For the second time in four years, Mike Brown is out as Cleveland Cavaliers head coach. The Cavs announced Brown's firing Monday, just one year into a five-year, $20 million contract the team handed him to return last April.
Brown, 44, went 33-49 in his only season back on the Cleveland bench. He re-joined the team last summer after being fired by the Los Angeles Lakers early in the 2012-13 season. Brown was first let go by the club following the 2009-10 season, as management tried in vain to appease LeBron James before he left for the Miami Heat.
At the time of his hiring, management sold fans that the move indicated the Cavs learned from their past mistakes. On Monday, it became clear they'd realized the reunion was doomed from the outset.
“This is a very tough business," owner Dan Gilbert said in a statement. "It pains all of us here that we needed to make the difficult decision of releasing Mike Brown. Mike worked hard over this last season to move our team in the right direction. Although, there was some progress from our finish over the few prior seasons, we believe we need to head in a different direction."
The Cavaliers will be on the hook for the four years and $16 million remaining on Brown's contract, assuming he does not get another head coaching job. Contracts typically have offset languages, so Gilbert could partially get off the hook if Brown is able to land another gig. Brown would be able to double-dip if he were to take a television job.
In parts of eight seasons as an NBA coach, Brown has a 347-216 record (.616 winning percentage). He was the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year.
While it's undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow $16 million, the move makes basketball sense. Brown never meshed with a promising mix of young and veteran talent. A defense-first coach, Brown was unable to get star guard Kyrie Irving or most of the roster to buy into his system. The Cavaliers finished 17th in defensive efficiency—one of the lower marks of any Brown-coached team.
Also not noted for his offensive play-calling, Cleveland regressed into a bottom-10 unit despite a roster built on offense-first players. Too often Irving or sixth man Dion Waiters were left to their own devices, leading to bad isolations and attempts early in the shot clock. Irving, the team's best player since James took his talents to South Beach, regressed across the board in what many figured would be a leap year.
Brown also failed to police infighting that threatened to fracture the locker room. Most notably, there was an argument between Waiters, Irving and forward Tristan Thompson that allegedly resulted in Waiters briefly leaving the team. The team was also derailed by an ill-fated Andrew Bynum signing, one of numerous win-now moves that threatened the development of young players.
Given Brown's inability to assuage the myriad personalities and develop talent, it's hard to argue he deserved to stick around for another year. The Cavs' firing of Brown was announced at the same time David Griffin took over full time as the team's new general manager. Griffin has held the interim title since Gilbert fired Chris Grant midseason.
“Our ownership group is looking forward to David Griffin leading the basketball side of our business," Gilbert said, via the release. "We interviewed several strong candidates for the GM position including Griff. We chose David as our GM because we believe he is the best person to lead our franchise at this critical time and into the future."
The first move on Griffin's offseason shopping list will be the 2014 NBA draft. Cleveland has the ninth-best odds at winning the lottery, which would be the franchise's third win in the last four years. At the very least, the Cavaliers should be able to add a starter-level player in a draft that most consider the deepest in a decade.
As for their next coach, that's another question entirely. Cleveland makes seven available positions around the league (including the Detroit Pistons). It's doubtful that Gilbert would have made this move without Griffin presenting a list of potential candidates, so the Cavs might move their process along quicker than others.
Either way, it's very doubtful the next player to take Cleveland's bench is another retread from the past.
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