To say I was less than thrilled when the Cavs rehired Mike Brown would be an understatement. I loathed this move. The Cavs’ coaching search took less than a week and it ended with them hiring a guy who had already blown playoff series for the franchise.
That’s not to say that I would’ve preferred another year of Byron Scott. I was fine with the Cavs giving Coach Scott his walking papers. More than fine, really. Now, was Byron given a “fair shake”? Most would argue no and I would tend to agree. While it was clear that Byron’s Cavs teams never had playoff aspirations (or even finishing-close-to-.500 aspirations), I do think “not historically bad” wasn’t too much to ask for. Yes, the roster was bad and yes, there were injuries to key players. But those reasons are just arguments for him not to be fired, not arguments for him to keep his job.
From the minute Scott was let go, it was Mike Brown and only Mike Brown. As far as I’m aware, there were few, if any, meetings with other potential coaching candidates. Sure, Gilbert gave a perfunctory call to Phil Jackson, but Phil was never a realistic option. The Cavs had their sights set on Mike Brown and they got him and as we saw from the Chip Kelly debacle, there’s something to be said for that.
But I still didn’t like it. I didn’t like the harkening back to the LeBron-era. I didn’t like the idea of watching that offense again. I didn’t like all the talk of the “LeBron 2014” ramifications. I didn’t like that they seemed to have left many a coaching stone unturned.
In short, I didn’t like that they Grover Cleveland’d it up. It was a letdown.
But less than a month later, I’ve changed my tune. That’s part of the deal as a sports fan: you can rationalize anything.
And I’ve talked myself into Mike Brown.
First, I don’t really think that Brown was, or is, a bad coach. Clearly he has faults, but he’s not bad. Randy Wittman is bad. Tim Floyd is bad. Mike Brown is not a bad coach and I’d certainly argue he’s an upgrade over Scott. Yes, Brown’s Cavs had LeBron but you don’t make the Finals and win 60+ games multiple times “with just one player” if you’re a crappy coach.
Second, this is the most Mike Brown team that Mike Brown has ever coached. During his first Cleveland tenure, the Cavs had LeBron (whose whims must be catered to AT ALL TIMES) and bunch of mismatched vets. In Los Angeles, Brown was stuck with an aging Lakers team with no bench and various knuckleheads playing center. Phil Jackson walked away from the Lakers because he didn’t want to deal with Andrew Bynum and Old Kobe. This current Cavalier roster is nothing like Brown has ever coached before. For the first time in his career, Brown won’t have to rely on just one player (LeBron or Kobe) to generate the offense. This time around, he’ll have a roster with two players (Kyrie and Dion) who can both run the offense and create their own shots.
While the ultimate goal is a championship, there’s no ticking time bomb like The Decision or Dr. Jerry Buss’s health hanging over Brown’s head. He won’t have to cater his coaching to the local hero or an international superstar. Brown will be in charge of a roster that can learn and grow together. That’s no small thing.
Third, if Mike Brown’s major flaws actually end up mattering, that means things will have gone extremely well. That Mike Brown had trouble adjusting during playoff games is certainly an issue. That his offense broke down late in games is definitely a problem. But those are problems that can doom good teams. And right now, the Cavs are anything but a good team.
I know we’re all aware of the “OKC model” and that we like to think that the Cavs are starting an upward swing. There’s a natural growth that we expect this young team to follow. But there’s no guarantee that the Cavs will improve from season to season. There are tons of examples of teams with multiple draft picks that get stuck in sub-mediocrity no-mans-land (*waves at the Kings*). The Cavs need to walk before they can run and crawl before they can walk and hiring a hardworking, defensive minded, professional coach like Brown is the best way to get this franchise on its feet and walking.
I view Brown’s big-game, can’t-win-a-title flaws as I do Brandon Weeden’s age. If Weeden’s old age ever becomes a real factor, that means he’s been the best Browns’ quarterback since 1999. If Mike Brown’s in-game adjustments are causing the Cavs to blow playoff games, guess what? The Cavs are playing in playoff games!
Finally, there’s Brown’s defensive acumen. Under Scott, the Cavs defense was abysmal. If there was a system, the Cavs rarely followed it. If good defenses look like “five guys on a string”, the Cavs defense was… I don’t know? What’s the opposite of “string”? Scott’s underlying defensive principles seemed to be “play harder” and “pay attention” or sometimes you get benched. If nothing else, Brown will give these young Cavs a coherent system and the defensive tools to succeed in the NBA.
Defense wins championships and a good defense will cover up a multitude of sins on the offensive end. That Kyrie showed zero defensive growth after his second season under Scott was an issue. If this rebuild is going to work, it is imperative that guys like Kyrie and Dion become at least passable NBA defenders. While it may not have been “fair” that Byron was let go, there was zero evidence that Kyrie would make a defensive jump in his third year. The hiring of Mike Brown changes that.
In the end, my main objection to the Mike Brown hire was that I’ve already seen this guy blow playoff games for this franchise. I wanted new blood. I wanted a new, exciting voice.
But I also want the Cavs to play meaningful games in April and May.