Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was put in a tough spot. Not only did he have to replace the well-liked and well-regarded David Griffin in 2018, a guy that seemed to make all the right trades and signings that led to the Cavs bring Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964 in 2016, but Altman was also in charge of reshaping a wine and gold roster that no longer had LeBron James. With no cap space, it’s hard to do, as this past season inevitably proved.
While the Cavaliers are heading into Year 2 of their current rebuild in the post-LeBron 2.0 era, they will likely remain one of the worst teams in the NBA in 2019-20, just like they were this past season. With that said, Altman seems to be making all the right moves ahead of his third season as the Cavaliers general manager. After choosing not to retain interim head coach Larry Drew, Altman’s first move of the offseason came in mid-May, when Cleveland hired Michigan’s John Beilein to be the next head coach of the wine and gold. It was not only an out-of-the-box hire that no one saw coming, but it’s one that has received plenty of praise as well. Although he will be making his NBA head coaching debut at 66 years old, Beilein has been known to be able to develop players during his time with the Wolverines, a trait that the Cavaliers hope he can maintain at the NBA level.
Then came this past week, when the Cavs hired Cal women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. Once again, it was a hire that no one saw coming or even reported on prior to it actually going down. At 41 years old, she led Cal to seven NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the Final Four in 2013 during her eight years leading the Golden Bears. While she loved Berkeley, a position on Beilein’s staff in Cleveland was impossible to pass up.
“I am very thankful, proud and excited to be joining the Cavaliers as an Assistant Coach. After meeting with Koby Altman, Coach Beilein and Coach Bickerstaff, I knew this was an organization I wanted to be a part of and a team I wanted to dedicate myself to,” said Gottlieb in a statement. “While this move provided a unique and special chance to move directly from Cal Berkeley and women’s college basketball to the NBA, it was really about being part of building and growing something special and adding value to a team and organization that is focused on doing things in a way that I believe strongly in.
“The vision for the Cavs’ future is compelling and I look forward to helping make it a reality. At the same time, on a personal level, I am honored to hopefully impact young girls and women to be empowered to pursue their own visions and to be inspired to turn them into reality as well.
“I also want to thank Cal for what has been an amazing job, and really my home and family, for the better part of 15 years. It is very difficult to say goodbye. The university leadership, the athletic department, my fellow coaches, staff and, most of all, our players have been wonderful and inspiring to work with. The program is in great shape and I have no doubt it will continue to have a high level of success.”
Gottlieb joined Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter Friday night to discuss how it all came to fruition. It started with her and Altman having a mutual friend and the general manager being impressed with her work at Cal. Then, when the two were both in Chicago recently, everything started falling into place.
— Stanford Steve (@StanfordSteve82) June 15, 2019
Although she is the eighth woman to either be an assistant coach or serve in the player development role for an NBA team, Gottlieb is the first to make the leap from the college level. She not only had plenty of success at a Power 5 program like Cal, but her salary was in the $700,000 range. With that, it’s an unprecedented move.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr had some very kind words for Gottlieb, while also recognizing how good of a hire it was for the Cavs.
— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) June 12, 2019
Like Gottlieb, Altman is also very excited about her joining the Cavaliers. He not only knows that this type of hiring means a lot for women in men’s sports, but also has plenty of confidence that she will be able to transition her success at the college level to the NBA level, just like he hopes Beilein will do.
“Lindsay Gottlieb will be a great addition to Coach Beilein’s and Coach Bickerstaff’s group. She has an extensive track record of success and growth with her teams and players and has also been a strong culture-driver as a core part of that,” said Altman. “The more we researched and got to know Lindsay, the more we came to understand that she would be an impactful part of where we want to go as a team. Coach Gottlieb brings a depth of basketball knowledge, leadership, perspective and approach to her craft that will fit very well with our team and staff alike. We’re fortunate that she was willing to leave her role as Head Coach at such a solid and successful program at Cal.”
“I am excited to have a coach with Lindsay’s experience as a part of the new coaching staff with the Cavaliers,” said Beilein. “Lindsay truly values and embraces player development and a culture of winning basketball habits. Her success at Cal Berkeley speaks for itself and her insight in our meetings, practices and games will hold tremendous value. After sitting with her, it was easy to see how she will connect quickly with our staff and our players, and we all benefit because of that connection. I’m looking forward to merging all of her years of experience and vision for the game with our current and future coaching staff.”
With Beilein and Gottlieb — two college coaches that have no NBA experience — on the staff, the Cavaliers have already helped both of them by hiring JB Bickerstaff as an associate head coach. has three years of experience as a head coach in the NBA (2015-16 with the Rockets and 2017-19 with the Grizzlies) and 11 years as an assistant in the NBA. Along with that, Bickerstaff was well-liked by his players during his time in Memphis, which means a lot as well.
The Cavs will likely struggle once again in Year 2 of the post-LeBron era 2.0, but things appear to be looking up, especially if these outside-the-box hires work. Both Beilein and Gottlieb are unprecedented hires, with the head coach making his NBA coaching debut at 66 and Gottlieb being the first female coach at the college level to get a job on the NBA bench. If these hires work out, other teams in the league will likely follow suit.
Cleveland is doing things differently than the rest, but it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. In fact, I would argue that they are doing everything right. In a small market, it will be tough for the wine and gold to bring in big-name free agents. It’s on Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff to be able to both develop and get the best out of the players on the roster. Beilein and Gottlieb have already proven that they can do that at the college level, now they just need to prove that they can continue that at the highest level of basketball in the world.
Altman and company are making the right hirings during the offseason, even if some may disagree, but now, it just needs to continue to work out when it matters most.