John Beilein says he used wrong word, has cleared air with Cavaliers players

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Almost inevitably, there were going to be some highs and lows and John Beilein made the transition from longtime college coach to the NBA.

There always are.

After coaching 12 seasons at Michigan, Beilein already has endured more losses this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a 10-27 start with the Cavs, Beilein’s problems aren’t just on the court.

John Beilein

In a team meeting on Wednesday night, Beilein was addressing his players about their recent improved play but he created a stir when he said they no longer were playing “like a bunch of thugs.”

The wording stunned the players — mostly African-American — and led Beilein to reach out to them individually to try to clear the air, according to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Beilein told Wojnarowski that he misspoke in the meeting and said the wrong word, which Beilein didn’t realize until his assistant coaches told him later.

“I was saying: 'We’re making a lot of mistakes mentally, and we deserve better because we're really playing hard right now. We're not playing like slugs. We're playing hard,'” Beilein told reporters at Thursday morning’s shootaround before the Cavaliers faced the Pistons. "And somehow (the word ‘thug’) came out.”

Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was alerted about the issue and he traveled to Detroit; he has spoken to Beilein and players individually to get further clarification. Beilein met with players on Thursday morning and apologized. He said his contrition was received well and the players understood what he meant.

For what it’s worth, Beilein said he believes the issue is resolved and he’s looking to move forward.

"I feel (it’s resolved). So, we've talked with everybody on the team and they've all moved past it,” Beilein said Thursday evening. “That's it and obviously, the coaching staff as well."

Beilein, 66, has struggled to make inroads with his roster of mostly young players in his transition to the NBA after more than 40 years as a college coach, including stops at West Virginia, Richmond, Canisius, LeMoyne and Erie Community College.

The Cavaliers have had several other incidents both on and off the court this season, some involving All-Star forward Kevin Love, who has been frustrated with the direction the team is taking, with a rebuilding roster and a new system.

Beilein says the off-court noise isn’t frustrating; rather, it’s a necessary piece of the expected up-and-down transition.

"It's not frustrating to me; it's part of it. You know it's part of what sports is, what life is, what's newsworthy every day,” Beilein said. “You have to deal with it; you'd be blind not to understand that.”

Rose surging

In the second set of fan voting results for the All-Star Game, Pistons guard Derrick Rose ranked fourth among backcourt players, behind Trae Young (Hawks), Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Kemba Walker (Celtics).

Rose has a healthy lead over Zach LaVine (Bulls) by more than 340,000 votes. Rose already has committed to participate in the Skills Challenge during All-Star Weekend in his hometown of Chicago.

The fan voting counts for half of the totals for the All-Star starters, along with 25 percent each for the media and players.

Andre Drummond ranked 10th among frontcourt players, with more than 228,000 votes.

The Cavaliers, who are owned by Detroit-based businessman Dan Gilbert, visit the Pistons on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena (7 p.m., FSD).

Injury update

Pistons coach Dwane Casey said that Luke Kennard (knee tendinitis) and Markieff Morris (sprained foot) are closer to returning but were not available Thursday.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard