LAS VEGAS: The Cavaliers couldn’t win a championship with LeBron James, but coach Mike Brown still believes it can happen. In Part 2 of his Q&A with the Beacon Journal, Brown addresses criticisms about his coaching style, whether he can bench his star for not defending and the Cavs returning to the playoffs.
QUESTION: How will your long friendship with Chris Grant impact your GM/coach relationship?
ANSWER: We were able to experience it a little bit the first time because Danny Ferry and I were pretty close. You could have the same argument that Danny and I were close, and yes, we did agree on a lot of things, but he’s stubborn and I’m stubborn. I don’t think it’s any different with Chris. We’ve already had a few disagreements. We just said, “When we walk out this door we’re on the same page, but on this one, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.”
Q: If Cleveland couldn’t win a championship with the best player in the game, how can fans have hope it will happen now?
A: Look at LeBron’s first year in Miami. They had the best player in the world, they had another top-50, all-time great in Dwyane Wade, they had another perennial All-Star in Chris Bosh and it seemed like everybody on their bench was a U.S. Olympic team member at one time. They had a great coach, a hall of fame GM and they don’t win it in their first year. And they were close to not winning it this year with the addition of Ray Allen and some other guys.
You have to be a little lucky. You have to be good enough and work hard enough. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a championship team in ’03 in San Antonio, so I feel like I know a little bit about what it takes.
It’s not easy to win a championship, but I truly believe with the owner we have and his commitment and desire, and the same with Chris’ vision and desire, I think it can be done. A championship doesn’t start and end at any other level than at the top. If the guy at the top doesn’t have the vision or belief or willingness to do whatever it takes to win, it ain’t going to happen.
Q: Is there one of those series that hangs with you more than the rest? Orlando or Boston series maybe?
A: There are a couple that gnaw at me. The first is the ’07 series against the Spurs in the Finals. To be there and taste it like we tasted it and having that opportunity and not winning it, that’s hard. The Orlando series and Boston series were tough because you thought you had a good enough team. I can even go back to when I was at Indiana in my second year. At the beginning of the season, going through what we went through in Detroit and the brawl, we had a team that I felt could’ve competed very seriously for a championship until that happened. Detroit was the defending champs and we were up in their house and handling them pretty good. I was excited for that year. So there are games or instances or series that still gnaw at you and that’s part of the motivation of trying to win a championship.
Q: You’ve coached two of the greatest players in the world in LeBron and Kobe Bryant. I’m not putting Kyrie Irving in that category, but he has the potential to be a superstar. How does coaching two established stars help you with a guy who has that potential?
A: I don’t know how established LeBron was. He was two years in the league when I got here and he hadn’t been to the playoffs yet and he was straight out of high school. He learned and developed quickly and I don’t expect anything different from Kyrie.
One thing I can say for sure, when you talk about coaching a Tim Duncan or LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, all those guys have a tremendous work ethic. What separates them from good to great is they don’t just work during the regular season, they work when people least expect them to work and it’s constant.
On top of that, they’re extremely intelligent. When I was in San Antonio, we used to put things together for practice or try to introduce something new and Pop would say, “We have to make sure this is going to make sense to Tim.” He’s a guy who has a great feel for the game and he will know right away nine times out of 10 if it ain’t going to work.
We wanted to make sure we were prepared enough that he would be able to feel it and taste it right away.
And the third thing all these guys have in common is they are very, very competitive. People will say, “I’m a competitor. I want to win, I even want to win at dominos.” No, no, no buddy. It takes a special person to really understand what winning is about and really crave that competitiveness or have a competitive spirit that’s there in everything you do. Now it comes out in different ways amongst those three, but those are the constants.
A guy like Kyrie, with his talent, can fit in that category someday. But if he wants to be in the same breath with those guys, he’s going to have to win.
Q: Kyrie has not shown much interest in playing defense in either of his first two years. Would you hesitate to pull your best player off the floor if he’s not defending?
A: I’m going to coach all of our guys, but it’s not my goal to embarrass anybody. If I pull someone off the floor, it would be as a teaching experience. We talked about that with Dion [Waiters] and Tyler [Zeller]. They’re two roster guys who are young and can grow defensively.
Going into the summer league, I told [assistant coach] Jamahl [Mosley], if something needs to be corrected, go ahead and pull Dion. So he got pulled a couple of times. Jamahl and some other coaches let him know what he needed to do as opposed to what he did do and then they put him right back in. That won’t be any different for me.
If I feel like I need to pull Kyrie or Tristan [Thompson] or Dion or anyone else, I’ll do it if I feel it’s the appropriate time. I’ll blow timeouts if I have to get a point across to the team. I think as a team we have to be better defensively than what we have been in the past.
Q: Your offensive numbers your last year here were pretty good. Does it bother you when people say you’re a defensive coach who doesn’t know offense or you need to bring in an offensive coordinator?
A: It’s only human, when someone says you can’t do something or they try to pigeon-hole you, it’s going to bother you some. But if you look at our last two years in Cleveland offensively, statistically we were pretty good in a lot of areas.
Our first year in Cleveland, we probably spent 95 percent of practice preaching about the defensive end. I wanted to establish a culture and I wanted our guys to understand if we defend, we’ll always give ourselves a chance.
And I always said to my staff, if we have a guy like LeBron, he can create offense for anybody. I always felt he would somehow, some way give us a good enough look at the end of the game as long as we gave ourselves a chance defensively.
The second year it was probably 75 to 80 percent. And after that second year, when there was a belief there and there was that culture, for me it was easy to start transitioning to, “Hey we need to get better on offense so we’re more balanced come playoff time” and our numbers showed it.
Q: That defensive culture is obviously gone. Do you need to approach it that way again?
A: I feel like there’s a culture I do want to establish, and it does start on that end of the floor. Do I feel I need to be that drastic or will I be that drastic? I don’t think so. But I coached the first four practices and we literally scrimmaged for 3½ minutes out of the first four practices. There was a lot of drill work, a lot of teaching on that end of the floor and I can’t see that changing too much. But I don’t know if it will be at a 90 or 95 percent clip.
Q: Will this season be a disappointment if you don’t make the playoffs?
A: I’m a short-term guy. I believe in the next play, the next quarter, the next shoot-around, the next game. I’m a process-oriented guy and you’ll hear me preach that a lot this year.
I’m coaching for us to be a little better every day so at the end of the season, we’re able and ready to compete for an NBA championship. So yeah, I expect us to make the playoffs and if we don’t, yes I’m going to be disappointed, because I’m not coaching this team for any other reason but to win a championship.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.