There is a proven NBA coach on the market who has never missed the playoffs, always advanced beyond the first round, reached the NBA Finals and won a Coach of the Year award. And if the Cavaliers hire him, the fan base has threatened to revolt.
Makes perfect sense.
Mike Brown met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on Sunday, a league source said in confirming a report by WKYC-TV in Cleveland. It is the first known candidate to interview for the vacant head coaching position — and far and away the juiciest name. Bringing Brown back to the Cavs — after firing him just three years ago — is a fascinating twist in the search to replace Byron Scott as coach.
Brown’s .653 winning percentage is sixth-highest in NBA history (minimum 450 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau). He ranks ahead of guys like Stan Van Gundy (.641), Pat Riley (.636) and Jerry Sloan (.604).
He has never missed the playoffs. He has won at least one playoff series in each of his six full seasons. His teams are routinely ranked near the top of the league in most defensive categories.
Cover the name at the top of his resume, imagine he accomplished all of that coaching the New York Knicks or the Chicago Bulls, and Cavs fans would be screaming to bring him here.
Instead, Brown is blamed for LeBron James leaving, for running a stagnant offense and for getting outcoached by Van Gundy in the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. To be clear, Brown was absolutely outcoached by Van Gundy. One bad series doesn’t make him a bad coach.
Sloan coached two of the 50 greatest players in the history of the game and never won a championship, yet is revered as one of the game’s greatest of all time. Van Gundy has one of the best basketball minds in the country, but his only Finals appearance ended in a loss to the Lakers in five games. Yet fans both seem to prefer Sloan or Van Gundy to Brown.
Truth be told, Brown never would have been fired by the Cavs if not for the looming LeBron James decision. The franchise was desperate to keep the game’s greatest player and thought firing Brown was their best path to keep him. Then James left anyway.
How Brown’s return to Cleveland would impact James’ decision next summer is unknown, but the Cavs can’t worry about that right now. The worst thing they could do is build this coaching search around a decision James may or may not make a year from now.
They tried that once before, and as a result, were forced to tear the roster down to the bones with a miserable three-year stretch of basketball.
James has grown up quite a bit during his time in Miami. He has defended Brown in recent months, criticizing the Lakers for firing him after just five games this season. He said Brown should absolutely be a candidate to return to the Cavs.
And he is a strong candidate, in part because the remaining candidate pool is awfully thin. Phil Jackson isn’t coming to Cleveland. He didn’t like the situation eight years ago when the Cavs were much closer to contention, he certainly won’t like it now.
If Jackson lands anywhere, it will likely be Seattle should Chris Hansen successfully wrestle the Kings franchise out of Sacramento. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that Charlie Jackson, Phil’s son, is close friends with Hansen, the hedge fund billionaire determined to bring the NBA back to Seattle. You connect the dots from there.
In the world of unproven assistants, Brian Shaw was supposed to be ready for a head coaching job three years ago. But he’s still an assistant. The Lakers didn’t even hire him to replace Jackson, which was supposed to be the plan all along in Los Angeles. Makes you wonder why.
Mike Malone has a bright basketball mind and is a former assistant under Brown in Cleveland, but his brash personality rubbed plenty of people the wrong way the first time he was here.
Taking a career assistant and making him a head coach is a gamble. You could get Frank Vogel or you could get Randy Wittman.
In Brown, the Cavs already have a proven coach who averages 53 wins a season, always makes the playoffs and always demands his teams defend.
He never won a title with James and he was never given a fair shot to win one with Kobe Bryant. It’s not as if the Lakers stormed into the postseason after he was fired this year. The Lakers are an old, flawed collection of injured players with or without Brown.
He likely learned from his first tour here. And he’ll likely get the opportunity to make better the second time around.
If I was a betting man, I’d put big money on Mike Brown returning to Cleveland as coach of the Cavs, perhaps as soon as this week. Knowing what we know now, maybe he never should’ve left.
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.