John Beilein shocked the basketball world in May when he left the cozy confines of Ann Arbor for Cleveland. After a long, largely unglamorous rise to become one of the best coaches in college basketball at a perennially relevant program, he violently veered off course to steer the Cavaliers' ship bound for choppy waters.
And look, a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do. But nearly halfway into his first NBA season, it's more than fair to assess the situation, shrug one's shoulders, and wonder just why the hell this is even happening.
Cleveland, which really had no hope to be any good, isn't any good. They sit at 10-27 and far afield from the final playoff spot. There's precious little reason for optimism when it comes to on-the-court activities. Morale is awful. Kevin Love is fed up. Anonymous players ripped the first-year coach to the media. Tristan Thompson came to Beilein's defense, then the two had a very public and very heated dustup.
The latest messiness comes via a Wednesday film session. Beilein shocked his players by saying they were no longer playing "like a bunch of thugs." The racially-charged language was immediately noticed and disturbed players. Beilein, after speaking with general manager Koby Altman, reached out to each player to explain how such a thing could happen.
"I didn't realize that I had said the word 'thugs,' but my staff told me later I did and so I must have said it," Beilein told ESPN on Wednesday night. "I meant to say slugs, as in slow-moving. We weren't playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment. That's what I was trying to say. I've already talked to eight of my players tonight, and they are telling me that they understand."- -John Beilein
It's a believable explanation. But it may not matter. Things are so bad right now that it's not premature to wonder if this project can't be salvaged. A reminder: We are only 37 games into the season.
Few people have the ability to tap into Beilein's mind and know if he realizes that he, like Gob Bluth, has made a big mistake. No matter what you think about him or have skin in the game, it's depressing to see a 40-year career build to this.
He deserves credit for trying something new at 66, but it sure doesn't feel like it's going to work out. And it may be too late to go back to college and end his great run on a positive note.
The same question we asked on the day Beilein left is even more perplexing now.
He left for this?