As the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach, Mike Brown has won an average of 54 games per year. In the last two seasons, the Cavs have won 66 and 61 games, respectively. He was at the helm when Cleveland reached the NBA finals in 2007, and has a career 60 percent winning percentage in the playoffs.
But if Cleveland ever wants to win a title, they need to get Brown out of town, and fast.
It’s too simplistic to say that Brown’s success is due solely to his having the best player in the NBA for the past four years. LeBron is awesome, but he can’t guard everyone and Brown’s Cleveland clubs have consistently been at the top of the league in defensive field goal percentage and points allowed.
Brown is, in fact, an excellent defensive coach. He absorbed Greg Popovich’s defensive rotation schemes and has implemented them to great effect in Cleveland. After Cleveland fires him, he’ll make a strong defensive assistant (a la Tom Thibideau) somewhere in the league.
It’s true Cleveland has been lit up a couple times in the playoffs, but Boston is far too skilled on the offensive end to expect any team to lock up Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett for a whole series.
I might quibble with some of Brown’s matchups, but basically they just don’t have the personnel to stay in front of Rondo, which causes a ripple effect throughout the team’s defensive structure and opens up shots for other Celtics.
It's hard to hold out hope that Brown will solve the Rondo riddle because he is one of the worst coaches in the league when it comes to making adjustments.
He coaches one way, and has no ability to alter his thinking to produce wins.
Look at a coach like Scott Skiles, who implemented unconventional guerrilla basketball tactics in order to give a far superior Atlanta team all it could handle. Or you can observe how Boston’s Tom Thibideau altered the Celtics' game plan in this series to essentially guard LeBron with one and a half players by sending Rondo and others to hedge quickly towards James as soon as he touches the ball, then split the difference between LeBron and the player they are matched up with.
For some reason, Mike Brown can’t see that Shaq is basically scoring on dunks (a shot any other Cavs big man can also make), while eliminating the Cavalier’s quickness advantage in the full court, playing awful defense when Rondo penetrates, and clogging the paint on offense.
What about J.J. Hickson? What about Anderson Varajeao, who has always bothered the Celtics’ big men?
I tweeted before the series that Jamario Moon should hound Rondo all series and the Cavs should try to run the C’s out of the building. Maybe Brown should start following @hoopspeak!
Shaq’s minutes have caused me my fair share of consternation, because the Big Dead Weight forces the Cavs to play the Celtics’ pace, potentially costing Cleveland the series. Here are my three favorite theories on why Brown keeps giving him big minutes:
1) Mike Brown is scared of Shaq: Maybe not scared of him physically (though I wouldn’t blame him), but scared that benching him will cause the Big Sulker to further damage the chemistry of his team. Also, he might be so concerned with keeping everyone happy that he will sacrifice playing the lineup that best exploits the Celtics’ weaknesses for what he hopes will be better “veteran (i.e. slow, ineffective) play.” I know what you’re thinking…
2) Mike Brown is stupid: Not a big fan of this theory, just thought I would mention it because I find myself saying “C’mon man! How stupid is this guy!” 15 times a night when I watch the Cavs. I don’t think Brown is an imaginative coach, but he’s certainly still in the top half of NBA coaches as far as ability.
3) Mike Brown is too cautious: I think Brown made a decision before the playoffs that Shaq would do big things for him and Brown hasn’t been willing to reevaluate despite glaring evidence to the contrary. He wants the game to be played in a way that he feels he can control, and that means doing what he knows.
These guesses may also explain why, despite having a nearly unguardable player who likes to pass, the Cavs offense generates such unimaginative play.
Want to know why a 6’8’’ 270-pounder with an excellent handle and explosive first step has looked like he was playing with weights strapped to his chest and ankles?
I’ll tell you, it’s because all five Celtics are literally staring at LeBron when he has the ball.
Now Bron bears some of the responsibility for this by being a bit of a ball stopper and often waiting aimlessly on the weakside when off the ball—but there’s also no discernible plan for the Cavs’ half court O.
Phil Jackson and the triangle offense unleashed Kobe and Jordan’s greatest talents because the ball and player movement inherent to the triangle keeps opponents from keying in on the star. Also, Phil demanded his stars work within this system, making everyone feel responsible for victory.
The mentality of the triangle is that one player is not allowed to do it alone. Jordan and Kobe would relax for three quarters, play within the system, then attack mercilessly in the fourth quarter.
Contrast that to Cleveland’s offense, which basically consists of the following: pick and rolls, posting up Shaq so he can clunk a jump hook off the rim or get fouled and miss the free throws, and LeBron desperately trying to create by going one on five at the end of shot clock—something that often leads to turnovers and contested jumpers from overmatched role players.
The result of their stagnant offense is shooting percentages of 40, 40, 41 in their three losses. And these aren’t just bad shooting nights. It's hard to make shots with a hand in your face and three seconds on the shot clock.
In fact, LeBron didn’t catch the ball with two feet in the paint once in Game Five. And that is due largely to the fact that Cleveland’s offense is devoid of productive motion.
One thing that could remedy this inability to get paint touches is LeBron James operating from the pivot more regularly.
He probably should have developed at least the beginnings of a low post game by now, which would prevent quick shrimps like Tony Allen from guarding him.
But do you think Mike Brown has been hounding LeBron to do so? Telling LeBron he wants to develop an offense that demands he be effective in the post, convincing him that improvement is necessary?
Do you see Brown angrily chastising the Akron Hammer for not developing what will one day become an unstoppable element of his game?
Or do you picture Brown calling James over last summer, finding out he is shooting 500 jump shots a day and being just fine with it?
Sure LeBron is a more consistent shooter, but that’s not the way to max out his abilities.
Brown is a coddler, someone who has so much respect for LeBron and Shaq that he’s blind to their glaring weaknesses. Has he even called a pick and pop for James-Jamison this series? Imagine how devastating that would be!
Instead, Brown has been cautious, he’s been nervous, and at times he’s seemed downright stupid.
It’s too late for him to change his nature and the nature of his team in time to win a championship this season. I’ve seen all I need to see.
When Cleveland’s management is ready to win a title, they should find a coach who will challenge LeBron and design an offensive system that harmonizes his prodigious gifts with those of his teammates.
Some people have chastised LeBron for not being a real “killer.” Unfortunately for Cleveland, there’s already someone on their bench all too willing to assassinate their season.
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