Does Mike Brown's Return to Cleveland Cavaliers Mean LeBron Pipe Dream Is Over?
The Cleveland Cavaliers have secured the winningest coach in franchise history.
Does this mean the franchise's best player will follow?
Mike Brown and LeBron James combined for 272 wins in five seasons together, an average of more than 54 wins per season. Included in this time were 42 playoff wins, two league MVPs, a Coach of the Year award and the Cavs' only trip to the NBA Finals.
All of this success surely means James would be open to reuniting with his old coach, right?
For all the good times Brown and James enjoyed together in Cleveland, their time together with the Cavs is over and done with.
On the surface, Brown and James seemed like a good fit. After all, who can argue with all those wins?
James could seemingly do whatever he wanted on Brown's team.
We saw the handshakes, the camera poses and of course, the sideline dancing.
All of this was well and good—the Cavs were winning and everybody was putting up a happy front.
Behind the scenes, though, a lack of discipline, leadership and accountability leaked throughout Quicken Loans Arena.
James had become such a rock star that he felt he didn't need to listen to Brown—someone who had never even played in the NBA.
Sure, he'd pick up a few things here and there, but would never really take Brown seriously. This was obvious during timeouts, where James would often look disinterested and withdrawn when Brown would try to correct one of his on-court mistakes.
Cavs' fans saw this, whether they wanted to or not.
James never showed the respect or admiration you look for a player to display when interacting with a head coach. This wasn't Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson or Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, where the coach's background and prestige were enough to make even a star player sit up and listen.
After James left, one of his former teammates, Shaquille O'Neal, shared a story on his time with the Cavs in his book "Shaq Uncut: My Story".
The excerpt can be seen here, and reaffirms what many already believed to be going on behind closed doors.
LeBron was a huge star. He was as big as I was in 2000 in L.A. when I was dominating the league. … Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.
I remember one day in a film session LeBron didn’t get back on defense after a missed shot. Mike Brown didn’t say anything about it. He went to the next clip and it was Mo Williams not getting back and Mike was saying, “Yo, Mo, we can’t have that. You’ve got to hustle a little more.” So Delonte West is sitting there and he’s seen enough and he stands up and says, “Hold up, now. You can’t be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some of us.” Mike Brown said, “I know, Delonte. I know.” Mike knew Delonte was right. …
To be fair to Brown, LeBron had a strong hold on the franchise as a whole. Even if Brown wanted to get on him more and instill some more discipline, it's likely he would have gotten a phone call from Dan Gilbert to not do anything that would make James upset.
This is where Brown made his mistake.
As a coach, when you challenge a role player or rookie to be better, few others will pay attention.
When you challenge the best player on the planet to raise his game, others will certainly know they need to raise their own.
Brown never did this, or at least, not enough.
A lot of respect can be earned and lost through controversy. If handled correctly, it can truly be a time of growth and development in a player-coach relationship.
Brown instead chose to avoid controversy with James, as evidenced by O'Neal, and thus missed out on these opportunities to build trust and respect.
The final chapter of Brown and James' book ended with a second-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, the firing of Brown and ultimately, the departure of James.
The dismissal of Brown was one final attempt to appease James—something the franchise had tried to do again and again.
Now, three years later, Brown is back with the Cavaliers as their head coach.
Back with him are the memories of playoff trips, a Finals appearance and James dancing on the sidelines while Brown looked on, helpless.
Their relationship, although it yielded plenty of success, never did reach the ultimate goal.
The ultimate goal that James reached last season and could very well reach again this June.
James will not leave Miami and a championship roster to come back to Cleveland and Brown. Even with the allure of playing next to Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and others, James will smile, thank the Cavs for their interest and continue to collect titles under the watchful eye of Pat Riley in South Beach.
Brown never earned the trust necessary for LeBron to want to play for him again, and that's OK.
The Cavs' dream of James returning, if there ever was one, should now be laid to rest.
Instead, Brown must now learn from his mistakes and challenge Irving the way he never did James.
He must get in his face, yell, criticize, hold him accountable and do all the things he never did to James the first time around.
Irving will become a better player because of it, and will wind up respecting Brown the way James never did.
"Brown and James, Act Two" will never be written, and that's OK, because "Brown, Irving, Waiters and Thompson, Act One" should be pretty darn good, too.
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