July 28, 2014

Mike Brown Take Two? In The Right Situation, Yes

Mike BrownThere’s been a lot of rumbling ever since the Cavaliers let head coach Byron Scott go last week that it was possible that his predecessor Mike Brown may just get another look at the Cavaliers coaching gig. Some are strongly opposed to bringing a coach back for a second tour of duty, for that reason alone. Some are concerned that the same reasons that Brown was relieved of his job title in Cleveland will creep up again. Still, I’m saying, right here, right now, that I would be on board with a Mike Brown Cavalier reunion tour under the proper terms.

I’ll add at the outset that I hope Brown is not the only candidate that the Cavaliers interview. I’m intrigued in particular by Warriors assistant Mike Malone and Pacers assistant Brian Shaw. I’d give anything to have Phil Jackson come to Cleveland, but despite some reports, I just don’t see that happening. Malone was an assistant under Brown here in Cleveland from 2005-2010, while Shaw was reportedly a finalist back when the Cavs hired Scott in 2010. The problem is with Detroit and Philadelphia having vacancies and a few other teams potentially having openings after the first round of the playoffs is over, the Cavaliers may feel they have to move quickly to avoid losing Brown to a current playoff team.

Let’s talk about the things that went right in the Mike Brown era here in Cleveland. First, the Cavaliers were one of the best defensive teams in the association every single year. Here’s a little chart to show just a piece of those impressive defensive stats. Here is the team’s rank by season in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), opponents’ point per game, and opponents’ field goal percentage.

  Def. Rating Opp. PPG Opp. eFG%
2005-06 14th 10th 18th
2006-07 4th 5th 7th
2007-08 11th 9th 10th
2008-09 3rd 1st 2nd
2009-10 7th 6th 3rd

Those defensive stats came with, for varying periods, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Wally Szczerbiak, Damon Jones, Drew Gooden, and Donyell Marshall playing key minutes. It wasn’t as if Brown had a team stacked with defensive talent that he just coached up a bit to make them better. Other than LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, and Delonte West, the Cavaliers didn’t have many elite defenders. Of course, there were the Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, Larry Hughes, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon types who were certainly above average defenders, but far from elite. Instead, it was a defensive culture established where at least serviceable defense was expected out of everyone, and help defense was incredibly important and demanded of from Brown.

I’ve heard the argument that Brown is just a polar opposite to Mike D’Antoni, a defensive specialist who will never be able to coach his teams up enough to play good enough offense. Instead, I argue that defensive-oriented teams with offensive issues can and do get a lot further in the playoffs than offensively-gifted teams with defensive problems. Let’s go back to the four scenarios where the Cavaliers had incredibly talented teams that came up short in the title pursuit: I’m talking about the last four years of Brown’s time here (2006-07 through 2009-10).

First, there was the San Antonio Spurs in 2007, who swept the Cavaliers, largely because Tony Parker could not be stopped. Larry Hughes’s plantar fasciitis rendered him useless and eventually chased him from the Finals, ruining all of the momentum gained by inserting Sasha Pavlovic into the starting lineup and moving Hughes to the point guard position. It also forced the rookie Daniel Gibson into starting duty, leaving the Cavs with one less bench option. Gibson was too green, Eric Snow was too old, and Parker averaged 24.5 points while slicing the Cavaliers defense apart.

In 2008, you ran into the eventual NBA champions in the Celtics, taking them to a game seven on their homecourt. Pierce’s 41 points eclipsed LeBron’s 45, and one offensive rebound from P.J. Brown made the difference in a five-point loss. In 2009, the Magic had not only Dwight Howard but two physical, scoring forwards that were a matchup nightmare for the Cavaliers’ personnel in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. The Magic rained down 62 threes in 6 games, and they won two of those games by a total of three points. The next offseason saw the Cavaliers completely go all-in to get past the Magic, getting Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon to help defend the three-point shooters and Shaquille O’Neal to defend Howard. Sadly, the Cavaliers saw the Celtics, and one despicable franchise-changing series later, the rest is history.

My point in rehashing all of that painful history is that those Cavaliers teams were probably talent deficient in every single one of those series. Brown’s defense played a crucial role in them closing the gap and nearly pulling off each of those series (with the exception of the Spurs, though they lost the two home games by just one point each). The Cavaliers are currently trying to correct the process by which they gathered talent (high picks for three straight years, accumulating cap space, and acquiring additional picks as opposed to neglecting the draft and making immediate need short-term push trades to bolster the roster). Maybe, they had the right coach and the wrong player acquisition strategy all along. I respect an organization that will admit their mistakes if they feel correcting said mistake is the best way to move forward far more than one neglecting the possibility by default.

People question Brown’s offense for its conservative and low-scoring nature at times. However, it may surprise you to know that the Cavaliers ranked as a top ten offense in terms of efficiency three times in his five years here (9th in ’05-’06, 4th in ’08-’09, and 6th in ’09-’10). I think Brown’s greatest failure was probably being unable to get James to commit to running offensive sets instead of going 1-on-5 most of the time. I would add that getting LeBron in the post could’ve made all the difference in the world.

Is hiring Brown again admitting a misstep in the franchise’s decision-making just three short years ago? It’s a fair question, and it’s one I can’t answer with all certainty. What I can tell you is that I believe if Mike Brown was not going to be fired if not for the desperate situation that the summer of 2010 caused. The thought was that LeBron didn’t respect or like playing for Brown. If the Cavaliers could bring in a more polarizing, maybe more offensively gifted coach with championship experience, it would convince LeBron that Cleveland was the best option. We all know how that played out. The Cavaliers chased multiple high-profile candidates, and they eventually hired Byron Scott. Weeks later, it was all turned upside down anyway.

Then, branching off of that, there’s the question if hiring Brown would hurt the Cavaliers’ chances at a certain big-time free agent in the summer of 2014. LeBron said himself that he thought Brown got a raw deal in Los Angeles, but is that enough to make him want to return under the same coach? I think only one person knows the answer to that.

For Brown to be hired again, however, I would absolutely REQUIRE that the team hires an experienced, offensive-minded coach to have a very vital role in what the team does on that side of the court. When Brown had John Kuester, the Cavaliers offense was the best it ever was in the 66-win campaign of 2008-2009. It led to Kuester departing for the head coaching position in Detroit. That team was 4th in offensive efficiency, 4th in effective field goal percentage, and 7th in turnover percentage. And sure, they really, really slowed it down (25th in pace), but it got the job done.

So, in the end, I guess I’m sort of endorsing a Mike Brown rehire. I’d certainly be OK with Malone, Shaw, or Jackson as well. If you feel Malone or Shaw is the next great head coach, they can provide a defensive plan that will work, and you believe in their vision more than Mike Brown’s, then by all means hire one of those guys or the others mentioned, such as Miami’s David Fizdale or fan favorite Mark Price.

What I do know is that Mike Brown’s an incredibly hard-working coach who doesn’t fold his arms when things aren’t going his way. He’ll shake up matchups and starters if he feels it will make an impact, and I don’t think he has the type of ego that Scott did. He has the ability to take a less-talented team and give them an edge by instilling defensive toughness. That’s exactly what Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and company need right now to make a playoff push next season. The last era’s Cavaliers were victims of not enough offensive talent. What they need now is not more talent on the defensive end (though, it would certainly help), they need an identity on D. Mike Brown can provide that and get this team turned around.

(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

  • http://twitter.com/WayneEmbrysKids WayneEmbrysKids

    MARK PRICE

  • http://www.facebook.com/cb.everett.9 CB Everett

    If the “right situation” is never again, then yes Mike Brown in the right situation.

  • Kirk

    Jack, I added him in there in the possibilities just for you, buddy.

  • not_gravy

    I hope Kyrie “allows” Mike to coach him too.
    Welcome to Rotation Hell 2.0 if this happens.

  • http://twitter.com/WayneEmbrysKids WayneEmbrysKids

    THANKS!! It’s so hard to figure out what Mike Brown actually accomplished, but Phil Jackson gets credit even though he had the best player in the league every time he won almost.

  • Kirk

    Precisely. The Triangle Offense and Brown’s defensive schemes are completely tied to each of their team’s success, regardless of the stars.

  • ClemJax

    Call me crazy, but doesn’t the fact that bringing Brown back immediately kills “THE
    RETURN!!!” storyline make him the beat coaching choice by default?

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.wheeler.587 Adam Wheeler

    I frankly find the outright vitriol for Mike Brown confusing. When Lebron left fans largely agreed on two things: 1. The support was flawed and in every final playoff series the Cavs played during Brown’s tenure the Cavs had Lebron, the best player on the court, but the other team often had the next three, and often four, best players on the court. That’s not Brown’s fault. 2. Browns offenses were not as awful as people remember, especially when Kuester was running that end. Often when the 1-5 sets were dragging the offense down, you have to imagine that was more Lebron’s doing than it was the actual play call. Lebron reinforced that perception during his first year in Miami when he often ran similar plays, refusing to set picks on pick and rolls. Nor did he seem all that interested in making himself fit in with Wade and Bosh.

    That first season in Miami, combined with the bitter end in that Boston series, demonstrated that much of the blame for Brown’s team to close out the critical games in tight series did lie somewhat with Lebron. Think back to the loss to Dallas in the Finals in 2010. That was the last, utter failure of the young and immature Lebron who thought the crowd would part simply because he showed up. He learned different and the results last year demonstrated his growth.

    Does that exonerate Brown? Not at all. But it should give Brown far more of a benefit of the doubt that he is getting right now. Kirk, you’re right: in the correct situation, it would be a good hire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davelb87 David W. Elbrecht

    Watching a team give back multiple 20+ point 4th quarter leads was incredibly frustrating. Mike Brown’s defensive emphasis should avoid such issues…though it can (rightfully) be argued that his offensive “strategy” would never allow them to get a 20 point lead in the first place. I do believe that a defense-first coach is what Irving and Waiters need at this point in their careers (both look lost and/or disinterested on the defensive end way too often).

    Brown’s biggest problem is that you will not “win the press
    conference” with him. There is a significant portion of the Cavs’ fan
    base that seem to have their hearts set on a LeBron return following the
    2014 season and the perception is that having Mike Brown back on the
    bench will work against that vision.

    Assuming John Kuester returns as well to work on the offensive sets, bringing Mike Brown back is a solid basketball move. However, I fear that it would also be a horrible PR move for a franchise starting to run out of goodwill with an impatient fanbase.

  • Mjn

    Quite possible that Mike Brown is one of the 20 worst coaches in NBA history. If you actually watched games and actually had knowledge of basketball, one would know that from watching 10 games. I will vomit if they hire him.

  • Mjn

    Mike Brown’s mouth is wide open in shock that he might get another job. Oh wait, thats how he always looks?

  • cmm13

    This is unbelievable.

  • @jogantt

    @Mjn, hilarious. Look forward to Round 2 of MB’s patened pressers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPb2nZPxffU

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Kirk

    Calling him one of the worst 20 coaches in NBA history is downright laughable. It speaks to how much you actually “watched games and actually had knowledge of basketball”. Get a barf bag.

  • asdfgasergwrhgsth

    As a coach myself as well as having college players and high school coaches in my family, I consider myself to have a somewhat high basketball IQ. Mike Brown is far from a bad coach. You must not understand how much influence LeBron had. His development of turning a group of below average defenders (and lazy defenders) into a top team defense in the entire NBA. Not sure if it’s a fit for Cleveland however.

  • Steve

    Yeah, you should sit the next one out. Not just the NBA, but just the Cavs have had the likes of Lucas, B Malone (important to differentiate him from his son, who seems like a good candidate), Wittman, and Smart as head coaches. Those are the guys who were truly awful.

    Brown had shortcomings, but as we just saw with a halfway decent coach in Scott, getting guys to buy in every night and exerting effort on defense is no simple task in the NBA. That Brown could do that makes him one of the top 20 coaches right now.

  • Harv 21

    Did you include Pavlovic as “certainly an above-average defender”? As i recall those deficiencies were the reason Mr. My-Defense-is-My-Offense could not stay in the starting lineup, no matter how many times they inserted him there, cajoled him and punished him with reduced minutes to play both ends. Maybe you’re thinking of someone else.

  • Harv 21

    I think of Mike as sort of a basketball Marty Schottenheimer. He’s organized, he knows how to teach basics but is rigid and stubborn enough that he will probably never be a big game coach. He could certainly put the Cavs on the right track, if that’s what they want most right now.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Kirk

    Point taken, Harv, but don’t forget that defense of his on Vince Carter in the 2007 ECF Semis. Carter shot just 35% in that series, averaging 19.7 points for the series after averaging 25 ppg during the season and shooting 45%. That includes just 23 points in the last two games combined.

    Pavs had his moments as a long defender against some shooting guards, though he was inconsistent.

  • Dave

    The one thing Lebron definitely learned from Mike Brown, though, was to be a monster on defense. Early Lebron didn’t regularly chase down a fast-breaking guard for a block. Early Lebron didn’t relish steals in the same way he enjoyed busting by 5 guys for a layup.

    What he learned in Miami was a lesson he should have learned a long time ago, but didn’t: He can’t win it all on his own. Nobody ever has – Jordan had Pippen, Shaq had Kobe (and yes, that’s the correct order) and then D-Wade, Jason Kidd had Dirk Nowitzki, Bill Russell had Bob Cousy, Magic had Kareem, the list goes on. Basketball has always been a team sport, and players that don’t understand that lose.

    One thing I will credit Byron Scott with doing though: Keeping Kyrie from getting Lebron’s attitude.

  • Vesus

    Wonder if he’s figured out that Antawn Jamison can’t guard Kevin Garnett yet.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    LeBron knew he couldn’t win all on his own it was the Cavaliers who didn’t that’s why the best players they ever put around him were named Mo Williams and Shaquille O’Neal. I think everyone knows neither of those two would ever be considered “best” at the level they were when in a Cavaliers uniform. The failure rests squarely on the front office period.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This is Cleveland!

  • Steve

    Well you have certainly defended your point well.

  • Steve

    What moves were out there for them to add a second all-star? No GM was going to be the guy that turned the Cavs into a team that could threaten 70 wins a year, and Paxson gave away important first round picks before Lebron was even here.

  • Steve

    The problem for the Cavs is, who is a big name coach that is available? Those guys don’t grow on trees. You either have to take a up and coming youngster and help mold him into the candidate you’re looking for, or accept that you’re going to be getting a sub-elite coach, and find the best one that works with what you’re hoping to do.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    No thanks Steve much like LeBron I’m over it. But I tell you one thing part of me hopes Mike Brown is rehired this way he can show everyone it was his tremendous coaching and not LeBron James that led the Cavaliers to the most success they ever had as an organization.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Yea but he knew when to use timeouts unlike Byron Scott! LoL

  • Harv 21

    that’s the same for every team with an opening, every off-season. My point is that after watching Mike every game x 5 seasons, and then seeing him with the Lakers, we have a general (not perfect) idea of his coaching basement and ceiling. It’s not bad, but unlikely that during big games he can easily adjust to unexpected events or morph into Lenny Wilkens drawing up the perfect Ehlo inbound/backdoor cut. And maybe he has negotiating leverage to fend off hiring an offensive coach with real input. Still want him, or rather have the young guy who might be the whole package that they once hoped Brown was? I’ll say this: at least initially he would be a good antidote to the lack of effort or identity under Byron.

  • Steve

    I’m all for a getting the young guy. I’ve advocated for Joerger in Memphis. The guy has had experience as the head guy at lower levels, where he supposedly has done a good job in developing younger players, and he’s the lead assistant in Memphis and has really turned around their defense.

    All I’m saying is that of the realistic candidates (i.e. not Jackson) he’s the only experience guy I’d really want, and pretty much because of that last statement. If we’re bringing in a guy with shortcomings, lets bring in the guy whose shortcomings we do understand and will provide this team with what it needs more than anything else, an identity on the defensive side of the ball.

  • Steve

    Non-responsive.

  • mgbode

    I’ll add you onto the Joerger bandwagon. Didn’t know I had someone sitting shotgun, but I’m happy to have the company.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cb.everett.9 CB Everett

    Your trolling gets old. Why don’t you run along and go do that elsewhere.

  • Harv 21

    Agree with everything you said. Except about Jackson, believe it or not. Just think at his age with his recent burn out his heart and body won’t have the juice for a ground-floor rebuild by mid-season in the middle of a 5-game February western swing. Two years ago he was having trouble pushing through with his good veteran Kobe cast. These lifers cannot walk away without coaching spasms come early fall or when they’re watching the playoffs on TV, but that doesn’t mean they still can coach at the old level. I think Phil would regret the job and the city, and we’d regret trying to revive him.

  • Steve

    Oh boo hoo. You made no attempt to advance the conversation, don’t get whiny when you get called out on it. You want a real response? Say something remotely useful to begin with.

  • Harv 21

    steve, with all due respect, you write interesting things but what’s with the continuous attacking tone? This site is somewhat of a haven for readers who try to keep things both intelligent and civil. We’re all guilty of lapses but consistent harshness towards other commenters can poison the atmosphere. Maybe reduce the personal nature or harshness of the retorts a little?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cb.everett.9 CB Everett

    Fortunately for all of humanity, what you find “useful” or “advancing” isn’t the least bit important. Look, as Harv pointed out more politely than I have the energy for with someone of your ilk, people are not here to “get called out” into petty, pissing matches. Everyone else seems to notice the tone of the room–but somehow you’re not picking up on it. Or if it hasn’t escaped you, then you’re just being a willful douche.

  • Vesus

    Yeah, let’s see how potent his defenses are without Lebron James guarding the best perimeter player.

    We already know he is clueless about offense, so no surprises there.

  • Vesus

    As it stands now, Mike Brown is the “only candidate being pursued” by the Cavaliers.

    Let’s see how this “great” defensive mind does without Lebron shutting down the opponent’s best player.

    Great search, Dan. What’s wrong, weren’t Paul Silas or Randy Wittman available?

  • mgbode

    well, the best assistants are on playoff teams.