What's old may soon be new again as the Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly entertaining the unusual possibility of bringing back Mike Brown for a second term as head coach.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Cleveland's firing of Byron Scott on Thursday could pave the way for Brown's return.
The decision to potentially give Brown another shot is a curious one, especially considering the limitations he showed in his first go-round in Cleveland and his abruptly terminated tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yet it appears Cleveland is prepared to move quickly to get its man back.
Apparently, the Cavs aren't dissuaded by the tricky pros and cons of Brown as a coach, but from an objective perspective, there are definitely just as many reasons for caution as there are for optimism about the prospects of a return engagement.
Pro: Brown Has Won Before
Brown has the highest winning percentage (.663) of any coach in the Cavaliers' not-so-impressive franchise history. From 2005-2010, he notched 272 victories against 138 losses. Cleveland has been starved for victories since Brown's firing in 2010 after a pair of 60-win campaigns.
Scott amassed a grand total of 64 wins over three seasons with Cleveland, so it would be difficult for Brown to do any worse.
Plus, Brown took the Cavs into at least the second round of the playoffs in all five of his seasons as head coach. Obviously, Scott never even sniffed the postseason.
Con: LeBron's Gone
Every achievement in Brown's coaching career with the Cavaliers comes with the caveat that those successes occurred with one of the league's very best players on the roster.
Although LeBron James wasn't the transcendent, unquestioned alpha dog of the NBA that he is now, he was darn close in his days as a Cav. So Brown's playoff streak and gaudy winning percentage don't exist in a vacuum.
In fact, they're probably as attributable to James' brilliance as they are to Brown's skills as a coach.
Kyrie Irving is a great young player, but he's no LeBron. So there's little reason to expect anything more than what Brown did in his first stint in Cleveland.
Because there's no way to know how Brown would have performed if he hadn't had James—although it's very easy to assume that he would have been worse to some degree—the Cavs need to view his track record as a coach with a keen eye toward context.
Pro: Brown Can Coach Defense
When Brown took over the Cavaliers, the team's defense ranked 20th in the NBA in efficiency. But by the time he left, things had changed.
In his final two years on the bench, Brown engineered a defense that ranked second in the NBA with an efficiency rating of 99.4 points allowed per 100 possessions in 2008-09 and seventh in 2009-10 with a rating of 101.5.
Again, James had something to do with those figures. But Brown's principles and clear emphasis on the defensive end of the floor could be just the thing this young Cavaliers team needs to take a step forward.
One thing's for certain: Brown's influence on D would constitute a massive improvement over Scott's. Over the past three years, Cleveland has looked totally disorganized on defense and hasn't improved in any significant way.
If nothing else, Scott's departure gives Irving the chance to go from being a horrible defender to at least reaching the modest goal of being an average one. Brown could expedite that process.
Con: Offense Is a Problem
Despite the presence of Irving, Cleveland finished 23rd in offensive efficiency this past season. Unfortunately, Brown's uninventive offensive coaching style wouldn't figure to improve that rating by much.
To be fair, the Cavaliers posted excellent offensive ratings under Brown, but that had everything to do with the otherworldly talents of James. In fact, if not for Brown's vanilla play-calling, the Cavs probably would have been even better.
When James played under Brown in Cleveland, the best strategy the coach could come up with was for his star to bring the ball up, dribble around and hope for a defensive breakdown that could lead to a chance in the paint or an open three.
But if James couldn't utilize his superhuman court vision to create a play, he was stuck on the perimeter in isolation or waiting for a screen as the shot clock wound down. The Cavs were painful to watch on offense, despite the presence of one of the most dynamic players in NBA history.
If Brown couldn't figure out how to maximize James' talents, what can the Cavs expect him to do with the considerably less impressive roster they currently possess?
Whatever growth Brown might foster on the defensive end is almost certain to be countered by his retarding effect on the team's offense.
Realistically, Brown might represent the best of a bunch of bad options (not including Phil Jackson) on the coaching market this summer. He's a good defensive coach with clear offensive limitations and a track record of failing to maximize the talents of his stars.
He might be the best available coach, but he's hardly the perfect choice.
Most importantly, if the Cavs bring him back for a second term they might be inadvertently snuffing out the slim chance that James could return as a free agent in 2014.
If LBJ looks to Cleveland and sees a situation very similar to the one he left (same owner, same coach, same lack of talent), why would he possibly entertain a reunion with his hometown team? James left in the first place because the Cavs couldn't find a way to surround him with capable players or forward-thinking coaches.
Bringing Brown back sends a signal to James that the franchise is still stuck in its old ways.