Talking Myself into Mike Brown

Dan Gilbert, Mike Brown, Chris Grant

Dan Gilbert, Mike Brown, Chris GrantTo 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.

  • MrCleaveland

    Good article. I was also ambivalent about Brown, but what the heck, at least things can’t get any worse. Probably.

    BTW, what does “they Grover Cleveland’d it up” mean? Never heard that before.

  • thenoclist

    Well, you’ve convinced me.

  • The_Real_Shamrock


  • Tim K.

    I love the Grover Cleveland reference. Can we all refer to Mike Brown as “Grover” now. I think that’s fantastic!

  • AMC

    This basically exactly sums up my feelings on Mike Brown better that I could. Good work.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Sorry Ben I can’t be with you on this brother I guess time does really heal wounds and memories forget all of the so-called little things that Mike Brown severely lacked. All I can say is best of luck.

  • Grif_E

    Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as PotUS.

  • MrCleaveland

    Ah! Now I get it. Thanks.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Only one Grover in Cleveland sports history for me and that’s the one who played 1B for the Indians before eventually managing them, Mike Hargrove.

  • Tom T.

    I still don’t understand all of the Cavs fans who are upset with this hire. Kudos to Ben for coming around on what I think is a great decision.

    -For one, the defense he was able to construct with the Cavs was nothing short of miraculous. Look at the roster he inherited, and name for me one player who was known as a good defender. Remember, this was before LeBron cared about defense, and a good portion of Brown’s Cavs tenure was spent with the likes of Mo Wiliams, Drew Gooden, and Z playing heavy minutes, yet they still were elite defensively.

    – The offensive criticisms are overblown. The Cavs had very good offensive rankings those last couple years. And digging deeper, assuming my memory is correct, their first quarter offense, i.e. the period in the game when they ran their sets most faithfully, was near the best in the league. We don’t really know who to blame for the “LeBron Iso” end-of-game shenanigans, but it is just as likely LBJ’s fault and is not because the Cavs “had a terrible offense.”

    – Playoff failures, lack of adjustments? In hindsight there are some things that could have been done differently, especially in the Orlando series, but remember that the Magic played out of their minds that series, especially shooting threes, and two of their key players have since been linked to PED’s, which everybody seems to ignore. And I don’t need to rehash all of the gory details of the Boston series in 2010, but remember that after an embarrassing game 2 loss, the Cavs drilled the Celtics on their home floor. That seems to suggest that Mike Brown is capable of making adjustments. I realize you’re never guaranteed a ton of chances to prove yourself in the playoffs, but writing off Mike Brown because of two series each with unreal things happening seems harsh.

    Long story short – I heart Mike Brown, and couldn’t be happier that the Cavs brought back one of the most successful coaches in recent NBA history. And for those of you who want to give LBJ all of the credit for that, don’t forget that the Heat, with their vaunted stable of future hall-of-famers, only this year were able to finally duplicate the win total of the 08-09 “LeBron and a bunch of scrubs” Cavs.

  • Rocko

    Well done – great article!

    Similar concerns with the rehire. After seeing Brown so severly out coached in the playoffs (see ’09 Orlando/Van Gundy) it makes little sense to bring someone back whose offensive philosophy consists only of “pick & roll”…

    Brown- I hope has learned something in his time away from Cleveland. Perhaps this will be his “Steve Jobs” moment when he returned to Apple.

    Cleveland needs a championship. Not more let downs.

  • Laughing Cavs

    These are great points.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Loved this point Ben. Never thought about it this way but it is true:

    “If Weeden’s old age ever becomes a real factor, that means he’s been the best Browns’ quarterback since 1999.

  • LaundroMat

    “*waives at the Kings*”

    You want “waves” here.

    This is a confusion I see only on sports blogs, which I understand since players are waived, and when they are, it’s as though we wave goodbye to them.

  • zonk

    27-55 is technically an improvement I guess. If Aaron Goldhammer is the founding member of someone’s “fan-club” who has been generally criticized by Cleveland sports fans the way Brown was, all I can say is that while “my microphone might not be bigger”, my comprehension of sports in this town certainly is superior.

    Brown was not the sole reason this team lost to Orlando (horrendous match-ups and ungodly 3 point shooting played their parts), or any of the Boston series (just as an example, read Wally Szczerbiak’s line from game 7 of 2008 when Lebron went toe-to-toe with Pierce), the sad truth is a more experienced coach probably does change the outcome of one of those series.

    So now expectations are lower, and we are talking Brown up that he can “have us walk”. Well you guys can have the below .500 8th seed first round sweep by the Heat, I am just not interested in that at all. The only thing that saves Brown’s tenure is Andrew Wiggins in 2014, which is why I will accept one more year of this garbage before turning it off.

  • saggy

    good points. I do believe, however, that Mike Brown is poor at making IN-GAME adjustments. We have seen it many times where, after the half or at the end of a quarter, the other team made changes and the Cavs didn’t.

  • saggy

    Grover Cleveland – wow, that was awesome.

    also, “5 guys on a banana peel” is how i would describe their defense.