August 26, 2014

Cavaliers Facing a New Future in the Wake of a Rewritten History

Sometimes it seems like the NBA is covered like a drama series more so than a sports league. Perhaps because basketball is the sport that bares its soul most openly, it only makes sense that reading coverage of the sport is like reading a series of narratives and human interest stories.

But the thing that can sometimes be frustrating about the sport is the degree to which said narratives change over time. Hindsight is the king of all sports, where memories are built on the foundation of what happened in retrospect as opposed to what actually happened in those precise moments. Nowhere is this more true than in the NBA, where the past is rewritten quicker than ever.

For Cavaliers fans, this point is particularly apropos considering some of the recent developments and storylines in the NBA. If we begin from the top and start with GM news, the Portland Trail Blazers recently fired newly-hired GM Rich Cho. They are reportedly interested in Danny Ferry. They were interested in Danny Ferry last year, too, when looking for a GM. When Ferry left Cleveland, he was quickly hired by San Antonio as VP of basketball operations.

When Ferry was in Cleveland, though, the common perception was that Ferry was in over his head, a guy who was unable to build a Championship team around the best player of his generation. Ferry was considered by many to be someone who was a figure head, unable to keep control of all the behind the scenes chaos of various moving pieces counteracting each other in a power struggle over who was truly in control of the franchise.

You would think that such a GM would be virtually un-hirable today, yet the Spurs were ecstatic to have Ferry back in their organization and now the Blazers are reportedly very interested in him. Over the last couple days countless articles have been written pinpointing the grace with which Ferry handled all the distractions in Cleveland and the steady leadership he provided as chief architect of the best basketball teams the Cleveland Cavaliers organization ever had. It would seem that only in hindsight is fact being forged from fiction and the narrative on Danny Ferry has been rewritten.

Then there’s the news of former Cavalier coach Mike Brown being hired as the new coach of the storied Los Angeles Lakers franchise. This one probably seems even more curious to those who paid close attention to the things that were both said and written of Coach Brown during his tenure in Cleveland.

Following Twitter during a nationally televised Cavs game the past couple years was like observing a Mike Brown coaching execution by firing squad as local fans and national media/bloggers alike delivered hit after hit to Coach Brown. Again, he was supposedly in over his head, couldn’t understand offense, didn’t know how to get the most out of a superstar, and was surely the one thing keeping LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers from their prized achievement.

And yet here was Mike Brown this week, a candidate for almost every head coaching vacancy, being given a new narrative. Only now that he has a new high profile job are the articles being written that credit the coach for his ability to get LeBron to commit to his true defensive potential, his ability to teach cohesive defensive principles to a team as a whole, his ability to handle and deal with the tenuous nature of leading a supposedly immature superstar and finding ways to succeed when there were so many factors working against him.

It can seem like both the media revelations of the disinterested subordination of LeBron James and the resulting outcome of the Cavaliers’ season of historic losing have given Mike Brown the validation for the quality coaching work he had actually been doing all along. Yet the truth is, being given another great coaching opportunity is really the only validation he needed.

And for the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves, the narrative is still being rewritten for them as it pertains to the LeBron James era in Cleveland. If this postseason is serving as a referendum on LeBron’s “Decision”, then what happened in the regular season has now been labeled as a referendum on the Cavalier franchise’s inability to give LeBron what he needed in Cleveland.

Yet what is so frequently overlooked is that all those stories rewritten about Danny Ferry and Mike Brown help highlight the facts of what really happened in Cleveland. LeBron James demanded upgrades in talent around him, yet could never be bothered to pick up a phone and call a free agent and help recruit them on the merits of coming to play beside him (something he was all too willing to do last summer for Miami). And Danny Ferry, having learned from the mistakes of overpaying free agents in 2005, thus carried out his only option, which was to trade for role players who were carefully selected as players who fit specific functions that were tailored to perfectly fit LeBron’s skills.

Indeed, this solution was highly effective, too. It was easy to see the effect losing LeBron had on the Cavalier franchise this year. When a team is designed to fit around one player, and that one player leaves, of course the whole system is going to struggle.

Finding the effect that losing a supporting cast designed to compliment his skills had on LeBron is a little more difficult to do. Yet if you look at the numbers, you can see some evidence. LeBron’s efficiency rating dropped almost 4 points this season, to its lowest mark since LeBron’s “off” season of 2006-07. We saw decreases in his scoring, assists, and blocks with increases in turnovers and fouls. Some of it is properly attributed to both the need to get used to new teammates along with the reduced burden he needed to carry by himself, but a part of it was also that he was dealing with playing with teammates who were not hand picked because of the way they fit with his game.

It’s been said that LeBron now has justification for leaving Cleveland in the form of the failures of the Cavaliers in their first post-LeBron season. It will be said that LeBron had to leave Cleveland to win a Championship, but that is merely history being rewritten. The Cavaliers were on the brink of winning Championships and, in my opinion, would have eventually succeeded had LeBron stayed. He didn’t have to leave to win, he had to leave to make winning easier. And that’s the choice that was his to make.

Which brings us full circle to the storylines that are being written this postseason. As the Dallas Mavericks sit and await their inevitable rematch with the Miami Heat, it would make for a tremendous story to see Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Mark Cuban find their redemption against the “evil” franchise that many NBA fans feel were handed the title by the refs in 2006. What a story that would make for Dallas fans, for Cleveland fans, and for any other fans who either felt turned off by the way Miami won in 2006 or by the way Miami celebrated their Championship in 2010 before the Big 3 had even played a single game together.

But alas, this is LeBron James’ fairytale. The writing is on the wall, and destiny is drawing ever closer. Cleveland fans hoped that this Miami arrangement would fail miserably, but the truth is it’s working better than ever. The Miami Heat are an unstoppable force led by the best basketball player I have ever seen who is not named Michael Jordan. It’s tough to watch them charging so easily toward something the Cavaliers fought so hard for, but that’s the way life works. It’s time to accept it and move on.

And so we can see the story being written in front of us now. But even as the last story in Cleveland is being rewritten, the franchise is about to start a new one. And no matter which version of the last story you choose to believe, there are plenty of lessons in all of them for the organization to learn from. For the Cavaliers and their fans, the hope is that the next story is given a happier, more peaceful ending. It’s a story worth getting excited for.

  • The Other Tim

    Amazing how a blogger’s “common perception” is different than a professional basketball operation’s perception of somebody they’ve already worked with can be, at times.

  • mgbode

    well, with the Mike Brown articles being written it’s the process of time. he was under the microscope the most in the playoffs and we never won a championship. a completely unfair standard, but it’s the one he was gifted for the opportunity to coach the league’s best player. over time, it’s easier to see his positive qualities for what they were.

    we’ll see what happens but the good thing is that I think most of us here followed the team closely enough to not be affected by these ever changing ‘national perceptions’ our memories should not be altered nor should we care much what the majority of people think about those teams/people.

  • woodsmeister

    The NBA has a soul?

  • http://exiledclevelander.wordpress.com AMC

    I’ve never been a huge Mike Brown fan, and I think it’s a little early to consider his being hired by the Lakers as proof that he was a better coach than he’s historically been given credit for. I’m not arguing he was a bad coach per se, but I also don’t think he was strong enough to stand up to LeBron was necessary. As a result LeBron in Game 5 of the Boston series, and the rest of the team in game 6, quit. That’s not all on Mike Brown, because ultimately the players have a responsibility to compete, but it is a testament to his abilities.

    What is all on Mike Brown was his HORRIBLE defensive scheme against Orlando in the 2009 ECF. THAT was the year the Cavs should have won the title, and Mike Brown’s refusal to stop double teaming Howard in the post killed the Cavs by leaving the roided up Lewis, Hedo, and Alston wide open all series long from 3 point range. As other teams who have played the Magic have showed, you could beat them by forcing Howard to try to score 60 to win the game. He’s never done it and never will be able to. Brown’s inability to tolerate Howard getting a few easy baskets led to the Cavs adopting a completely flawed defensive strategy that ultimately led to them losing to an inferior team. I would’ve fired Brown (who was the reigning coach of the year at the time) immediately after that series, and as while he seems like a great guy, he will forever be infamous in my book for the way he coached that series.

  • Boomhauertjs

    @AMC The good news for Mike is that Dwight will be a Laker sometime in the next year, so he won’t have to worry about not double-teaming him anymore.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    As hard as it will be to stomach the myth that Maverick Carter and hEatSPN will be writing about MeBron winning the title under DWade’s skirts, I still find it interesting that in Pro Basketball Talk, the Celtics’ front office still openly cheers against the Heat. There is a taint on that team that will win them titles but not make them champions — and the taste of The Decision is still a nasty one.

    The way this SHOULD end would be for a retooled Cavaliers team being the team to knock MeBron off his corrupt reign. Whether it does remains to be seen.

    Me, the lottery balls have combined with the still jaw-dropping Indians team to make me a little less bitter about what MeBron is doing.

    P.S.: GO MAVS (and, for the Hell of it, GO BULLS to at least stretch ‘em out to 6 or so)!

  • Vengeful Pat

    I’m really surprised/ticked off at how the Heat have grown as a team. Early on, their offense looked the same as the Cavs offense under Mike Brown… everybody watches LeBron dribble around, then takes open jumpers if LeBron is able to draw their defender into a double-team (with the exception being that Wade had some license to do the same). But their offense now is different. Sometimes LeBron doesn’t even touch the ball, or if he does, he’s not handling the ball for 20 seconds of the shot clock. There’s way more ball movement. It just makes me mad/jealous to see that he’s finally figuring things out in this year’s playoffs. Secondly, it’s frustrating to see how instrumental Chris Bosh has been against Chicago. He’s eating Carlos Boozer alive. But not just Boozer, he’s doing it to Noah and Taj Gibson as well. I mean, what the heck got into that guy? For me, I feel like Chicago has done a great job defending LeBron… or at least better than any other team. But it’s Bosh who is willing the Heat to postseason wins.

    I’m just not sure what I’ll do if the Heat win the championship this year. It seriously might ruin the NBA for me… if the league is going to be about the best players colluding with each other to play together in their favorite vacation spots, then Cleveland is forever doomed in the NBA. However, if Dallas wins the story changes… then it’s about guys sticking with a franchise their whole career (Nowitzki) and seeing it pay off, or looking for one last day in the sun (Kidd) after their best years have past them by. That’s a story that warms my heart. The Heat’s story makes me want to vomit.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    To further the Dallas theory, imagine if they had kept Steve Nash rather than letting him leave? How many championships would they have been able to capture through Nash’s MVP run in Phoenix?

  • mgbode

    @Craig – but does Steve Nash ever become MVP-Nash on Dirk’s team and w/o D’Antoni’s system? maybe he would have been enough to push them over the edge for the 2006 title, but then they would have never assembled the team they have today (so, it’s possible they would just trade a 2006 title for a 2011 title. in my hypothetical)

  • Lyon

    love the point you made about the guy not bothering to recruit free agents, then say his teamates weren’t as good as he needed. He could’ve called any free agent & told him to come play here & they would’ve.

    And Amen to AMC. You could’ve left DHo alone all game and still won. But no, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle had to double him repeatedly. I never liked the guy as a coach and am shocked the Lakers hire him, it won’t turn out well.

  • Swig

    I came around on Mike Brown and think he was a very good coach. I still question his ability to make in game adjustments (and game to game adjustments in a playoff series). I think he’ll do a fine job in LA, but if he still doesn’t win a championship he will be branded a failure, which is a shame.

    It is funny how if the Heat wins the league is ruined, but if Dallas wins the league is saved. When these two scenarios are almost 50/50.

  • WTFNY?

    I’m not sure I’ve ever read once this take on Ferry that he was over his head. Anywhere. At all. What an odd departure from usually good content produced by this website.

  • JNeids

    I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but I have been on the Dallas bandwagon since the playoffs started (I have always been a fan of Dirk and Cuban), which can only mean they stand no chance against Miami in the Finals. Such is my life…

  • Chucky Brown

    The Buss family was looking for the Anti – Phil and they got him

    good luck with all that

  • CavsBrownsFan

    “When a team is designed to fit around one player, and that one player leaves, of course the whole system is going to struggle.”

    Best quote ever. It perfectly summerizes why the Cavs struggled this year. Of course ESPN would never admit this. Instead, they use the Cavs season as jusification for LeBron leaving. If LeBron had not quit last year we would have won the chapmionship for sure. I think last year’s Cavs team was even better than any team playing this year. The reason Miami beat Boston was beacuse their best player was playing with one arm and they traded away the anker to their defense. Boston was a much better team last year and there was no way a Cavs team whose central cog wouldn’t play could have beat them.