After a brief and tumultuous tenure, John Beilein is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers as head coach, league sources told ESPN.
The Cavaliers are promoting associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to become the full-time head coach, and he’ll run his first practice Wednesday evening, league sources said.
Beilein, 67, is expected to say goodbye to staff and players late Wednesday afternoon when they return from the All-Star break, league sources said.
Beilein and the Cavaliers negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a portion of the remaining money on his 2019-20 contract, league sources said. He left the University of Michigan and signed a five-year contract with Cleveland that included a team option for the final season, a deal that paid him more than $4 million a season, league sources said.
Beilein struggled to connect with NBA players and was never able to implement his collegiate offense into the pro game. He befell the plight of some previous coaches who made the leap to the NBA: players quickly tuning him out with his penchant for screaming; and players believing that Beilein was treating them as young, college athletes, not as professionals, league sources said.
Beilein struggled with the stress of losing games and the lack of control he felt within the locker room, league sources said. The organization largely wanted him to just concentrate on developing the young talent on the roster.
Bickerstaff was hired as part of an eventual succession plan with Beilein, who came to the NBA after 40-plus years in college basketball. That elevation came much sooner than expected after Beilein was hired in the spring.
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman and Beilein began discussing the possibility of the coach stepping down before the beginning of the All-Star break last week, sources said.
Cleveland ownership and management had been determined to see through a difficult start with Beilein, but it became increasingly apparent to the front office and the coach that the partnership was headed for an inevitable split.
John Beilein became the third first-year head coach in the past 30 years to coach a team’s season opener and not make it through the season.
Friends and associates of Beilein have described him as unhappy — even miserable — with the move to the Cavaliers. The losing that comes with a rebuild, as well as several skirmishes in public and private with players, has played a part in the rapid deterioration of tenure, sources said.
Beilein had to apologize to his team after a January team meeting in which he referred to his players as “no longer playing as a bunch of thugs.”
Cleveland’s 14-40 record is the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst in the NBA, ahead of only the Golden State Warriors (12-43). Management expected the team to lose a significant amount of games as it turned toward rebuilding its roster around a younger core, but Beilein had several missteps along the way that shook the players’ confidence in his leadership, league sources said.
Altman had hired Beilein with the hopes that the coach’s well-regarded history as a teacher on the college level would infuse the Cavaliers with a strong program for player development and his storied offensive sets. Opposing teams realized early that Beilein had scrapped his offense shortly into the season and retreated to more traditional NBA sets.
Beilein had been sought after in the NBA, discussing job opportunities with the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in recent years.
He has a career record of 571-325 as a college coach. He made the NCAA tournament in his last four seasons at Michigan, including a Final Four appearance in 2017-18.
As the interim head coach with Houston in 2015-16, Bickerstaff led the Rockets to the playoffs with a 37-34 record. In two seasons with the rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies, Bickerstaff was 15-48 as an interim coach in 2017-18 following David Fizdale’s firing, and 33-49 in 2018-19.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst contributed to this report.