Why Mike Brown Only Hurts Cleveland's Chances at Landing LeBron in Free Agency

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 26, 2013

CLEVELAND - JUNE 14: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pauses during a timeout as Head Coach Mike Brown shouts directions from the bench in Game Four of the NBA Finals on June 14, 2007 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There are probably hundreds of reasons why LeBron James will never return to the Cleveland Cavaliers when he hits free agency this summer, but Mike Brown's presence on the sidelines is probably the biggest one of all.

According to Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal, Cavs fans will sport bright green T-shirts emblazoned with the plea "Come Home LeBron" when the Miami Heat visit Cleveland on Nov. 27.

The T-shirts are a nice idea, but in sticking with the apparel theme, it's really the guy in the suit who'll keep James from considering a return.

At a very basic level, the fact that Brown is currently coaching the Cavaliers can only remind James of the struggles he faced during his time in Cleveland. Admittedly, it's odd to say LBJ's time under Brown was difficult when all five of the years in which the two were part of the Cavs included playoff berths.

But compared to the success James has enjoyed in Miami, and the comparative ease with which he has achieved it, the designation fits.

Having seen the other side, James won't want anything to do with rehashing a past experiment that ultimately resulted in his departure from Cleveland.

Brown's presence makes James' return little more than a pipe dream.


Offensive "Creativity"

Brown has earned a reputation as a competent defensive coach, but nothing on his resume indicates that he's anything close to decent as an offensive mind. This year, the Cavaliers have posted an offensive rating of 94.9 that ranks third-worst in the league, per NBA.com. Basically, we're seeing what happens when Brown can't lean on a superstar like LeBron to generate points.

Kyrie Irving is one of the most talented, dynamic scorers on the planet, and he's got useful pieces around him. Yet for all that, Brown's Cavaliers look like a total wreck on offense.

James single-handedly kept Cleveland's attack afloat under Brown, but even back then, it was obvious that the Cavs lacked a cohesive scheme. Grantland's Bill Simmons asked a pertinent question way back in 2009:

A few short months after that, the Cavaliers cut ties with Brown in a clear effort to appease a frustrated James.

Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, Brown's firing wasn't enough to keep LeBron in town.

Nowadays, James is showing real maturity and class when faced with questions about his former coach. The fact that he can endorse a man who basically ran him into the ground for five straight years is an indication of LBJ's growth as a person.

But let's not mistake James' magnanimity for a willingness to suffer through another few years under Brown.


Managing Talent

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Mike Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers  confers with Dwight Howard #12 of the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on October 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Mavericks won 99-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressl
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

James went to Miami because he knew he'd be surrounded by top-end talent. And now that he's won a pair of championships alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he surely appreciates the importance of having multiple superstars on a roster.

This presents another problem when it comes to Brown, who has never shown the ability to manage multiple marquee talents.

When he had to juggle Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Brown lost his job after five games. Maybe it's not fair to cite his premature, panic-drive firing as the best evidence against his ability to manage egos. But the fact is that Brown has never demonstrated anything in his other coaching stops to refute the idea.

And now Brown is allowing the Cavaliers' locker room to fall apart as well.

Oct 17, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) talks with guard Dion Waiters (3) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wachovia Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

So, now that James has come to the realization that multiple superstars are a necessary part of any real championship chase, why would he ever align himself with a coach who can't manage one—let alone two or three?


Greener Pastures

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 3: Head Coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat celebrates with LeBron James #6 in the locker room following their team's series victory against the Indiana Pacers in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

If James had followed up his disappointing tenure in Cleveland with another difficult one in Miami, maybe he'd be more willing to entertain the idea of giving Brown another shot. But because LBJ has thrived under the much more capable Erik Spoelstra, he'll never want to go back to the way things were under Brown.

"Coach Spo" has expertly morphed the Heat into a team that maximizes James' talent. He has managed egos, thought outside the box and generally made things easier on LBJ than they've ever been.

It's impossible to ignore the disparate tactical styles of Brown and Spoelstra. Where the former desperately leaned more and more heavily on James to sort out his team's struggles, the latter tailored a brilliant scheme to reduce pressure on James.

As a result, Spoelstra unlocked the next level in LBJ's game.

Instead of dribbling around the perimeter with three defenders chasing him (often the case under Brown), James now gets the ball in one-on-one situations in the post, as the result of terrific ball movement and in transition. Life has never been easier for LBJ, and his efficiency has spiked to historic levels as a result.

Jun 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA;  Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and head coach Erik Spoelstra celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Trophy after winning the NBA championship in game five of the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. The Heat
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There's absolutely no way LeBron would ever sign up for Brown's exhausting, ineffective program after playing for Spoelstra. It'd be like trading in a Ferrari with a push-button start for a Model T with a hand crank.

Perhaps some of James' growth under Spoelstra has to do with added maturity. Maybe LeBron wouldn't have ever bought into a system under Brown, even if there had been one. We can't really be sure.

But what we know for certain is that Brown didn't maximize James' talent, and he hasn't gotten the most out of the big names he's coached since he and LeBron parted ways. Spoelstra "reached" LeBron, earning his respect by showing legitimate tactical skill and a knack for juggling the competing interests of multiple stars.

Because of that, James has a terrific rapport with his current coach. It's based on mutual respect, and, more importantly, an understanding that Spoelstra clearly knows what he's doing. The same could never be said for the relationship between James and Brown.


The Bad Old Days

SAN ANTONIO - NOVEMBER 3:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks with his head coach Mike Brown during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on November 3, 2006 in San Antonio, Texas.  The Cavaliers won 88-81.  NOTE TO USER: Us
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

LeBron James just wants to win championships. So, above all else, it's highly problematic that Brown hasn't done anything to show he's a coach with the skills to lead a title-worthy team.

More broadly, Brown stands as a symbol that Cleveland is still stuck in its old ways.

James left the Cavs because the front office couldn't surround him with an adequate supporting cast, or provide him with a coach who could maximize his skills. If he looks to Cleveland in free agency, he'll see that things haven't changed.

He'll see the same fans who once burned his jersey in the streets, the same lack of elite talent (Irving excluded) and the same petulant, vindictive owner in Dan Gilbert.

Worst of all, he'll see the same coach.

Forget about LeBron, Cleveland. As long as Brown is on the sidelines, James isn't coming home.


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