INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – The Cavaliers aren’t chasing a championship this spring. They’re pursuing a coach.
This time, methodically.
No longer NBA title contenders, Cleveland is in the initial stages of an expansive, open-minded search general manager Koby Altman hopes will lead to finding the right coach for his young team, which is coming off a 63-loss season.
“We have to preach patience and we have to continue to grow this thing and we have to find a leader that’s obsessed with that process of growing,” Altman said Friday while outlining the type of candidates he’ll interview. “We’re tasked with doing that. We’re excited about the next steps. We’re done in April for the first time in four years, so we have a lot of time.”
At this time a year ago, the Cavs were preparing to make another deep playoff run. They made the Finals for the fourth straight year, but fell short in June against Golden State and then suffered a more devastating blow when LeBron James left a month later. The team endured severe growing pains this past season, which included a coaching change and countless injuries, but Altman believes better days lie ahead.
“The future is bright,” he said.
His task is finding the right coach to lead the Cavs into it.
Altman plans to cast a “wide net” in his search for the fifth coach since 2013. He and his staff are paring down a list of potential candidates that will include former head coaches, current assistants – including some on playoff teams – as well as college coaches of both sexes. Head coaching experience is a plus, but not essential, and he’s not limiting the search to candidates with whom he has a previous connection.
Already, names are beginning to surface, including several assistants who have ties to the Cavs.
Denver’s Jordi Fernandez, Utah’s Alex Jensen, Orlando’s Steve Hetzel, Atlanta’s Chris Jent, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts and Dallas’ Jamahl Mosley all spent time working for Cleveland. Altman intimated continuing the Cavs’ rebuild with a person already familiar with the organization would be beneficial.
Luke Walton could now be on Cleveland’s radar after he parted ways with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Altman said he would be “open-minded” when asked about San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, the league’s first full-time female assistant.
The timetable to find a coach? As long as it takes, Altman said.
“We want to make sure we get this right,” he said. “We want to make sure we get to know these candidates really, really well and flush this thing out. Make sure it’s the right fit for the front office, for our players, for the fan base. We want availability, grinding and all that kind of stuff. We want to make sure that’s the right fit and we’re the right fit for them, too.”
When Altman gets toward the final stages of the process, he said he may consult with Cavs players. Altman said his primary objective is landing a coach dedicated to development.
“It’s important that we find a leader that’s in it for the long haul, that really wants to be a part of Cleveland, our city and this team and help us grow every day,” he said. “I think we have to be obsessed with this process of getting better and not so much results-driven – and that’s the person I need to find.”
The Cavs finished with the league’s second-worst record and are positioned to add a major piece in the draft. Obviously, winning the lottery and getting Duke’s Zion Williamson would solve numerous problems. However, choosing first isn’t everything, and Altman is confident the Cavs already have enough solid players to attract quality coaching candidates.
“We are going to draft a high-impact player, regardless of where the Ping-Pong balls land, and all those things together are a big part of us being an attractive destination,” he said. “But I will say this: We’re not going to sell our job. The person that is right for this job is going to really, really want to be here. That’s going to be the person we hire.”
Altman again praised Larry Drew, who took over in October and kept the Cavs competitive until the end. Drew isn’t part of the future, but Altman said he left a lasting imprint.
“The great thing that I can be proud of this year is our attitude,” Altman said. “We had a great attitude. It wasn’t heavy. It wasn’t dark, even through all the losses. We had great attitude, great work ethic, and so I think we can build on that.”
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