NBA / May 14, 2010 / 3:10 pm

Firing Mike Brown (the remix)

As the fallout from last night’s Celtics/Cavs game continues, basketball talk today has centered around analyzing LeBron James‘ Game 6 performance, speculating on where LBJ will end up in free agency, and watching the Cavs’ front office to see if (or when) coach Mike Brown will be fired.

Just a few minutes ago, Cleveland majority owner Dan Gilbert held a press conference where he denied reports that Brown had been fired.

Back in 2007, when the Cavs were down 3-0 to the San Antonio Spurs and on the brink of an NBA Finals sweep, I wrote a column saying the team needed to fire Mike Brown that offseason. I went back and re-read that column during the Gilbert press conference, and aside from some flubs on my part — like mentioning Boobie Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic as part of Cleveland’s “decent young core” — it holds up remarkably well three years later. Check out “Firing Mike Brown,” from June 14, 2007:

*** *** ***

Blame is a complicated thing, especially in this purportedly simple endeavor we call sports. When a game or series can hinge on so many variables, the loser has a number of directions to point his finger: referees, weather, teammates, injuries, distractions … anything to steer the blame away from himself.

The ’07 NBA Finals are basically over, and whether the Spurs claim the trophy this week in Cleveland or next week in San Antonio, the time is coming when the Cavs will be looking to place blame.

Mike Brown doesn’t deserve all of it. Anyone who knows basketball knew (whether they wanted to admit it or not) that Tim Duncan and Co. would win this series while making the Cavs look like a March Madness 14-seed trying to hang with a 3-seed in the process. And Brown isn’t solely to blame for how this series has played out.

But when it’s all said and done, and the Cavs have wrapped up the best season in franchise history, Mike Brown still needs to be fired.

Brown’s shortcomings as a coach were exposed in last year’s playoffs, when his offensive game planning (which sits somewhere between “unimaginative” and “nonexistent”) and poor late-game management came into play when the Cavs squeaked by Washington and ultimately fell to Detroit. This year it’s been no different. The Cavs played like a badly-coached team while trudging through the injury-depleted Wizards, the overrated Nets and the uninspired (and also badly-coached) Pistons.

Against San Antonio, Brown’s deficiencies have shined brighter than the wardrobe room of a Kid ‘n Play movie. He watched Tony Parker abuse Larry Hughes for two games, and didn’t change the lineup until Hughes literally couldn’t play anymore. He didn’t play the right players for the right situations, like when he had Ilgauskas on the bench at the end of Game 3 and left Varejao and Eric Snow (arguably his two worst offensive players) on the court when Cleveland needed to score. And he’s mishandled LeBron‘s playing time (first quarter, Game 2) and potential.

Seriously, I wrote before Game 1 that Brown needed to mix it up with LeBron. Here’s what I said at the time: “Mike Brown’s ‘playbook’could probably fit on a bar napkin — it seems the only actual plays the Cavs run are iso’s for LeBron, pick-and-pops with LeBron and Big Z, and pick-and-rolls with ‘Bron and Varejao. It worked against Detroit, in part because ‘Bron was an absolute animal, but also because the Pistons played terrible defense and Flip Saunders never came up with a way to defend those three plays. Gregg Popovich is smarter than that; he’ll find a way to neutralize Brown’s mini-playbook, so Brown might want to at least come up with some creative things to do with LeBron. We’re not asking for anything too abstract — it just wouldn’t be the worst idea to post LeBron up a couple times or have him work the baseline … anything to mix it up and give the Spurs defense different looks. Ultimately, it will open up more doors for ‘Bron and his teammates.”

So when did Brown start putting LeBron in the post? Game Three. And what happened? After two frustrating games in San Antonio when he was relatively bottled up on the perimeter, LeBron had his best game of the series, dropping 25 points, 8 boards and 7 dimes and scoring easily on Bruce Bowen.

To Mike Brown’s credit, he is a great defensive strategist and, as Jed wrote in his column defending Brown, the Cavs players like playing for him. But the reality is that he’s not a championship-level coach, and this organization’s only goal should be to win a championship while they have a future Hall of Famer at his athletic peak.

Boobie was good in 2007

Look, I’m normally the type of person to give everyone another second chance. I can forgive the Mike Vicks, Ricky Williamses, Mike Tysons and Dennis Rodmans of the world. But for the Cavs organization, there isn’t time to take too many chances, including the chance that a mediocre coach will somehow become great in a short period of time. This Cleveland roster is a complex one with so many unique flaws and strengths, they need a sharp offensive mind to make everything work, and as we’re seeing right now, Brown’s defensive acumen just isn’t enough by itself to get the job done.

Talented as LeBron is, he needs a great coach to become a truly great player. Look at the standards by which he’s being judged: Jordan had Phil. Kobe had Phil. Magic had Pat Riley. D-Wade has Pat Riley. Larry Bird (who LeBron could eventually supplant as the greatest small forward of all-time) won his rings with Bill Fitch (900-plus career wins) and KC Jones (500-plus wins), who aren’t legends but still very good coaches. LeBron doesn’t have a great coach. He doesn’t even have a very good one. And why waste time now when it’s safe to say Mike Brown will never be on that list of great coaches?

Seem a little hasty? I can see why. On the surface, everything looks to be in good hands. LeBron is just 22 years old, already playing for a ring, under contract for at least the next three years (with a player-option for a fourth), and surrounded by a decent young core in Gibson, Varejao, Gooden and Pavlovic. But if Cleveland’s decision-makers have been watching the same flawed team I’ve been watching on a regular basis, they know this summer is critical in determining the long-term future of the Cavs.

Objective No. 1 obviously is keeping LeBron happy, and his body language during this series tells you he’s not. Maybe he isn’t even directly pissed off at Mike Brown yet (or maybe he is), but once the offseason hits and LeBron has had time to watch the film and reflect, will he go into ’07-08 with a lot of confidence in his coach? In three years, when LeBron will be 25, fully in his prime, and possibly a free agent, is he going to want to still be the focal point of a one-note offense? Will he want to be seven years into a career with zero championships?

And what about that much-maligned supporting cast? Ilgauskas, slow as he is, remains one of the League’s few legit centers, but he doesn’t have many years left. Hughes is good when healthy, but that’s just the problem; his body is falling apart year-by-year. Cleveland doesn’t have a first-round draft pick this year, so immediate help from a youngster isn’t on the way, and even if the Cavs land a free agent like Chauncey Billups or Vince Carter, neither of those two are on the youthful side of their careers.

In short, the Cavs don’t have time to wait for Mike Brown to become a championship-level coach. They can’t afford to take a step back next year, and anything short of another trip to the Finals will be considered a step back to not only the franchise and the fans, but also to the one who matters most to them right now: LeBron. You cannot assume LeBron will get back to the Finals just because he’s done it once. Hakeem went eight years between Finals appearances. Gary Payton went 10 years between Finals. Iverson got there in his fifth year in the League and hasn’t sniffed a ring since, which could very easily happen to D-Wade as well. (Have you seen Miami’s roster?)

The Cavs need to strike while the iron is hot and the East is weak. There are a few coaches available right now who could improve the Cavs immediately and get them over that hump, from Rick Carlisle to even Larry Brown. For my money, Carlisle would be the top candidate. He’s won everywhere he’s been, and was poised to win a ring with the ’05 Pacers before Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson ran into the stands at The Palace. Carlisle is demanding and controlling, but he is a deliberate game planner and a definite upgrade over Brown as an offensive coach.

If the Cavs want to win a championship, and more importantly for them, keep LeBron in the fold long-term, they need to unload the person who is most prominently standing in the way of that happening. Blame is a complicated thing, and unfortunately for Mike Brown, the amount of it that will land at his feet should cost him his job.

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  • Bruce

    Mike Brown needs to go. Lebron needs a WHITE coach!
    The soul brothers ain’t working, Silas and M. Brown.

    Get that old guy that used to coach Memphis, he is a commentator now. Get Phil Collins!

    Only soul brother I support is the former Laker, B-Scott!

  • Bruce

    Hire Hubie Brown!

  • AZ

    Fire AB…..naw I mean Mike Brown

  • The Journeyman

    It’s amazing that this article is sooo relevant to today if you just switched a name or two.

    What’s sad is what KG said last night during his press conf. about how if he knew years ago what he knows now, he would’ve left Minny sooner.

    LeBron is on an island all by himself and I honestly do not see him winning a ring in this lifetime with the pieces he has and is also trying to set up for himself.

    There are teams who will be there every year in the East that will put him out because they can play together and have PIECES working not just him by himself.

    Nice article AB

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/703154723/the-soulchorea-project?pos=1 Kermit The Washington

    Funny….but also funny is how this “flashback” article had a “flashback” article within this article! You lost me after that…LOL…I see you like to quote yourself.

    But it is pretty revealing. We all dogged Mike Brown after that, and they kept this cat around! I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep him even after all this.

  • Bizz

    Well Calipari says he’s going back to Kentucky…so if Cleveland fires Mike Brown now…would an available NBA coach jump on board before or after LeBron decides what he is going to do in free agency, and if they can get a coach, with LeBron possibly returning, who would they be looking at as candidates?

    As well, 99.99999% that LeBron takes a max contract wherever he goes, but is there any chance at all that he pulls an Artest, and signs for less with another team to join/form a championship type of roster?

  • karizmatic

    Austin,

    your article showed a lot of foresight, for my part I also liked Pavlovic…oh well. I’ve been calling for Mike Brown’s head since about two years ago, but the time your article was talking about is here. LBJ is a free agent, with 7 years in the league, no rings and hasn’t even been back to the finals. Mike Brown hasn’t developed into a great coach and never will be. He was again unimaginative on offense. (Exactly what was the reason that he could roll out a lineup of Mo Williams, Delonte West LBJ Hickson and Varejao or more creatively West, Moon, LBJ, Hickson and Varejao, or even West Parker Moon, LBJ, and Varejao? Don’t these matchups work better for Cleveland and at the very least couldn’t they have tried to run Boston out of the building. In any case he still hasn’t done anything to improve his offense, and I don’t know why he thought having Mo Williams and LBJ switch roles was creative or even a good idea. People are going to talk about the turnovers but that’s what happens when you don’t have good coaching and you try to flip your offense on the fly, all of a sudden you have guys in roles they aren’t used to playing and that’s when they make mistakes. There was a lot of blame to go around in that series but Mike Brown definitely deserves a big share of it.

  • Bizz

    @1, you’re an idiot. White coaches don’t equal instant championships. Doc Rivers isn’t caucasian, and Boston has a ring. When did black or white have anything to do with being a good coach?

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/703154723/the-soulchorea-project?pos=1 Kermit The Washington

    How funny would it have been if Joakim Noah went to game 6 in boston, just to do the river-dance when the game got away from the Cavs. I GUARANTEE ‘Bron would’ve flipped out and gone into the stands to fight him, and he would’ve ruined his career forever. If Noah really wanted revenge, that was the way to do it LOL

    …just my random day-dream thought of the day

  • Ianny b

    @1 You must be something straight out of a Jim Carey funny guy character. So many black coaches getting it done please let’s not get racial with this.

  • Bruce

    @10 — Oh yeah, tell me who?

    Paul Silas and Mike Brown! Those twos didn’t really pna out did they. Lebron does not need a change of scenery, he just needs a WHITE coach to put him(Lebron) in his place. Only a WHITE man can do that to Lebron!

    And if it does not work, The Confederate Flag will!

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    LOLOL @ Kermit. Yea I think that even though Joakim has millions of dollars, there’s at least 1000 fans out there that would’ve donated a dollar apiece to the flight and ticket fund to make that happen.

  • HeadkickerB

    Firing the coach usually does not help a team get to the next level. Only one team a year gets to win a championship. It seems like anything less than a championship is a failure. Phil Jackson led the Bulls to the Eastern finals in his first year as head coach. They lost to the Pistons. He has since won many, many rings. In this era the fans would want him fired because he couldnt get it done. Ridiculous.

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/703154723/the-soulchorea-project?pos=1 Kermit The Washington

    @ HeadkickerB:

    Yeah, but um…the year before Phil Got there, wasn’t Doug Collins fired? Then Phil steps in and in one season, has them championship ready. It appears that firing their coach DID get them a championship in that case.

    “Getting a championship” and “getting to the next level” are two different things. Firing your coach can definitely get you to the next level, if you get yourself a next-level coach.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    It just depends on the level of expectations. Scott Skiles can make the playoffs and go no farther than the 2nd round for the next 3-4 years and nobody will be calling for his head so long as the Bucks don’t have a Top-10 player on the roster. Paul Westphal is going to get a few years to miss the playoffs before the pressure sets in. With teams like the Cavs, Lakers, Celtics, Magic, etc., you have to produce titles or at least conference chips to keep your job.

  • Eugene

    How did Rick Carlisle’s team do this year, dimwit?

    At some point, you have to stop blaming the coach, stop blaming the supporting cast, and take a long, hard look at the superstar himself.

  • Hoops wannabe

    It’s a catch 22. Coach puts the guys he feels can get the job done into the game. If they win the players get the accolades. If the team loses the coach gets ridiculed as having no basketball IQ for putting in such a useless lineup. For some reason coaches are judged by championships and no longer on longevity. Look at Don Nelson… His record may never be broken since there’s always a panic by each team that making the playoffs is not good enough and that it’s the coaches fault they didn’t win a title. The problem with Mike Brown’s situation is that when the regular season win streaks were piling up no one wanted to cut him loose. Once they lose a playoff series he’s automatically not fit to coach. What gives? Why not tell him that he should’ve won 82 games and make him change his coaching style before the playoffs? You ride with what got you to the playoffs. The failure is on the players.

  • hahns
  • Heckler

    they can fire mike brown if they want, but i dont see how that is gonna help the team win a chip.

    problem with mike brown is, he cant coach a f*cking offense. other than that, he aint really got too much to do with their failures.

    the team just sucks. they have had a WEAK frontline for the last 4-5yrs. they got a shitload of shooters, but not nary of them niggs can dribble into the lane and create a play. not mo, not boobie, not candaces brother, not moonwalk…none of em. maybe delonte can, but you forget his ass is even on the team sometimes.

  • deeds

    He needs to be fired. There is absolutely NO excuse for playing shaq as much as he did in this series, and barely using varejao and hickson. Those are the guys who got you though the whole season, and as soon an varejao entered the game last night he made an impact. Even Mark Jackson and JVG were calling for it the whole night. I’m sure Mark was secretly thinking to himself “I can coach twice as well as this fool….give me the freggin job!” He was throwing out criticism at Brown several times throughout the game…all warranted.

  • Pat

    KG’s comments only make sense if you’re going to a team with a roster that will almost surely get you to the finals. Remember that KG went to a team that had the Truth, Ray Ray and Rondo. These are the scenarios if he switched teams:

    Miami: Both Wade and LBJ like to dominate the ball plus they don’t have starting quality PG and C.

    NY: The only worthwhile talent they have is Galinari who happens to play the same position as LBJ.

    Chi: They don’t have a starting quality SG and PF and Brad Miller is approaching 50. More importantly, they don’t have a coach. They could however plug holes by trading away Luol Deng and going over the cap in a big way.

    Clips: No coach but have the best line-up for wins. Starting 5 of Davis, Gordon, Kaman and Griffin but they are after all the clippers.

    Most surefire way is if he takes the one year vet minimum and signs with Lakers, Rockets or the Magic. He can only get a max contract when he gets his ring.

  • the big fundamental

    @BRUCE
    i cant tell if you’re joking or if you’re actually being serious!! either way it’s very disturbing

  • spk2629

    @ 21

    Lovin’ the Brad Miller “is approaching 50″ crack!

    I do like the idea of LBJ freelancing w/ short-shot deals. Why not? The league swings on his shit so hard he can get that off. Avoid the Rockets, though! Magic would be phenomenal. MIA if you ship Wade to the 1 and LBJ to the 2. that’s be one badass backcourt!

  • sh!tfaced

    @ hahns

    LMAO! Wow. Now that is a heck of a story. Shit has got me intrigued.

    Delonte is one sick bipolar puppy if that were true…

  • HeadkickerB

    @Kermit

    Good point on the Collins/Jackson coaching change. My point is that there are very few “next level” coaches. Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich, Pat Riley are the ones I can think of. Larry Brown and Rudy T could be put on the list. I just don’t see any of these guys coming to Cleveland.