Part III: Next Steps
J.B. Bickerstaff Discusses How to Parlay His Successful Start Into the Future
by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
3/26/20 | Cavs.com
Did you know that J.B. Bickerstaff averaged 10.9 points and 6.1 boards as a senior forward for the Minnesota Golden Gophers? Did you know that he and his father were both, at one point, respectively the youngest assistant coaches in the NBA? Did you know he has three kids and they’re all big into soccer?
When the Cavaliers and the rest of the NBA resume action, we’ll learn more about J.B. Bickerstaff and his basketball philosophy. He built a solid 11-game foundation before the hiatus, and his young squad is itching to build off that on the other side.
Bickerstaff grew up in the game and in Part II of our four-part series, recalled his early days watching his father build an impeccable NBA reputation, his recent donation to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and his relationship with a young Kevin Love.
Today, J.B. looks at how the squad’s performed so far and looks ahead to what he and Koby Altman hope to build over the next few years here in Cleveland …
J.B. Bickerstaff had the Cavaliers playing some of their best basketball of the season following the All-Star Break.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/via Getty Images
How much easier does it make your job having the long-time leaders buying in?
J.B. Bickerstaff: It makes it much easier.
The conversation that Kevin and I had when everything happened was him saying: ‘I'm going to fight for you.’
And as a coach, that's all you want. You want guys to go out and just lay it on the line. And when a guy is as accomplished as Kevin is -- he's a World Champion, an All-Star multiple times over. And when he goes out and plays a certain way then it makes it much easier for everybody else.
I think about what Tristan has done, as competitive as he's been, as hard as he's worked.
When you get it from your leadership, everybody buys into it and is willing to do just a little bit more. And that takes a lot of pressure off of you as a coach.
Does signing the long-term deal and commitment send a positive message to the team?
Bickerstaff: The most important piece of building anything is consistency.
And when they made the decision to keep me here long-term, I think it just says to the team that we’re building something and we're heading in the direction that we want to be moving in.
It's hard in the NBA. If you're trying to build something – whether it's roster, whether it's coaching staff or front office – if there's turnover after turnover after turnover, you lack that consistency.
And it's hard to get anything off the ground that way.
So being able to get the extension provides some consistency for myself and my staff and for the guys -- so now we can start to hammer some things down and start building this the way that we want to.
When you signed the deal, you said two of the biggest reasons for coming to Cleveland were your father – (Cavs Senior Basketball Advisor, Bernie Bickerstaff) – and GM Koby Altman. How does that relationship trace back?
Bickerstaff: It's gotta be maybe five or six years now. The first time was at (Tim Grgurich)'s camp in Las Vegas. It's a camp where all the coaches go and work with players throughout the league and then all the front office people come and they watch and evaluate the talent.
And Koby and I started a conversation there and it just kind of grew from there where every time we saw each other or spoke on the phone or texted. And the relationship just continued to grow.
"As coaches, we can say whatever we want to say and preach whatever we want to preach, but if the guys don't buy in, it doesn't matter. So, I give all the credit to the guys because of their willingness to buy in and a willingness to do it together."
J.B. Bickerstaff, on the team buying in
I think it became a common respect for one another – a respect for one another's approach to the game and the drive to get better.
And I think he and I have very similar personalities, where our mindset is, we're trying to be a part of something special. We don't necessarily have to be the focal point. We have to do our jobs and our part, obviously, but we're trying to be a part of something that's unique and that's sustainable.
That's why it's fun to work with him -- because he's on that same page and we're trying to create something that's special. That means the environment, how we treat the guys, the first-class way we go about business, the type of guys that we want here.
And it's everybody, it's not just players. It's staff, it's front office, training staff. Everybody.
We're trying to get on the same page and do something that's bigger than ourselves.
In terms of building something, the term ‘culture’ always gets thrown around in the NBA. What do you want the Cleveland Cavaliers culture to be?
Bickerstaff: I think it's two-fold: I think there's on-court and off-court.
Off-court, the way we try to envision it is pretty simple. We want to make it a place that people want to stay and where people want to be.
In the league, it's all about word of mouth. Players talk to one another, their agents talk to other players and each other. And we're trying to create an environment where people feel that they can be the best version of themselves no matter what that is.
We're not gonna try to put anybody into a box. Everybody has a different personality, everybody's unique. And we want people to feel free to express that.
So we're trying to create that environment where everybody feels comfortable in their skin and they can just be who they are without any judgment.
And then on the court, the two things I say to the guys all the time is: Can we be the most competitive team on the floor and can we be the most unselfish team on the floor? And those two things kind of encompass how you play defense, what you do on the offensive end of the floor and everything from there.
You want a bunch of guys who have that grit and that toughness, but they also show their togetherness and they have each other's back.
And I think if you start with that, when you have those two things, I think you give yourself an opportunity to win and you can be a really good basketball team for a long time.
Through the first 11 games, it seems like you’ve gotten the on-court part …
Bickerstaff: It's been awesome. And I can't say enough about the guys and their buy-in. That's the most important thing. As coaches, we can say whatever we want to say and preach whatever we want to preach, but if the guys don't buy in, it doesn't matter.
So, I give all the credit to the guys because of their willingness to buy in and a willingness to do it together.
It hasn’t been just one guy on his own trying to carry the load. It's a bunch of guys who are together in the mindset of how they treat one another, how they treat the game, and then how they go out and play with that spirit at a high level of competition.
What do you see for this team when things get rolling again – and into the future of the franchise?
Bickerstaff: I feel really good about where we are. I feel good about the pieces that we have here. I feel good about the opportunity for us to improve through the Draft because of the work that our front office puts in. I feel good about where we are because of the resources that our ownership gives us and their commitment to building a winning team and winning organization.
As a whole organization, you can tell that this organization has Championship aspirations and understands what it takes to become that. And that's all the way from game-ops to ticket sales. From top to bottom, this is a Championship organization.
Now, it's our responsibility on the basketball side to find the talent, to grow the talent, to put the talent in position to be successful and then get us to that level where we want to be.
But I'm excited about the opportunity. I'm excited about the people we have on board. And I think it's going to be a fun journey.