So Mike Brown was officially fired today. Really though, he was gone after the Cavaliers lost Games 5 and 6 by a combined 50 points. This looked especially bad for Brown, a coach who came to the Cavs as a highly touted defensive specialist. So much for that.
Brown is an enigma because it is harder to evaluate him than other coaches; he has had LeBron his entire head coaching career. Sure the Cavs became one of the best defensive teams, but how was this same defense demolished in the playoffs? Did Doc Rivers simply out-coach him? Brown won Coach of the Year only last year, but how much of his success can we attribute to LeBron?
Whether you think Mike Brown is a great coach, at the very least, the Cavaliers took the first step in giving themselves a better chance of retaining LeBron. As Adrian Wojnarowski pointed out this weekend, “As much as ever, James needs a coach. He needs someone unafraid of him, someone willing to tell him the truth.” But with the rumors swirling that Kentucky coach John Calipari and LeBron will be a package deal this summer, Woj continues, “This will never happen with Calipari. What Calipari represents is a power play by James and his inner circle to take over an organization, to entrust themselves – [William] Wesley, agent Leon Rose and business manager Maverick Carter – to collectively control James’ fate.”
Calipari is not the answer for the Cavs or LeBron, but regardless, the Cavaliers must hire a coach before LeBron makes a decision. At this point, the Cavs’ roster is the most attractive it’s going to be. If LeBron signs with another team, they suddenly become one of the least desirable options for any of the highly regarded coaches still available. But if they hire a coach now, and a great one at that, the Cavaliers then become more serious contenders for LeBron. With that in mind, here are the three coaches the Cavaliers should go after before free agency starts:
1. Tom Thibodeau
Like Mike Brown, Tom Thibodeau is labeled a “defensive specialist.” This may have been the downfall for Brown, but Thibodeau has been the guy behind stopping LeBron as the Celtics have beaten the Cavaliers in two of the past three Playoffs. Needless to say, LeBron would rather have this guy coaching his team. Also, while Thibodeau is most well-known for his defensive prowess, limiting his coaching ability is a mistake. He was once an Assistant Coach on Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks and Rockets teams, and JVG had this to say about Thibodeau:
“The guy has been so good for so long that he’s been taken for granted. And Tom now has this thing where he’s known as a defensive guy, which he’s great at — not good, great. But he also is very good offensively. And it’s the reason why I hired him initially in New York — his work with individual players. He had incredibly good offensively ideas. His work with Yao Ming still gets overlooked because Yao is hurt a lot. But in Yao’s last full year, he was an MVP candidate, 25 and 11. …”
2. Larry Brown
Larry Brown’s name is seemingly thrown around for every vacant head coaching job. Since Doug Collins has secured the Sixers job, though, Brown is presumably available even though he is still under contract with the Bobcats. Brown’s 2003-04 Pistons pulled off one of the greatest Finals upsets in defeating the stacked Lakers, and his tenure with the Sixers proved that he could handle a larger than life personality. Brown is not a specialist, but a complete coach who does not take any nonsense from his players, no matter who they are.
3. Avery Johnson
Much like Larry Brown, Avery Johnson is a strong-willed coach who would keep LeBron in line. Johnson became the fastest coach to reach 150 wins, won the 2006 Coach of the Year Award, and took the Mavericks to the Finals in only his second year. The downside is that Johnson’s team suffered an epic collapse against the Warriors in 2007, though, and he lost in the first round the following year. But Johnson is more formidable than Mike Brown and has had time to reflect on his shortcomings. We used to praise Brown for allowing LeBron free reign of the offense, but this strategy has proven ineffective against the Celtics and Magic.
Criticism of Johnson revolves the opposite – how hard he is on his players and how he sticks to a set game plan too much. But with LeBron, he would allow him flexibility while still having a plan in place. Mike Brown lacked this second quality once LeBron was stifled and gave up. Brown still had Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and Shaq, but had no plan B once LeBron was rendered obsolete. And as a former point guard and assistant under Don Nelson, Johnson would only help LeBron’s development.
What do you think? Should the Cavs hire a coach now? Who?
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