Over the last few years, there was plenty to be negative about when it came to the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James, their generational superstar left the organization in his wake for greener pastures a second time. They've gone through losing arguably the best coach in franchise history in Tyronn Lue and dealing with the tenure of the worst coach in franchise history in John Beilein. Before this season, the Cavaliers had lost 159 games after James left and only won 60, which is among the worst in the league.
Again, there wasn't much to be positive about when it came to Cleveland. That is unless, of course, you were team general manager Koby Altman. Whenever or wherever there was toxicity surrounding the Cavaliers, Altman would feel like a breath of fresh air whenever he would engage with the media.
First off, Altman inherited the reigns of the franchise in a highly untenable position. David Griffin, the architect of the 2016 championship team was out, James was in the last year of his contract and likely leaving and Kyrie Irving, the greatest point guard in franchise history wanted out. Altman navigated the course, traded Irving, offloaded toxic assets to completely rebuild mid-season and somehow, someway Cleveland still made the NBA Finals. Sure, they were swept by the Golden State Warriors and James still left for Los Angeles. But, that should be viewed as a win
The following season even after firing Tyronn Lue and having Larry Drew asleep at the wheel for the remainder of the season. Or having Kevin Love sidelined with injury a foot injury and the locker room ganging up on then-rookie Collin Sexton, questioning his basketball acumen. Altman was overwhelmingly positive about Cleveland's future hopes, even all the way back when things seemed their lowest.
“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 in April of 2019. “We’re tasked with doing that. We’re excited about the next steps.
“The great thing that I can be proud of this year is our attitude. We had a great attitude. It wasn’t heavy. It wasn’t dark, even through all the losses. We had a great attitude, great work ethic, and so I think we can build on that.”
Sure after Drew, the Cavaliers hired Beilein, who, again, was arguably the worst coach in franchise history. But, at times, it never felt like Beilein was Altman's decision and rather the choice of team owner Dan Gilbert, who was obsessed with having a collegiate legend coach his team. But, Beilein suffering crushing losses and calling his roster, who was at the time predominantly black, thugs was ultimately what led to his downfall.
Instead, Altman's choice always seemed like it was then associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who took over as permanent head coach when Beilein resigned mid-season. Bickerstaff was recently extended and will be under contract through the 2026-2027 season. Based on how this season is going, Bickerstaff deserves the extension in order to guide this young Cavaliers team. Bickerstaff has his finger on the pulse of his roster and has made bold moves and decisions that have set up Cleveland for success long-term.
Finding a successful coach that can preach patience all while being obsessed with growing alongside this team in Bickerstaff is huge for both Altman and the Cavaliers. It's also why it partially makes sense that, according to sources, Altman has signed a long-term extension that will see him become President of Basketball Operations for Cleveland through the 2027-28 NBA season. This is the second extension of Altman's career with the Cavaliers and almost perfectly lines up with the remainder of Bickerstaff's contract as well.
But, it's not just finally nailing stability on the sidelines that got Altman this extension. He's also drafted really well and built from out of the shadow of LeBron James, something that has seemed impossible before this year. In his time running the show in Cleveland, Altman has drafted and traded for a blossoming in Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. This star trio will be a staple of Cavaliers basketball for at least the next decade and possibly beyond.
The offensive and defensive potential between all three is limitless and is already strong during Mobley's rookie campaign this season. But, it's not just those three propping up Cleveland alone. Altman has also drafted the likes of Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro as general manager and was also key in acquiring Cedi Osman on draft night as an assistant under Griffin. He's also made smart signings and trades as well to fully support this team, acquiring the likes of Lauri Markkanen, Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens, all of who will be mainstays on the roster going forward.
The Cavaliers have captured lightning in a bottle this season and are already on pace to win 52 games this season. A lot of credit belongs to Bickerstaff, who should be a lock to win Coach of the Year this year. But, even more credit should go to Altman, who assembled arguably one of the most fun teams in the league this season. Maybe Altman wasn't too far off being so optimistic when the team was hitting rock bottom a few years ago. Thanks to his vision and clever moves, Altman is building what could easily become a dynasty organically. Signing him to a long-term extension just makes too much sense.