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It took John Beilein all of about one day at the NBA Combine to confirm he made the right decision on coaching the Cavaliers.
“At the time, we were interviewing young men and just finding out what they were made of,” Beilein told 92.3 The Fan. “We were getting right to the point.”
Beilein sat in with members of the Cavs’ front office when they interviewed potential players for their No. 5 overall draft pick. This was a time for prospects to sell themselves. They talked of their special skills, their winning mindsets, their team-first attitudes.
Many of them were underclassmen, and most did not partake in the 5-on-5 scrimmages. After all, they were already considered high lottery picks. Playing games could mean performing poorly — and watching your draft stock take a plunge.
The Cavs often asked individual prospects why they were entering the draft, and the response often had something to do with the prospect’s highly competitive nature.
It was at that point Cavs general manager Koby Altman or another member of the front office would ask something along the lines of, “If you’re so competitive, why aren’t you taking part in the scrimmage?”
Beilein knew then this was no longer the University of Michigan, where he coached for 12 years before joining the Cavs. He knew this wasn’t college basketball, where he had coached his entire life — until now.
This was Cleveland’s NBA team, and instead of recruiting the top prospects, it was the prospects who were doing the pitching. But pitching is different than playing, and when the Cavs asked about scrimmaging, the answer from prospects was almost always a no-go.
“Then one of our guys would say, ‘So you want to play against the best, but you’re not doing it tomorrow?'” Beilein said. “That struck me as such a good way to find out how to build a roster that is made to win, both in our style and in the NBA.”
SOMETHING TO BUILD
Beilein is 66-years old. On Tuesday, he guaranteed that “this will be my last basketball coaching position.”
So why leave Michigan for the Cavs? Well, for one, because the NBA is a year-round thing. And Beilein has always thought about the pros. He even implemented a pro-style offense with the Wolverines. He also likes trying to turn around programs, and after a 19-63 finish, the Cavs could use some turning around.
“It’s all basketball and team-building,” Beilein said. “It can be 12 months a year if we want to do that.”
Beilein has talked to a lot of people in the NBA, from former coach and current TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy, to hall-of-fame player and legendary executive Jerry West, to Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has also made the college-to-pros leap.
Before that, Beilein visited a lot with former Cavs GM David Griffin, now the main man with the New Orleans Pelicans.
“Griff and I sat next to each other at (Cavs assistant GM) Mike Gansey’s wedding; it must have been five or six years ago,” Beilein said. “We just talked. He was always a proponent of my ability to make this jump.”
Beilein ran into Griffin again at the draft lottery earlier this month, shortly after Beilein had accepted the Cavs coaching job.
“He gave me the biggest hug probably of anyone there because he saw this coming and he wanted it to happen,” Beilein said. “He was really in my corner.”
Of course, the former GM wasn’t the only one who had Beilein high on his list. Altman has also always admired Beilein and his willingness and ability to change the game plan if a situation called for it.
“We wanted a teacher,” Altman said. “We wanted an innovator; someone who can adapt on the fly.”
In order for the Cavs to get back to being a contender, Beilein will have to do all that and more. He clearly is excited the Cavs are the team giving him the opportunity, perhaps now more than ever.
“This is a franchise here with so much potential,” he said.