Cavaliers scapegoat an intriguing option for Lakers to add to coaching search

The Cleveland Cavaliers have parted ways with head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Could the Los Angeles Lakers be an ideal next stop for the Cavaliers' scapegoat?
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Seven
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Seven / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers have compiled an intriguing list of candidates to become the next head coach of the most decorated organization in NBA history. The list includes the likes of David Adelman, James Borrego, Sam Cassell, Micah Nori, JJ Redick, and Chris Quinn.

In the wake of one of the more disappointing firings in recent memory, however, another name should be added to the list of options: J.B. Bickerstaff.

Bickerstaff, 45, has spent 20 years as an NBA head coach and assistant coach. In his most recent tenure, Bickerstaff spent four full seasons at the helm of the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team to its greatest success since LeBron James joined the Lakers in 2018.

Even still, Cleveland confirmed that it has parted ways with Bickerstaff following one of the best seasons in non-James franchise history.

It's a rather surprising turn of events within the context of what Bickerstaff was able to accomplish as head coach of the Cavaliers.

When Bickerstaff, the son of former Lakers coach Bernie Bickerstaff, took over the Cavaliers for the final 11 games of the 2019-20 season, the team was just 14-40. Cleveland would proceed to go 5-6 across those 11 outings, which thus began the steady improvement to where the organization is today.

Cleveland's .259 win percentage when Bickerstaff took over improved to .306 in 2020-21, .537 in 2021-22, and .622 in 2022-23.

2022-23 marked the Cavaliers' first 50-win season without James leading the squad since 1992-93. In 2023-24, Bickerstaff took Cleveland a step and a round further, helping the franchise win a playoff series for the first time since 2017-18, as well as its first sans James since 1992-93.

Mere weeks later, Bickerstaff has been let go due to a rumored disconnect between himself and Cavaliers franchise player Donovan Mitchell.

J.B. Bickerstaff could fix the Lakers defense

In terms of what Bickerstaff would bring to the Lakers, it all starts on the defensive end of the floor. When Bickerstaff took over, the Cavaliers couldn't have been any worse than they were in that regard, ranking dead last in the NBA in defensive rating in 2019-20.

Within two seasons, the Cavaliers managed to finish in the top-five of the NBA in defensive rating—a testament to Bickerstaff's elite defensive tactics.

In 2022-23, the Cavaliers were the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA. Even amidst the turmoil that ultimately led to Cleveland prioritizing Mitchell over Bickerstaff, as it would seem, the Cavaliers finished 2023-24 at No. 7 in defensive rating.

By comparison, the Lakers ended the 2023-24 regular season at No. 17 in defensive rating—and many of Bickerstaff's strengths as a coach match Los Angeles' weaknesses.

While the Lakers finished 2023-24 ranked No. 27 in second chance points allowed, the Cavaliers checked in at No. 6. Similarly, Los Angeles was 21st in opponent points in the paint, while Cleveland sat among the best in the NBA in the same area at No. 4.

Personnel helps, yes, but Bickerstaff has a proven track record as one of the best defensive minds in the NBA. That alone should earn him consideration.

What about J.B. Bickerstaff's offense?

The Cavaliers have one of the best core-four groups in the NBA with Mitchell flanked by Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley. For as talented as that quartet is, however, Cleveland has structural flaws that include a limited number of floor-spacers and an inconsistent second unit.

In other words: The Cavaliers have similar flaws to the Lakers, yet Bickerstaff managed to turn them into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

One of the reasons for this success is the fact that Bickerstaff empowered players to fill crucial roles. A primary example of that success was Bickerstaff providing playing time to Sam Merrill, who was on his third team in four seasons.

Merrill would go on to become the Cavaliers' most efficient three-point shooter, burying 143 shots from beyond the arc on 40.4 percent efficiency across 61 appearances.

That adaptability went a long way towards Cleveland securing a top-10 finish in three-point field goals made despite the lack of efficient options from beyond the arc. Another key component of that success was Bickerstaff's work to help Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade post career-best efficiency marks from distance.

That should of incredible importance to a Lakers team that has limited depth beyond the penciled-in starters of Anthony Davis, Rui Hachimura, James, and Austin Reaves. In fact, it should be enough of a factor for Bickerstaff to jump the line and become a genuine favorite for the head coach job.

An elite defensive mind who thrives in helping role players find their niches in support of the stars, Bickerstaff has the qualities to make the Lakers contenders again.