Regardless of how they finish this season, it's safe to say the Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the NBA's biggest disappointments.
As of March 16, the Cavs were just 26-40, four games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This was the year a leap was supposed to have been made. The playoffs looked like a near certainty in a weak East and that was when we thought the New York Knicks were a postseason lock.
When looking to assign blame, one has to first look at the head coach.
Mike Brown was paid $20 million to turn the Cavaliers around, but has failed miserably.
Does he deserve 100 percent of the blame? Absolutely not. Former general manager Chris Grant lost his job due to missed draft picks and poor free-agent signings. The players themselves have given inconsistent effort all season long.
That being said, everything that's gone wrong with the Cavaliers this season can somehow be tied to Brown.
Here's how he's failed in Cleveland.
Failure to Reach Expectations
A general rule of thumb when measuring coaching success is how the team has deviated from preseason expectations.
For example, Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Bobcats (33-34) and Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns (38-28) are widely viewed as the two leading candidates to win NBA Coach of the Year. This goes back to the preseason, since no one outside either city expected the 'Cats or Suns to even sniff mediocrity. Instead, both Clifford and Hornacek have gotten the most out of their rosters while elevating the game of their young players.
Conversely, coaches like Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks (27-40) and Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers (22-44) will likely be fired immediately following the season's conclusion due to their team's failure to live up to expectations.
Mike Brown falls into this second group.
At 26-40 through their first 66 games, this puts Cleveland on pace to finish around 32-50. While this would be an improvement over their 24-58 campaign of 2012-13, many NBA experts picked the Cavaliers to finish much higher.
Scott Sargent of WFNY.com predicted 42 wins. Royce Young of CBS Sports called for 43 wins. USA Today picked the Cavs to get 44 victories. Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report went a bit higher with 45, and Kenny Smith of Inside the NBA on TNT surpassed everyone's guess by saying Cleveland would finish the year with 55 wins.
Barring a miraculous 16-0 finish to the season, the Cavs will fall short of every one of these predictions.
Failure to Lead
Coaches have to be good leaders, period.
This isn't grade school basketball, where players blindly buy in to whatever their coach is preaching. Guys in the NBA are grown men, some playing into their 40's. A coach needs to earn the respect of his team and prove that he is a capable leader.
Some coaches achieve this through previous NBA playing experience. Some by gaining respect as a successful assistant coach. The ultimate sign of a leader worth following, of course, are championship rings.
Brown never played in the NBA. His basketball career consisted of two seasons at the University of San Diego where he was described as "a lean shooting guard who wasn’t a very good shooter" (via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal).
Despite having the best basketball player in the world in LeBron James for five years, Brown was never able to win an NBA title. The level of respect James actually had for Brown was questioned, as he often appeared disinterested during Brown's timeouts and speeches. As Shaquille O'Neal said in his book after Brown was named coach of the Los Angeles Lakers: "I’m not sure if Kobe is going to listen to Mike Brown. LeBron never really did. Here’s what we do know: Kobe will definitely be in charge."
Nine years after Brown was first hired by the Cavaliers, nothing has changed.
Brown was brought in to preach defense, yet the Cavs are just 19th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (per ESPN). They've allowed 110 points or more a whopping 16 times this season, including seven games of 120 or more. Clearly, the team hasn't bought in to the type of defensive pressure and intensity that Brown has tried to instill.
The team as a whole, much like James in the past, isn't listening to Brown.
Failure to Manage the Locker Room
This happened a whole two weeks into the season.
Yes, after just nine short games the Cavs had decided to exclude Brown from their effort to improve the team. I'm not sure what the record is for earliest players-only meeting in NBA history, but this has to rank right up there.
After that, it's been a hurricane of trade rumors, negative reports and overall dysfunction.
Cleveland hasn't seen this much drama from an overweight man with glasses since The Drew Carey Show was on TV.
Brown has time and time again shown his incompetence managing a locker room and the players inside it.
Failure to Coach an Offense
The Cavs roster last season included six players that, just one year later, no longer play in the NBA. Names like Samardo Samuels, Chris Quinn, Luke Walton and Jeremy Pargo were sometimes called upon to provide offense. Remarkably, Byron Scott coached that team to a 19th-ranked offensive rating.
This year's Cavaliers squad, with Luol Deng, Jarrett Jack, Spencer Hawes and a more mature Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson is somehow worse. The Cavs are 24th out of 30 NBA teams in offensive rating this season.
“Our offense is not complex at all,” Mike Brown told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. Guys like Deng and Jack who have previously thrived in other systems are now struggling to score the ball. Too often the offense comes to a halt, with players just standing around staring at whoever has the ball.
This is the same unimaginative offense that Brown brought to the Cavs back in 2005. Now nine years later, he's yet to improve or make any real changes to it.
Failure to Develop Players
The Cavs' primary strength lies in their young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
Both Irving and Thompson took a big leap in their production between their rookie and sophomore years under Byron Scott. Waiters was supposed to make a similar leap in this, his second pro season.
So, where's the improvement?
If anything, all three players have regressed.
Irving, Waiters and Thompson have all seen a decrease in their PER's from a season ago. Irving has the lowest field goal and three-point percentages of his career, thanks to a change in offensive schemes from Scott to Brown.
Failure to Win
Whether or not he actually loses his job, Mike Brown deserves to be fired this summer. Cleveland needs a true leader with a proven offensive system who can develop a young roster and help them reach their max potential.
Free agents won't want to come to a losing team run by a coach with no offense. Existing talent won't commit to Cleveland when they can experience more growth in their games by playing for a better head coach elsewhere.
The Cavs had a great chance to take the step from rebuilder to contender, with so many young talented pieces on their roster.
They ruined it by bringing back Brown, who could now be fired from three head coaching jobs in the last four years.
Cleveland needs to find a new leader and start fresh next fall.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.