Should Mike Brown Be Fired If Cleveland Cavaliers Miss the Playoffs?

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Should Mike Brown Be Fired If Cleveland Cavaliers Miss the Playoffs?
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Brown is the best coach in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At least, that's what the numbers say.

Brown has won 63 percent of his career games with the Cavs, the highest mark of any of the franchise's 18 head coaches. He took the team to its only NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and won eight total playoff series from 2006-2010.

Apparently, numbers can lie.

Cleveland has been a mess nearly all season. With a record of 16-31, the Cavaliers are four games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth seed in a dreadful Eastern Conference.

Despite his resume, given the fact he'll have four years left on a five-year contract, should the Cavs part ways with Brown this summer, assuming they fail to reach the playoffs?

The answer is an emphatic yes, if not sooner.

 

Where's the Improvement?

Byron Scott, relieved of his duties this past offseason, was stuck guiding Cleveland through the early part of its rebuilding process.

Nobody really expected him to win. Not with a roster of Semih Erden and Samardo Samuels anyway.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Scott didn't have nearly the amount of talent to work with as Brown does.

When the team axed Scott and brought in Brown, it was a bit unfair. After all, Scott had put in the time to groom and develop players like Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. His early work was paying off, as both Irving and Thompson made huge strides in their two years.

Brown entered the picture receiving the fruit of Scott's labor. It was his job to sprinkle in some defense and bring the team together into a winning unit.

Now, after nearly 10 months on the job, have the Cavaliers really gotten better?

Take a look at some of their team stats from Scott's last season to Brown's first. All numbers are on a per-game basis.

  PTS FG% 3P% FT% ORtg AST TO
2012-13 (Scott) 96.5 43.4 34.6 75.6 104.3 20.7 13.4
2013-14 (Brown) 95.8 42.3 35.8 74.1 101.1 19.8 13.9

When comparing the rosters from last season to this one, there's just no way the offense should be worse.

Byron Scott's second-best offensive threat was Dion Waiters, who was an out-of-shape rookie at the time.

Mike Brown's is Luol Deng, a 10-year pro and career 16.1-point-per-game scorer.

Brown not only has more advanced versions of Waiters, Irving, Thompson and Tyler Zeller, but he's also gotten 44 games out of Anderson Varejao thus far. Even Andrew Bynum was putting up 15.1 points per 36 minutes of play.

Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark were supposed to be upgrades over Shaun Livingston and Omri Casspi, but Brown has failed to get consistent production from either one.

Even the defense, Brown's calling card, is slightly worse than a season ago.

Scott's Cavs were giving up 101.2 points a night while Brown's current squad is allowing 101.7.

From an overall team standpoint, we've seen virtually no improvement from last year. This is alarming, considering the major upgrade in talent on the roster from a season ago.

 

Players Regressing?

Brown has never been known to develop young players.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press
Brown did his best work with a veteran roster.

During his first stay in Cleveland, Brown had a mostly veteran roster with guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal. The Cavs often traded draft picks for players with NBA experience, so Brown had few young players to work with.

This roster is exactly the opposite.

The team features eight players who are 23 years old or younger. Players like Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev and Dion Waiters need a good teacher who can help develop their games.

Brown is not that guy.

In fact, we've see many players on the team actually take a step back from a season ago.

Here's how every returning Cavalier's player efficiency rating (PER) has changed since Brown took over.

  Varejao Irving Thompson Miles Waiters Zeller Gee
2012-13 21.7 21.5 16.1 15.4 13.8 11.0 10.6
2013-14 17.5 20.0 13.9 15.5 12.7 13.9 5.8
Difference -4.2 -1.5 -2.2 0.1 -1.1 2.9 -4.8

It's flat out disturbing that only Zeller, he of 12.6 minutes a game, has shown significant improvement.

Varejao's decline is the only one that should have been expected. He's 31 and coming off a crazy productive, injury-shortened 25-game season.

Irving has seen a decline in his shooting percentages, efficiency and, at times, defensive intensity. Not that there was much of that in the first place, mind you.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Brown has done a poor job of handling Bennett.

Brown has done a terrible job of handling Anthony Bennett, the first overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft. He went through a period of inconsistent minutes before being permanently benched for the better part of two weeks. Brown has since put him back in the lineup, but it's clear Bennett would have benefited from some time in the D-League.

Overall, there isn't one guy you could point to on the team and say that Brown has made him a better player.

Why is this?

Because Brown isn't head coach material. A good head coach knows how to motivate and inspire players. He can push them to move past their individual accomplishments and sacrifice for the better of the team.

Brown has never done this. Not with Cleveland from 2005-2010. Not with the Los Angeles Lakers in his one full season, and certainly not now.

It could be because Brown never played in the NBA. It could be that Brown has shown favoritism and bias to former star players. It could be that Brown has never proved capable of orchestrating an NBA offense.

Whatever the reason may be, Brown is failing as a head coach.

 

Locker Room Chaos

There have easily been more reports of dysfunction coming from the locker room this season than in the past three years combined.

The team called a players-only meeting just 11 games into the season. Cleveland has lost nine games by 15 points or more, including a 44-point beatdown to the Sacramento Kings. Players have often appeared moody, uninterested and satisfied with losing night in and night out.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Waiters, like so many other Cavaliers, appear to have tuned Brown out.

We've already heard from Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling about Dion Waiters wanting out, along with ESPN's Chad Ford claiming Kyrie Irving wants out too. Andrew Bynum was suspended, and now there's a report from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News with Luol Deng calling his new team "a mess."

While Irving, Deng and Waiters have all denied these reports to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd and ESPN.com, it's clear Brown has little control over his squad.

Inconsistent rotations have helped prevent any sort of chemistry from being formed amongst the team. In all, 13 different players have started at least one game, while only two (Irving, Thompson) have started every game they've played in.

According to the New York Daily News report about Luol Deng:

Deng was brought in to help clean it up when he arrived in a deal for Andrew Bynum on Jan. 7. But since then, he’s seen players get thrown out of practice, take off their uniform tops at halftime and threaten not to play, mouth off to Brown and generally act like spoiled brats.

This wouldn't be happening if Brown still had the locker room, although Irving said that's not the case according to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd.

It's sad to think about what this season could have been.

The main concern coming into the year was the team's health, which has been quite good, actually. The free agents that Chris Grant brought in were met with positive reactions, and even Anthony Bennett looked good in the preseason.

Somewhere along the road, though, Mike Brown lost this team. We might not find out until the end of the season, a few years down the road or ever.

Make no mistake, though: Brown has lost it.

 

How Long Will Brown Last?

One could certainly make the argument, and maybe I have, that Brown should be fired immediately.

His previous history with the team, however, will prevent a canning from happening during the season. Brown is on a five-year deal. Dan Gilbert referred to it as a "mistake" firing Brown the first time around. The team put all its eggs in Brown's basket, only to see him spill them all over the court.

When should Brown be fired?

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Firing Brown won't be an easy thing to do for Gilbert and company.

They're stuck between saving face by defending their hire and winning basketball games. The Cavaliers need to reach the postseason, and soon, to convince their young talent to re-sign. Irving can sign a max deal with the Cavs this summer, but will he with Brown around?

Ultimately, Gilbert will do what's best for his investment.

Expect Brown to make it through the rest of this year, no matter how bad things continue to get. Assuming the Cavs miss the playoffs, however, he'll likely be relieved of his duties as early as this offseason.

It won't be a particularly proud day in Cleveland's front office, but it will be a necessary one. 

 

-GS

 

All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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