstaff led the Cavaliers to a fourth-place finish in the East, and their 51 wins were the most since LeBron James left for Los Angeles in 2018. Altman said he worked with Bickerstaff on exit interviews this week, giving advice to players on how to improve during the offseason. He also credited Bickerstaff with building a culture in the post-LeBron era.

“You can’t fluke your way into 51 wins,” Altman said. “You can’t fluke your way into the No. 1 defensive rating in the NBA. That’s coaching. I know we have great defensive personnel, but you have to have buy-in from them, and that comes from the head coach. And so we’re extremely happy with J.B. and the job he’s done.”

Altman addressed several other topics in his session with the media:

  • The Cavaliers won’t panic after their short playoff run, and Altman said fans shouldn’t expect “sweeping changes” this summer, Russo adds. Many of the team’s rotation players were in the playoffs for the first time, and Altman believes the organization can build on that experience. “I also think the strength of our roster is the fact that we’re positioned really well for the future with the guys that are most important under contract,” he said. “… We have to look at what’s the piece that we really want to improve and enhance and then use the vehicle that we have to go do that.”
  • Re-signing free agent forward Caris LeVert will be an offseason priority, Altman said. Russo notes that LeVert’s role with the team changed after Donovan Mitchell was acquired last summer, and he evolved into a sixth man and secondary playmaker as the season progressed. “He’s a big part of our attack,” Altman said, “and it’s a big reason why, at the deadline, I didn’t do anything because he was a big part of what we were doing and I didn’t want to lose that. So we’d be fortunate to have him back.”
  • Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley were outplayed during the Knicks’ series, but there’s no thought of splitting up the big man duo, Altman adds. Allen is signed for three more years at $20MM annually, and Mobley is still on his rookie contract. “When you have the level of success that you’ve had with those two, it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh let’s just break them up based off one playoff series,’” Altman stated.