Cavaliers fire Mike Brown after 5 seasons
Of the many reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers had for firing coach
Mike Brown after five seasons without an NBA title, one mattered
They can’t lose LeBron James.
Less than two weeks after their stunning, second-round loss to
Boston in the playoffs, the Cavaliers fired Brown on Monday, an
expected move that perhaps indicates the team believes it can
re-sign James, the two-time MVP and free agent-in-waiting.
Brown was the most successful coach in franchise history. In
five seasons, he led the Cavs to the playoffs every year, to the
finals in 2007 and to 127 wins in the past two seasons. But Brown
failed to win a championship, and after Cleveland’s second straight
early exodus from the postseason – a collapse that included two
blowout losses at home and dissension in the Cavs’ locker room –
and with James about to explore free agency, owner Dan Gilbert
decided to make a change.
“After a long and deep analysis of all of the factors that led
to the disappointing early ends to our playoff runs over the past
two seasons, we concluded that it was time for the Cavaliers to
move in a different direction,” Gilbert said in a statement. “The
expectations of this organization are very high and, although
change always carries an element of risk, there are times when that
risk must be taken in an attempt to break through to new, higher
levels of accomplishment.
“This is one of those times.”
The Cavs did not hold a news conference to explain their
decision to relieve Brown, who went 314-177 and was the league’s
coach of the year in 2009.
Brown was not immediately available for comment. No one answered
the door at his home in Westlake, Ohio.
A James family publicist said the superstar is out of town on
vacation and would not be available to comment on Brown’s
Boston’s Doc Rivers and Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy, the coaches
who knocked Brown and the Cavs from the playoffs the past two
years, expressed disappointment in Cleveland’s decision.
“Obviously, I was not thrilled to see it,” Rivers said before
Game 4 in Boston. “I wonder what you have to do to keep your job –
back-to-back 60-win seasons. Our profession is tough.”
Said Van Gundy: “Franchises have the right to make any
decisions they want. You can’t do a hell of a lot better. There’s
not a coach in the league that has done better than Mike
The Cavaliers were under a deadline to dismiss Brown. If they
had waited beyond 10 days after the season, they would have had to
pay the 40-year-old coach his salary for next season. Cleveland’s
assistant coaches remain under contract for 2010-11.
The team now faces an even more pressing deadline. James can
become a free agent on July 1, when he’ll head a free-agent class
unlike any other in league history. He will hit the market with
fellow superstars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, and while the
expected bidding wars are weeks away, the speculation and suspense
are hanging over the NBA playoffs.
James has said winning will be the most important factor in
choosing a team. In building around him, the Cavs have already
shown their commitment to giving the 25-year-old James the tools he
needs to win multiple titles.
Now, by firing Brown, who won more than 66 percent of his games,
the Cavs have again demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the
norm to make James happy. While the All-Star forward did not call
for Brown’s head, it was clear during the Boston series that James
and his coach were not on the same page.
The Cavs, though, are in a bind as complex as any defense they
saw in the playoffs.
James will likely keep his options open until free agency
begins, and without an agreement from him, it will be almost
impossible for the team to land a high-profile coach since any
prospective coach can’t be assured he’ll have James.
Beyond that, general manager Danny Ferry’s contract expires next
month and there’s no guarantee he wants to stay around.
If Ferry isn’t re-signed, the Cavs face the prospect of
preparing for the NBA college draft and free agency without a coach
or GM – hardly the position they thought they’d be in after winning
61 regular-season games and dispatching Chicago in the first
It gets even trickier. Gilbert will undoubtedly try to make a
big splash to convince James to stay, but to do so he’ll likely
have to land a high-profile coach. There’s no indication Gilbert
has reached out to anyone yet but the top-tier candidate list would
include people like Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Duke’s
Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or Kentucky’s John
Calipari, a close friend of James, whose seat near Cleveland’s
bench added awkward drama to the Cavs’ loss in Game 5 to the
Jackson’s contract with the Lakers expires after this season.
The 10-time champion has talked about retirement and recently said
he can’t imagine himself coaching anywhere else, but that may not
stop Gilbert from making him a strong pitch – especially if James
is part of the package.
Krzyzewski and James formed a strong bond in three seasons
together on the U.S. Olympic team, winning a gold medal in Beijing
two years ago. Krzyzewski came close to leaving Duke for the Lakers
in 2004, and if he’s ever going to test his mettle in the pro game,
the opportunity to coach James could be enough to pry him from
Also, assuming he stays, Ferry is close with Krzyzewski, whom he
played for in college and still calls “coach.”
“The NBA rumors have been addressed several times in recent
years by coach Krzyzewski,” Duke spokesman Jon Jackson said in an
e-mail to The Associated Press. “He has repeatedly stated that he
will be the Duke head coach for the remainder of his career.”
Gilbert has always been impressed with Izzo, who fits the
tough-minded defensive profile the owner was looking for when he
hired Brown in 2005. Also, Gilbert is a Michigan State graduate.
Izzo has turned down previous NBA overtures, but maybe none as big
as what Gilbert might offer.
And then there’s Calipari, who has insisted he’ll stay at
Kentucky. But that’s not likely to stop the Cavs from reaching out
to Calipari to gauge his interest in coming to Cleveland, a move
that could keep James home.
Brown, meanwhile, did everything in his five seasons with the
Cavs – everything but win a title. In the end, that meant Gilbert
had little choice but to let him go.
The Cavs owner can’t let James walk away as easily.