INDEPENDENCE: Mike Brown was watching his son play basketball at an AAU game Saturday morning in Los Angeles. By Sunday night, he was having dinner with a collection of old, familiar faces. By Wednesday, he was on a podium again at the Cleveland Clinic Courts, flanked by Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert and explaining how the most successful coach in team history found his way back home.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Brown said. “It’s funny how life works out. From afar, Cleveland has always been special in my heart and in my family’s heart. … I just feel fortunate, my family feels fortunate just to be able to have an opportunity to come back.”
Brown signed a four-year deal with a club option for a fifth year. The total package is believed to be worth more than $20 million. He is back as coach of the Cavaliers today, back in charge of the team that threw him out three years ago following consecutive 60-win seasons. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert privately insists he has always been a big supporter and believer in his new/old coach.
Gilbert went on the offensive early Wednesday, sending out a series of tweets defending why Brown was the right coach for this team. Then, as expected, he confessed during the news conference it was a mistake to ever fire him.
“Sure it was a mistake,” Gilbert said. “We have the benefit of hindsight now, and in hindsight it was a mistake.”
This was Gilbert’s very public apology to Brown for all the chaos surrounding the summer of 2010, when Brown was painted as the scapegoat for all that went wrong. The owner fired the coach and lost his star anyway.
Now, as Gilbert playfully called it, the Cavs are embarking on “Mike Brown 2.0.”
“Mike Brown is exactly what this franchise needs right now,” Gilbert said.
Shortly after Byron Scott was fired, Grant suggested bringing back Brown. Gilbert initially questioned whether they could do it, but he didn’t need much convincing. Grant made a few phone calls to a few other candidates, but Brown was always the main target.
Grant and Brown have been close friends since college, but all parties insist Grant never approached Brown about returning until the phone call last weekend. Within hours, Brown was on a flight to Detroit where he met with Gilbert, Grant and minority owners Nate Forbes and Jeff Cohen.
The meeting was supposed to last 90 minutes, but stretched 6½ hours. By the end of the night, most everyone knew how this would turn out. The two sides worked quickly to construct a deal, which took just three days to culminate.
“It’s a little bit of a unique circumstance,” Gilbert said. “I don’t want to do a George Steinbrenner imitation or anything. As we started talking about it more, even before we talked to Mike, it was obvious how much of a fit it was. Forget that he was here in the past. Who he is, his philosophy and his identity, if you put something over the name and just describe what he brings, you’d say that’s the guy you need.”
Brown will immediately get to work repairing a defense that plummeted to the worst in the league without him. The Cavs haven’t ranked higher than 27th in defensive field-goal percentage in three years under Scott and fell to last this season.
Scott always spoke of winning on the defensive end, but the concepts never seemed to take hold. Shooters were constantly left open, the rim too often was left exposed and the Cavs were never able to properly defend the pick and roll.
The passion in Brown’s voice was evident as he talked about the mantra of this season was going to be committing to the journey.
He spoke of players who are selfless, accountable and trusting to the group. Scott could never get the players to embrace that trust. Now it’s Brown’s turn.
Certainly questions remain about Brown’s ability to develop a young roster and the type of offense he’ll employ. Brown said he hasn’t made any decisions on his assistants, although former assistant John Kuester is available and the Cavs retained Jamahl Mosley and Nate Tibbetts from Scott’s previous staff.
If there was a misstep, it was in the three’s inability to properly communicate the goals for next season. The Cavs billed Brown as a coach who has never missed the playoffs, but Brown hedged when asked if that is the goal for next season because it’s too early and he doesn’t know the personnel yet.
Gilbert said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if this team made the playoffs. But privately, the message is different.
Gilbert believes this should be a playoff team next season and so does the front office. The days of playing for high draft picks ended the night the Cavs lost to the Charlotte Bobcats to close the regular season.
The ending to Brown’s first two chapters finished badly. He was fired by the Los Angeles Lakers after just five games this season and Gilbert already admitted he shouldn’t have been fired by the Cavs, either.
Only Brown doesn’t have the same grace period that Scott enjoyed. He won’t be expected to reach the NBA Finals this year, but this team is expected to at least win about as many games as it loses.
For now, the Browns — all of them — are thrilled to be back home.
In the quiet serenity of the empty practice facility, Mike’s oldest son, Elijah, sat outside his father’s office wearing his new Cavs T-shirt and tying his sneakers. Elijah was in high school when the Browns left Cleveland. Now he’ll be a freshman at Butler in the fall. The Cavs shirt still fits, though.
The Browns are home again, back to the place they never wanted to leave. Gilbert believes Mike Brown 2.0 will be better than the first version. He’d better be right. The franchise is counting on it.
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.