As the dust settles on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ latest organizational shakeup with the dismissal of head coach Tyronn Lue, the team has once again shifted its focus to an all-too-familiar direction: the future. The plan for the most recent post-LeBron era Cavs was supposed to be different than the reboot of 2010. But a myriad of injuries, a mismatched roster and the aforementioned coaching change are just a few of the reasons the team has unofficially punted on the 2018-19 season and has started investing in what hopes to be a quick rebuild.
The Cavs’ young core, including centerpiece rookie point guard Collin Sexton, is expected to get plenty of burn this season, a mandate that reportedly contributed to Lue’s eventual ouster. And the question is when, not if, the Cavs will move on from veteran rotational players such as Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith for future assets and roster flexibility. But the looming and arguably most important question for the future is who will be named as the permanent successor to interim head coach Larry Drew, should he and the organization part ways.
Although there is a chance the Cavs retain Drew, it should come as no surprise if they go in a different direction. If that happens, owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman can skip the retreads and ‘safe’ candidates and explore some intriguing, under the radar yet qualified coaches to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.
James Posey – Assistant Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers
The NBA is often referred to as a ‘player’s league’ – an appropriate sentiment that extends to coaching staffs and front offices. Former players such as James Jones (Phoenix), Elton Brand (Philadelphia) and Jerry Stackhouse (Memphis) are the most recent names who made quick leaps from the court to executive and coaching roles. Cavaliers assistant James Posey is a viable, in-house candidate capable of taking that same next step.
Posey joined the organization in 2013 as an assistant coach for the Canton Charge, Cleveland’s G League affiliate. After one season in Canton, Posey was promoted to a behind-the-bench role with the varsity team and has since earned a reputation as a bright and well respected young coach who is trusted by players and staff alike. Posey has the playing resume and pedigree necessary to earn clout in an NBA locker room, a trait that is invaluable in this league. Furthermore, he coached the Cavs’ summer league squad in 2018, which served as an unofficial audition to showcase his leadership and ability to navigate his X’s and O’s.
Posey also possesses a key quality that no other candidate (besides Drew) would be able to tout: familiarity. By promoting from within, the Cavs can get a jump start on chemistry and trust from what will surely be a young roster when the 2019-20 season kicks off. The learning curve would be steep for Posey, who has never been a head coach at any level. But surrounded with a carefully picked staff, the three-time NBA champion could be an intriguing internal candidate.
Nate Tibbetts – Assistant Coach, Portland Trail Blazers, Alex Jensen – Assistant Coach, Utah Jazz
A long-standing trend for organizations in coaching searches has been to pluck young, promising assistants from established coaching trees. Rolling the dice on a first-time head coach is certainly a risk. But if the Cavaliers go that route, they’ll be hard pressed to find two candidates who are better fits than Portland’s Nate Tibbetts and Utah’s Alex Jensen.
Tibbetts, now in his sixth season with the Trail Blazers, cut his teeth with the Cavaliers as an assistant from 2011-13. In his time with both Cleveland and Portland, Tibbetts has earned a reputation for being a humble yet relentless worker who has a specialty in developing backcourt talent. He was entrusted with Cleveland’s most valuable asset, Kyrie Irving, and has strong endorsements from Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Tibbetts has familiarity with Altman and assistant GM Mike Gansey, both of whom were around for his first stint in Northeast Ohio. Tibbetts has been a candidate for multiple NBA head coaching vacancies in recent years. For an organization whose newest franchise cornerstone is another young point guard, Tibbetts has the experience, familiarity and youthful energy the Cavs should be looking for.
Jensen is another Canton Charge alum who served as the team’s head coach from 2011-13, winning the NBA D-League Coach of the Year award in 2013. The following season, Jensen joined the staff of the Utah Jazz where he has quickly elevated to one of Quin Snyder’s top assistants. With the recent success of a team like the Jazz, assistants garner more visibility. Such was the case with Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov, who spent three years in Utah prior to getting his first NBA head coaching gig in May 2018. Seeing that Gansey hand-picked Jensen for the Canton job back in 2011, there’s reason to believe Jensen could be a legitimate option for the Cavs this summer.
John Beilein – Head Coach, University of Michigan
The most seasoned and veteran coach on this list, Beilein is a college legend who has always seemed to shrug off any mention of being the next college to NBA coaching experiment. But Beilein surprised many when he reportedly showed brief interest in the Detroit Pistons’ vacancy in the summer of 2018 before shutting down rumors and announced his intent to stay in Ann Arbor. Beilein is a basketball guru who champions teaching and player development and is often credited with getting the most out of his players. The connection to Cleveland? Beilein coached Gansey from 2004-06 at West Virginia and the two have remained close since. If the Cavs do explore the college landscape, Beilein has the resume – and relationships – to be a perfect fit.