By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
INDEPENDENCE: The time for an intentional technical foul might have passed.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown predicted that might happen after the preseason opener against the Milwaukee Bucks last week. Calling timeouts 20 seconds apart after his players surrendered back-to-back dunks on defensive lapses, he said he would not hesitate to stop exhibition games for such teaching moments, no matter the circumstances.
“If I use all my timeouts and we go to a mandatory [timeout] and I don’t have any and it’s a technical foul, so be it,” Brown said that night. “They’ve got to understand how important each possession is.”
That was his strategy in the first three preseason games. Starting tonight against the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena, Brown said he is going to let the Cavs play through some of the mistakes that rankle him to see if they can figure it out on their own.
It could be a test for a coach power forward Tristan Thompson described as “a perfectionist.”
In the third week of training camp, Brown’s second stint with the Cavs has already been much different from his first. He’s much more of a teacher than when he coached them from 2005-10.
Brown has always emphasized defense, but in the past he wasn’t addressing a group of kids who thought it was a foreign language. He had veterans who weren’t as fluent as he’d like.
During Mike Brown 1.0, as Cavs owner Dan Gilbert differentiates it, Brown’s main project was stressing the importance of defense to superstar LeBron James.
“He was a big part of what we did on both sides of the floor and he was a young leader. In order to be able to lead, you have to know,” Brown said Wednesday at the Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We felt like we needed to teach a lot so he could lead the right way.
“Now we’ve got a few of those guys, so it does make it a little different.”
Defense became an afterthought during the previous three years under former Cavs coach Byron Scott. If Scott were displeased with a player’s effort, he wouldn’t embarrass him publicly by yanking him. Brown hasn’t hesitated to do that, then going immediately to the dry-erase board to diagram the egregious error.
Scott would have stood there with his arms folded. He wouldn’t have tried to teach the offender, he would have buried him on the bench for the next game — or month.
Brown is now going where Scott feared to tread — back to basketball basics.
It’s a much-needed educational flashback. Twelve of the 20 players on the Cavs’ camp roster have two years or less of NBA experience. As the Cavs stockpile players they hope will be their foundation, there is much to oversee and improve.
Rookie forward Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in June, learned little during his one season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and is extremely raw. Entering his third year, Thompson switched his shot from his left hand to his right in the offseason. Guard Dion Waiters, the fourth overall pick in 2012, has issues at both ends of the floor. All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in 2011, wants to take his game to the next level, which will require the same commitment to defense James initially fought under Brown. Thus far, Irving has been a convert.
Brown, 43, is entering his 15th full year in the NBA, his seventh as a coach. But he hasn’t dipped into his well of basketball fundamentals like this since he participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program in South Africa in the summer of 2006.
“We’ve broken this stuff down to it being real basic at times,” Brown said. “People take for granted that all NBA players know. A lot of times guys are here, not necessarily because they know the fundamentals of the game, but because they’re so ultra-talented. They’re either long and athletic or long with very good feet. Or they can shoot the ball, but don’t know how to play the game.”
Brown enjoys the instructional part of what he’s doing. He believes the players appreciate it, although it surely wears on them. He spent over an hour Wednesday going over the film from Tuesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Thompson doesn’t seem to mind going back to square one.
“That’s got to be done, especially with what we’re trying to build here,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to build something for the long term. Coach Brown is going to be here for a long time. He wants to make sure us veteran young guys know what he wants so when we move forward it can be second nature to us.”
Laying the Cavs’ foundation for the future means Brown must revert to what some might consider high school or college tactics. Scott would have shuddered at the thought.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.