During Game Four of the NBA Finals, it was reported on the ticker that Mike Brown would be returning to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers next season.
For the casual observer tuning in to watch the Finals, news that Brown’s job was in jeopardy to begin with must have came as a surprise.
After all, Brown did win Coach of the Year. The Cavs did win 66 games, which was best in the NBA and a franchise record. They also led the league in defense, consistently played with effort, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
How can you even consider firing a guy after a season like that, you probably wondered?
“Only in Cleveland,” or somewhere along those lines, was probably your reasoning.
After all, we are Cleveland. A city whose sad sports history is littered with catchy, two word phrases that commemorate our most demoralizing moments. If anyone would be dumb enough to fire their coach after winning Coach of the Year, surely it could happen in Cleveland.
This would just be another laughable mistake for a tormented sports city. I could just hear the Cleveland bashers across the country smirking as they reasoned with themselves: Mike Brown ? The Coach of the Year, Mike Brown? Fired? Well, it’s Cleveland. That sounds about right.
But that’s not the case at all.
The fact of the matter is Mike Brown deserves to be (or have been) on the hot seat.
The Eastern Conference Finals will forever be etched in my scarred, sports memory. Not because it followed a 66-win season in which a trip to the Finals with Kobe seemed guaranteed.
Or because the Cavs were so blatantly exposed and overmatched by the more talented, versatile Magic. Or because regular season Mo Williams never arrived, but guaranteed victory anyways.
No. I will remember the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals because of the inexplicable coaching decisions made by Mike Brown .
It’s almost like Brown set out to prove that he truly deserved the Coach of the Year award. Like he was the reason the Cavs played such inspired ball night in and night out during the meaningless regular season, not a certain player nicknamed after royalty.
How else can you explain Brown’s refusal to make adjustments during the series? It’s as if he felt he was beyond adjustments.
I mean, why wouldn’t you have your best defensive player guarding the historically inconsistent Rafer Alston? (sarcasm, with more coming). And why wouldn’t you keep doing that, while Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu kill your defense.
Also, why not keep playing your ancient center who can only shoot jumpers (which he missed) 29 minutes a game?
Repeatedly, and with pity, we were forced to watch Z defend Dwight Howard like a mummy, helplessly allowing the 22-year-old to blow past him before blindly (and weakly) flailing his arms out at the last moment to ensure a three point opportunity.
Mummy defense. Mannequin defense. Whatever you call it, Coach Brown thought it could contain Superman. It could not. And it wasn't close,
Also, enough can’t be said of Mike Brown’s illogical use of his bench. He completely threw the Cavs rotation out of wack. The Cavs depth, developed during the regular season through injuries, was supposed to be a luxury come playoff time.
Bench players had no idea what their rotation was going to consist of from a game to game basis (Sasha Pavlovic minutes in the series: 0, 22, 25, 0, 1, 5). I mean, you reacquire a vet like Joe Smith for a series like this, and then you give him sporadic minutes during the six game series?
Mike Brown was just throwing guys out there, hoping for a miracle. I swear, one time I heard Brown yell for Eric Snow to go into the game for Mo, then sat puzzled as his players stared blankly at him.
Well, at least I imagined he called for Eric Snow, but Brown was puzzled and players were staring blankly at him. So two-thirds of that joke was actually true.
All joking aside, Mike Brown was handily out coached by Stan Van Gundy (think Larry Holmes - Randy “Tex” Cobb for a boxing equivalent). He didn’t perform his job well, and it was evident. Brown should be under some scrutiny. That’s just the way the world works.
But at the same time, I recognize the unenviable situation the Cavs brass is staring down. You simply cannot afford to fire Brown with one guaranteed year left with LeBron James. Bringing in a new coach at this point certainly would not entice LeBron to stay in Cleveland.
Obviously, Mike Brown is not a championship caliber coach, at least not yet. Be that as it may, the Cavs have no choice but to bite the bullet and move forward with what they have, hoping that help arrives or Brown has a coaching epiphany.
If not, they have to hope they can win a championship in spite of their coach, a daunting, if not impossible, feat in the NBA.