Realistic Expectations for Mike Brown's Return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Love it, hate it or really hate it, Mike Brown is back at the helm of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
His first stint in Cleveland, which lasted five years, will be completely different from this one in terms of roster construction.
Working with mostly veterans and a few players still in their prime the first time around, Brown now finds himself with the third youngest roster in the entire NBA. His star player is barely old enough to legally drink, and his most experienced veteran can't seem to make it past Christmas healthy.
Still, there's a lot of young talent on the roster, and a lot of the team's success will depend on how Brown can develop these youngsters.
Based on his coaching the first time in Cleveland, combined with the roster he has to work with, here are some things you can expect to see next season and in the following years from Brown and the Cavs.
The Offense Will Be Offensive...
Fans of the Cavs from 2005 to 2010 can tell you the club wasn't very exciting to watch offensively.
Brown has never been confused for an offensive guru, and the stats show it.
Despite winning 50 games in the 2005-06 season, the Cavs were just 15th in the league in scoring at 97.6 points per game. The following season saw the Cavs again win 50 games, yet fall even further in the offensive ranks to 19th overall in scoring.
2007-2008 was even worse, as the Cavs bottomed out to 24th overall in scoring, despite a roster that featured LeBron James, Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Shannon Brown and Daniel Gibson.
Too often Cleveland ran isolations with LeBron, causing the four other players to fall out of rhythm offensively.
Assistant coach John Kuester began assuming the offensive play-calling later in Brown's tenure, when it was clear he had little idea what to do when the Cavs actually had the ball.
Kuester is expected to return to the Cavs in a similar role.
...But the Defense Should Shine
As poor as his offense may be, it's Brown's defense that has gotten him three head-coaching jobs in the past eight years.
His defensive schemes and techniques are complicated, effective and possibly foreign to the Cavs' young team. Brown admitted in his press conference that the team "may hear language they’ve never heard before" when referring to his defensive sets.
This is critical for a team that's ranked 23rd, 26th and 25th in overall team defense the past three years.
If Brown can turn Kyrie Irving into even an average defender, than improvements have been made.
Players like Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson have the potential to make an all-defense team at some point in their careers, and Brown's presence should definitely help them get there.
In 2008-2009, Brown's Cavalier team led the league in opponent points per game at a stingy 91.4 a contest.
Finishing anywhere in the top 15 next year would be a nice goal for these Cavs, and that could be possible under Brown.
The Cavs Will Slow It Down
Under Byron Scott the past three seasons, the Cavs played at a reasonably fast pace, relying on their young athletes to push the ball up and down the court.
During this time, the Cavs never ranked worse than 14th out of the 30 NBA teams in pace of play, according to basketball-reference.com.
From 2005 to 2010 under Brown, Cleveland ranked 19th, 18th, 25th, 25th and 25th respectively, despite having the best athlete in all of basketball.
Brown chose to slow things down, which may have worked then, but definitely isn't the best option now.
This is a Cavs roster that was built to run and push the pace as much as possible. Gone are the days of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O'Neal who would be left behind on a fast break. The Cavs' bigs now, including Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao, can all run the floor and are perhaps best when not posting up.
Hopefully Brown recognizes this and chooses to speed things up.
Varejao's Minutes Will Be Better Managed
Byron Scott did a lot of good things for the Cavaliers, but monitoring Anderson Varejao's minutes was not one of these things.
The day before Varejao was lost for the season, I expressed concern that Scott was using Varejao too much and that he needed to lessen his minutes to help avoid another season-ending injury.
Now at 30 years of age, Varejao just can't play 36 minutes per night with his high intensity style of play.
Mike Brown will do a better job of keeping Varejao on the court, as evidenced by the way he handled Zydrunas Ilgauskas late in his career.
When Brown first took over the Cavs in 2005, Z was 30 years old, the same age Vareajo is now.
Given his age and history of injuries, Brown continued to start Z, but never played him more than 30.4 minutes per game in any season they were together. As a result, Z played in at least 64 games every year and remained a valuable contributor by staying on the court.
Expect Brown to keep Varejao's minutes around 28-30 per game, exactly where they should have been last year.
Defense Will Be the Priority in the Draft
Just like the Browns focused on the defensive side of the ball in their recent draft, expect the Cavs to do the same come June.
Mike Brown is staring at a roster with essentially no shot-blockers and only one player who can guard the perimeter effectively in Alonzo Gee.
For his defensive sets to work, Brown needs the right players to execute them.
Look for the Cavs to eye defensive standouts like Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, Otto Porter of Georgetown or Victor Oladipo from Indiana. Don't expect an offense-first player like Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller or Shabazz Muhammad to hear their name called by the Cavs.
This is just fine with me, as Noel and Porter would be my top two choices for the Cavs right now. If Cleveland does end up with the third pick as they're expected to do, Noel will likely be gone as he possesses the most upside of anyone in the draft.
Cleveland Will Be Better, but Won't Make Playoffs with Current Roster
The Cavaliers have won just 19, 21 and 24 games the past three years, and have yet to come close to sniffing the playoffs since Brown was fired in 2010.
The Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs this year with a record of 38-44, so it is conceivable to think the Cavs could have a chance to finish close to this mark next year. After all, the defense will be better and the team will be welcoming in another two first-round picks.
To ask them to make the jump from 24 wins to nearly 40 in just one offseason isn't easy, but isn't impossible either. After all, the Oklahoma City Thunder went from 23 wins in 2008-2009 to 50 wins the following season.
The Cavs will definitely be improved, but don't expect a Thunder-esque 50 win season, either. The playoffs will largely depend on who they draft and if a veteran free agent is signed. The Cavs will have enough young talent to build around after this draft, but need some veterans around to pull it all together.
The playoffs next season under Brown are a possibility, just not with the current roster. This offseason should tell just just how much better the Cavs will be in 2013-14.