Best Potential Candidates to Replace Mike Brown as Cleveland Cavaliers Coach

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

Best Potential Candidates to Replace Mike Brown as Cleveland Cavaliers Coach

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    Another day, another shining example of why NBA head coaches hold one of the most unstable jobs ever.

    On the same day the Cleveland Cavaliers removed the "interim" label from general manager David Griffin's title, they announced that they would also be parting ways with head coach Mike Brown. The news was first relayed by Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico.

    This marks the end of Brown's second stint in Cleveland. He was dismissed in 2010 as LeBron James entered free agency. After a brief stay with the Los Angeles Lakers, he returned to the Cavs last summer on a five-year, $20 million deal.

    But the Cavs showed little in the way of progress this season. They were supposed to contend for a playoff spot. Instead of a trip to the postseason, they're making their fourth straight lottery appearance.

    The timing of Brown's dismissal clearly indicates the Cavs are preparing for a directional shift. Coaches who are one season into a five-year deal aren't handed pink slips if the team isn't gearing up for significant change.

    The Cavs are still a young team brimming with impressionable talent. From Kyrie Irving—who is eligible for a contract extension this summer—to Dion Waiters to Anthony Bennett, this is a franchise in need of a reliable figurehead who can offer guidance while exerting authority.

    Expect their coaching search to consist of established, big names, with a few novices scattered in for good measure. More pointedly, think of any coach who can implement some semblance of a system while dealing with budding talents. 

    Or, you know, anyone who is even remotely qualified to lead them out of lottery purgatory and back to where they haven't been in nearly five years—the playoffs. 


    *Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

8. Adrian Griffin

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    No, the Cavs aren't expected to pull a Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, and ask permission to speak with the very much employed Tom Thibodeau.

    They reportedly prefer to go after one of his assistants.

    According to USA Today's Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt , the Cavs will pursue Chicago Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin, who has worked under Thibs since 2010-11. Griffin carved out a nine-year playing career at the NBA level, and he's also spent time as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Anyone who has coached alongside Thibs is bound to know a thing or two (or 97) about defense and overcoming adversity, two virtues the Cavs should be very interested in. 

    But while teams seem more inclined to hire first-time head coaches—Steve Kerr, anyone?—the Cavs whiffed on a great pool of assistants last summer. Mike Malone, Brian Shaw and Mike Budenholzer were all available, yet the team went with a familiar face and more established candidate in Brown. If they were going to roll the dice on a rookie head coach, the time to do it would have been then. 

    On the flip side, Griffin has coached Luol Deng in the past. If the Cavs are looking to gain more of an inside track on re-signing him, hiring Griffin would be a good start.

7. Alvin Gentry

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    File this one under familiar faces.

    Per's Marc Stein, Alvin Gentry could receive consideration from Cleveland's GM. The two spent some time together while Gentry was coaching the Phoenix Suns.

    Gentry coached Phoenix from the middle of 2008-09 to the middle of 2012-13 before being supplanted by Lindsey Hunter, and now Jeff Hornacek.

    Though he's not a flashy name, Gentry is familiar with running offenses through point guards. Steve Nash was his main floor general during his first few seasons in Phoenix. Irving could perhaps benefit from a coach who knows how to implement versatile offensive systems.

    The problem with Gentry is he's only coached into the postseason twice, and made it out of the first round just once. That said, he did coach the Suns to a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2010. So, there's that.

6. Vinny Del Negro

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    Yet another familiar face.

    Vinny Del Negro's hat could be thrown into Cleveland's coaching ring, according to Stein. He and David Griffin also spent time together in Phoenix. The former served as an assistant general manager and director of player personnel during the course of his tenure with the Suns. He was even part of their broadcast team for a while.

    Most recently, Del Negro spent three seasons coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. After leading them to a then-franchise-best 56 wins in 2012-13, his contract wasn't renewed. The Clippers eventually pried Doc Rivers out of Boston.

    More credit was given to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for their roles in the Clippers' revival, but at the very least, Del Negro has shown he can lead his team into the playoffs when given the right pieces. Los Angeles did improve by at least eight wins per season with him at the helm, and 56-win campaigns are no small accomplishments in the brutal Western Conference, no matter who's on the roster.

    The biggest knock on Del Negro during his last season in Los Angeles was his minutes distribution. He used DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe sparingly, but both players thrived in more prominent roles this season with the Clippers and Suns, respectively.

    If the Cavs are prepared to give Del Negro the right talent, though, he can help them. Owner Dan Gilbert and Griffin just need to make it clear staggering minutes of key components is not an option.

5. Fred Hoiberg

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    If the Cavs are looking at NBA neophytes, Fred Hoiberg deserves consideration.

    Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears previously said that Hoiberg topped the Minnesota Timberwolves' list of potential replacements for Rick Adelman, and it's not hard to see why. He led the Iowa State Cyclones to a 28-win season this past year that included a Big 12 tournament championship and run to the Sweet 16. 

    As someone who is familiar working with young talents in the early stages of their maturation process, Hoiberg makes sense for a Cavs team that is still searching for an identity. He could be Cleveland's version of Brad Stevens, who instantly became a symbol for hope and stability upon joining the Boston Celtics. 

    Prying Hoiberg away from Iowa State will be difficult, if not impossible, though. The Cyclones rewarded his work from this past season with a substantial raise, and as Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton explains, this could prevent him from making an imminent jump to the NBA:

    That pile of money is more than just a reward for the 41-year-old Hoiberg, who has a .657 winning percentage and has led his alma mater to three straight NCAA tournaments. It also helps form a wall, buttressed by quality of life, that might just shield him from jumping the NBA and the many challenges and many millions of dollars it can offer. If Hoiberg wants to work at the professional level, he is going to do so, even if the residents of Ames pass the hat during the dinner rush at Hickory Park to try to keep him in town. 

    At times like this, it's best to recite a timeworn credo that approaches cliche status: It never hurts to ask.

    That is, unless you're asking for an atomic wedgy. Then, yes, it could hurt to ask.

4. Kevin Ollie

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    Go ahead, Cleveland. Think big.

    Think monstrous.

    After winning a national title in just his second season as UConn's head coach, Kevin Ollie has become a scorching-hot coaching commodity. Stein, along with colleague Ramona Shelburne, reported that the Lakers even had eyes for him. 

    And why not? Ollie has been in control for only a short time, but he's helped continue UConn's winning ways. He could be just the guy to lead a transitioning franchise into more promising times. 

    Here's where thinking monstrous comes in.

    In the wake of all this NBA talk, the Huskies may be prepared to double Ollie's salary next season, according to's Andy Katz:

    UConn coach Kevin Ollie and the university are in negotiations to double his salary after Ollie led the Huskies to the national championship in April, sources with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN on Friday.

    Ollie was paid $1.25 million this past season, his second as coach.

    . . .

    The sources said UConn is looking to pay Ollie in the neighborhood of $2.4 million to $2.6 million annually.

    The Cavs can most definitely offer Ollie more money, but given the success he's experienced at UConn, it's tough to imagine him leaving for anything short of a high-profile position in a big market. 

    Los Angeles has that kind of pull. Cleveland may not. 

    What's that? It still never hurts to ask? 

    Make the call, Cleveland.

3. Lionel Hollins

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    Lionel Hollins remains unemployed. 

    That needs to change. 

    Coaching the Memphis Grizzlies to the 2013 Western Conference Finals wasn't enough to save Hollins' job. He frequently clashed with Memphis management, according to Amick, so he wasn't offered a new contract.

    While he didn't coach at all this year, he has been linked to every single vacancy out there. Most recently, Spears linked him to the Lakers and Golden State Warriors. Both of those jobs are more appealing from a market standpoint, but Hollins hasn't shot down the idea of coaching any one team.

    "I'm interested and willing to listen to any NBA head-coaching opportunities that become available," he told's Chris Haynes in February.

    Touted as a disciplinarian, Hollins would have a tremendous impact on the young Cavs. Irving, Waiters and the rest of Cleveland's core have yet to play for a true disciplinarian who preaches accountability. Hollins has the chops necessary to whip them into shape.

    Brown was also brought to Cleveland to fix the Cavs' defense, as the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd notes. Though he succeeded—the Cavs ranked 19th in defensive efficiency after finishing 27th the year before—Hollins' Grizzlies were known for their stout defense. They ranked second in efficiency during his final season in Memphis.

    Offensively, Hollins' ideals can be archaic. He abused high-low action with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph while with the Grizzlies. But he also never had a scorer—no disrespect, Rudy Gay—like Irving to exploit.

    This would be a chance for him to make a name for himself as a coach capable of overseeing both sides of the ball.


2. Mark Jackson

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    Stubbornness can be in demand.

    Mark Jackson was dismissed by the Warriors for, well, an inordinate number of reasons. Take your pick. For the Cavs, it truly doesn't matter.

    If Jackson is willing to relocate, he should be a candidate for this job. His penchant for running with four or five bench players at a time isn't ideal, but the bond he forges with players is surreal.

    “I love coach and everything he’s about,” Warriors point guard Stephen Curry told reporters before Jackson was fired, per Bay Area News Group’s Marcus Thompson.

    The Cavs could use that type of unity. They need the brand of motivation Jackson fosters. That top-notch defensive system—Golden State ranked in the Top Five of defensive efficiency this past season—would work as well.

    They also need a trip to the playoffs.

    Say what you will about Jackson, but he led the Warriors to consecutive postseason berths for the first time since 1991 and 1992 these past two seasons. That counts for something.

    Can the Cavs find a way to placate his ego without compromising their future vision? 

    It's definitely worth finding out.

1. Mike D'Antoni

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    I'm absolutely, positively going here.

    And I'm not sorry.

    Mike D'Antoni gets a bad wrap. There are those who abhor him, who think he should never coach an NBA team again. I'm not even close to one of those people.

    Stein says D'Antoni might enter Cleveland's fray because of his ties to Griffin from their days in Phoenix. Amick has also linked him to the Warriors' coaching position.

    When he's given a group of guys who can actually run the floor and embrace his system, he yields results. Look what happened to the New York Knicks in 2010-11. They went from a 29-win team in 2009-10 to a 42-win playoff squad, all because the Knicks gave D'Antoni a pick-and-roll big man (Amar'e Stoudemire) and a point guard who wasn't as bad then as he is now (Raymond Felton).

    Things ultimately didn't work out in New York, but that was inevitable once the isolation-heavy Carmelo Anthony came to town. Had 'Melo been more amenable to working off the ball—like he was this past season—that pairing ends differently. 

    Let's not harp on the Lakers situation, either. Once again, D'Antoni wasn't given a fair shake. The Lakers couldn't offer him stability. They couldn't even offer him a roster headlined by something other than one-year stopgaps. He left. Big deal.

    Yes, I know. Excuses, excuses. D'Antoni isn't perfect, I get it. Give him a defensive-minded assistant and let him work his point-guard magic on Irving, though. See what he can do with this crop of players. Cater to his system's needs for once.

    The Suns did that for years, and while they never won a title, D'Antoni's explosive offense reached the Western Conference Finals twice.

    Just saying.