Report: There’ve been whispers that Donovan Mitchell has ‘deteriorating’ relationship with J.B. Bickerstaff

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In light of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, there have been rumblings regarding a deteriorating relationship between arguably Cleveland’s best player in Donovan Mitchell and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

“There have also been whispers about a deteriorating relationship between Bickerstaff and Mitchell — and with Mitchell’s contract situation looming over this offseason, it’s fair to wonder how much that could influence Cleveland’s decision,” Chris Fedor wrote.

A recent report from The Athletic sang a similar tune.

“Multiple league sources have said, for months, that Mitchell did not have great confidence in Bickerstaff, and he was not alone. Several players questioned Bickerstaff’s strategies, game management, practice habits and accountability measures, privately and publicly, throughout the season,” Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and Jason Lloyd wrote.

Mitchell played in just three of the five games of the second-round series, but when he was healthy enough to play, he scored the ball at a high level against Boston. He averaged 31.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per contest while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from 3-point range.

With Mitchell in the lineup, the Cavaliers went 1-2 against the Celtics, with the team’s single victory coming back in Game 2 in TD Garden. The 27-year-old scored 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor while knocking down five of his seven shots from deep in a game Cleveland won by a final score of 118-94.

The Cavaliers lost Games 4 and 5 after Mitchell went down with a calf injury, but to Cleveland’s credit, the team kept both games relatively competitive despite being without several of its most talented players. First, the Celtics won Game 4 by only seven points behind 60 combined points from stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Then, in Game 5, the Celtics owned just a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before they took over and outscored the Cavaliers by eight across the final 12 minutes of the contest. Al Horford — the oldest player still competing in the 2024 NBA Playoffs — turned back the clock with his performance on Wednesday.

The big man totaled 22 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, one steal and three blocks while also knocking down six 3-pointers. He became the first player in league history to finish with at least 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and five made 3-pointers in a single playoff game.

After coming up short of an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers approach their offseason and if Bickerstaff will remain Cleveland’s head coach.

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Jesse is a sports journalist with extensive experience covering the NBA. He has worked as a staff writer at SB Nation’s CelticsBlog and The Knicks Wall.