LAS VEGAS: As the hardest thunderstorm to hit this city in years rumbled through the desert Friday night, Mike Brown stood outside the Four Seasons hotel with a cell phone in one hand and a duffel bag of laundry slung over the opposite shoulder.
Dressed in khaki shorts and a green golf shirt, he was on the phone saying good night to his wife when another man waiting for the valet to bring his car interrupted to shake Brown’s hand.
“Hey Coach, I’m from Cleveland,” he said. “Good luck this year. Glad to have you back.”
Yes, Mike Brown is back in Cleveland, but this isn’t the same man who left. He is more confident, surer of who he is and what he wants. In today’s Part 1 of an engaging 2½-hour interview conducted at the team hotel, Brown discusses his return to Cleveland, criticisms about him as a coach and a possible reunion with LeBron James.
Q: You seem like a different coach this time around, like you have more of a swagger. This doesn’t seem like the same Mike Brown who left Cleveland. Do you agree?
A: Yeah. Obviously when I was in Cleveland, I was a rookie coach or a first-time coach. There were a lot of things that we as an organization and myself individually were dealing with. I took it all in stride and learned and grew from it. I went to L.A. and had a great opportunity there from the Buss family and [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak. I learned and grew from that.
Now I’m back, so it’s a matter of learning and experiencing different things and growing like anybody would if they spent time on the job. I don’t know if there’s any other thing that can help you mature, learn and grow faster than the L.A. market and the media. People may laugh or think I’m crazy, but it was a great experience for me.
Q: Do you have more power this time around?
A: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if power is the right word because I had a tremendous relationship with [former GM] Danny [Ferry] when he was here. I’m better prepared this time around, I’m more educated this time around, I have a sense of knowing what I want more this time around and what I expect. I don’t know if power is quite the word. I think those things and maybe some other words describe this time as opposed to last time. There’s an assuredness, I guess, if there’s one word.
Q: I never liked when you would say, “LeBron allows me to coach him.” Then you said it about Kobe Bryant, too. Do you still believe it was the right thing to say or do you think it gave those guys more leverage than they already had?
A: It’s funny, Gregg Popovich says that about Tim Duncan and he has said it publicly before. That’s where I learned it [with the San Antonio Spurs]. But I guess those are the shoes I’m sitting in, I’m not Gregg Popovich. I believe and feel the same way about certain things. He could say it and he’s applauded for it as a genius comment to say, but I say it and it’s looked upon as, “This guy is scared” or “He’s giving them more power than what they deserve.”
I don’t know if there are many things I’ve done or said that I regret. It’s not that I need to walk around pounding my chest that I’m LeBron’s boss or Kobe’s boss and telling them what to do. Yes, at the end of the day I’m going to have the final say of what’s going to happen on the floor. That’s always been there and will never change.
But I understand if I give a guy like Earl Clark some ownership or Alonzo Gee or Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters some ownership in this process, as well as Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum, at end of the day they’re going to feel like they’re a big part of the process and they’ll buy in that much more. It’s more of a partnership, but at the end of the day I have the final decision and you appreciate guys that buy in to what you have to say.
Q: What’s your relationship with LeBron like now? There are so many questions about how it all ended, where do you guys stand?
A: We’ve texted a couple times throughout the year. Every time we’ve played each other, we’ve said our hellos. He’s his own person and has his own life going forward and so do I.
What’s reported and what’s factual is different. There are no ill feelings or ill will or anything like that coming from me toward LeBron. I’m excited for him and his family for where he is and I truly believe he feels the same about me. He has said nice things publicly about me in the past couple years, and I have about him.
Q: Do you think he appreciates you more now than he did when he was here?
A: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I understand what you’re saying. Just like I’ve grown immensely, I’m sure he has, too, and he’d be the first to say so. But that’d be a question you’d have to ask him.
Q: There is so much speculation about what could happen next summer, so I’ll ask you this way: Do you think you could ever coach him again?
A: I can coach anybody at anytime, and that’s not specifically LeBron or Kobe or Andrew [Bynum]. I’m confident in my abilities and I look forward to being in this business for a long time.
Q: When your name first surfaced as a candidate to return, it was met with quite a bit of resistance publicly. The biggest criticism was you couldn’t win a championship with LeBron or Kobe, so how can you without them? Does it bother you when people say that and what would your response be?
A: It doesn’t bother me. People use this business as entertainment. They pay a lot of money to be entertained. Their criticism is what it is. I don’t pay attention to it.
Q: Is it a fair criticism?
A: Look at Erik Spoelstra [with the Miami Heat]. He’s a great coach. He’s done a fantastic job down there. But I think if you put the teams on paper, and you have LeBron from three or four years ago, it’s a different team and a different situation.
Every situation you have to look upon independently. I felt we were close to winning a championship a couple times when I was here. We just couldn’t get over the hump for whatever reason. The things we accomplished as a team were things we should all be proud of.
Tomorrow: Mike Brown addresses criticisms about his coaching style, motivating Kyrie Irving to play defense and the Cavs returning to the playoffs.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. 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.