INDEPENDENCE: It wasn’t anything Cavaliers acting General Manager David Griffin said about coach Mike Brown on Tuesday that made Brown’s return seem uncertain.
It was what Griffin didn’t say.
Twice during a 25-minute, wrap-up news conference, Griffin was asked specifically about Brown and the job he did during a 33-49 season. A third time the question was posed to Griffin whether he blamed the coach or the players for giving away games, especially late in the season.
Not once during those three chances did Griffin glowingly praise Brown.
On the first, Griffin said, “We’re all under review.” He didn’t even mention Brown’s name.
Later when asked to evaluate Brown, Griffin said, “Our coach and our coaching staff did a very good job.” Griffin pointed out the Cavs’ rise from 30th to 12th in defensive field-goal percentage and strides made offensively in the second half, when they were “better at moving bodies and the ball.”
But Griffin had already given a harsh analysis of the team, saying it wasn’t tough enough, smart enough or big enough and that it had to improve its shooting. More than once he mentioned the Cavs’ lack of “basketball IQ.”
On giving away games, Griffin didn’t absolve Brown, either.
“I put a lot on the fit of the group,” Griffin said. “I’d like to see us move in a direction where we improve our ability to make the right basketball decision at the right time. There is no isolated blame of any kind. It’s the collective. Right now, the collective isn’t working.”
Reading between the lines, it was enough to make those at Cleveland Clinic Courts wonder whether Mike Brown 2.0 will turn out any differently than Mike Brown 1.0. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert fired Brown after the 2010 season in a desperate attempt to persuade LeBron James to stay in free agency.
Gilbert did not attend Tuesday’s gathering. He was off “trying to make us better,” Griffin said. That probably means Gilbert is contacting candidates for the roles of coach, general manager and/or president, a new layer he’s considering adding. It remains to be seen whether anyone wants to work with the Cavs’ collection of misfits and for an impulsive owner who fired General Manager Chris Grant on Feb. 6 without a long-term plan.
Gilbert expected the Cavs to reach the playoffs this season, a goal heightened by the weakness of the Eastern Conference. Instead they earned a lottery pick for the fourth consecutive year. With the eighth playoff spot on the line in an April 4 game at the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs lost 117-98, with Griffin saying they reverted to their old ways of being selfish and not trusting each other.
Some would blame the players for that. Gilbert might think Brown should have done something to snap them out of that selfish haze. At the moment, I’m leaning that way as well.
What Griffin thinks might not matter. His status is as uncertain as Brown’s. Griffin’s name also has been rumored in connection with other teams, including the Detroit Pistons.
Asked about those reports, Griffin said, “This is a really, really big focus for our organization moving forward: You’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out. And there’s no in-between. You declare a side. I’m all the way in. This is where I want to be, it’s the organization I believe in.”
If the acting title is removed and Griffin remains in charge, the endorsement he failed to give Brown will hang over the Cavs until Gilbert speaks. Brown and Grant were best friends and teammates in college. Brown is not a great communicator, a trait that seems to be one of Griffin’s strengths.
Gilbert must realize if he fires Brown again, he might not be able to lure an experienced NBA coach. He might be left scouring the pro assistant and college ranks with no clout but a fat wallet. Perhaps he can be convinced that continued upheaval would doom his franchise, just as it has the Browns.
But if the vibes coming from Griffin on Tuesday were any indication, more upheaval might on the way.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.