CLEVELAND, Ohio — Mike Brown was the coach the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted all along, and now they have their man.
Brown and the Cavs have reached a deal for him to return as coach. The Akron Beacon Journal reported the news first.
Brown coached the Cavs for most of the LeBron James era in Cleveland, taking the job in 2005. He was fired in 2010, shortly before James made his free-agent decision to leave for Miami.
After the Cavs fired Byron Scott as coach last Thursday, team sources said the team had its eye on one individual in particular and wanted to move quickly in making a hire. It appears that individual was Brown, with Phil Jackson being the only other known candidate. Jackson politely turned away the Cavs over the weekend, FOX Sports Ohio sources said.
However, Brown agreed to meet with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant on Sunday in Detroit. Sources said that get-together went well and the sides held another meeting Tuesday, reaching the terms of a five-year deal. It’s been reported Brown’s contract will pay him $20 million.
As soon as the news about Brown broke, talk shifted to the often-discussed possibility of James returning to the Cavs. James can become a free agent in 2014 and hasn’t ruled out the idea of playing again for the team that drafted him.
When asked last week about how real the possibility of Brown reuniting with the team was, James said, “It should be. It should be real.”
James and Brown were said to have clashed during Brown’s first tenure in Cleveland, but James has been supportive of Brown since.
One NBA coach told FOX Sports Ohio the Cavs “need to make a hire with the possibility of LeBron returning in mind,” and that Brown “fits that profile.”
Brown compiled a 272-138 record with the Cavs, was named Coach of the Year in 2008-09 and led the Cavs to the playoffs every season and their lone Finals appearance in 2007. He coached the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2011-12 season, reaching the playoffs again, before getting fired after a 1-4 start this past season. He is 314-167 overall.
Brown has a reputation as a strong defensive mind, the type Grant said he was seeking after Scott’s departure. Earlier this season following a loss to Denver, Gilbert tweeted that when the Cavs return to relevancy, it would be a result of their defense.
A press conference for Brown could be held as soon as Wednesday, sources said.
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The Cavs have been without a coach since firing Scott last week following his third straight losing season.
One of the main factors in Brown’s decision to come back to Cleveland was that he already had planned to move his family back to the area, long before Scott was fired. Brown is also close friends with Grant.
The Cavs knew they had to act quickly to snare Brown before they were in competition with other teams to sign him. Phoenix reportedly reached out to Brown about their vacancy in recent days, and other teams were expected to contact the 43-year-old.
And now that Brown is back in Cleveland, it remains to be seen what impact that could have on James one day returning to the Cavs. He can opt out of his contract with Miami next summer, and there has long been speculation about him coming back home to play in Northeast Ohio.
Beyond his stellar record and postseason triumphs, Brown also helped build a winning foundation with the Cavs. It certainly helped that James was around, but Brown instilled a winning attitude and defense-wins belief in his players.
Scott was fired last week after three seasons following a 24-win season and with one year left on his contract. Scott was strapped with a young, inexperienced squad, but Gilbert didn’t think the Cavs made adequate progress with him, especially on defense, so he’s handed his team back to the same coach he fired three years ago.
Brown’s return to Cleveland isn’t really all that surprising.
The Cavs wanted a successful, defensive-minded coach and they had their greatest success in five seasons under Brown, who certainly was helped by having James on his teams. But he has made the playoffs in all six seasons as an NBA head coach, and shown the ability to develop younger players during his first stint with Cleveland.
The Cavs won at least 45 games each season during Brown’s tenure and went 66-16 in 2008-09 when he was named Coach of the Year.
His teams in Cleveland always played solid defense, ranking among the top in most categories. James has credited Brown with making him a better defensive player and getting him to understand the importance of defending the basket. Brown, though, was criticized for a stagnant offense that too often relied simply on James’ marvelous athletic skills, especially late in games.
Brown was fired by Gilbert after the Cavs were beaten in the 2010 playoffs by Boston. James was accused of quitting on the team during that series and there was tension in the final weeks between the league MVP and his coach.
But Brown’s firing was more about Gilbert trying to make James happy and persuade him to re-sign, a strategy that ultimately didn’t work when the superstar went to Miami.
Brown left Cleveland on good terms, which would take some of the awkwardness out of his return.
Even before Scott’s firing, which seemed inevitable as the Cavs staggered to the end of the season by losing 16 of their last 18, Brown was looking for houses to return to Cleveland. He’ll be closer to his oldest son, who will be a freshman basketball player at Butler next season, and his younger son intends to finish high school with friends he made when his dad previously coached the Cavs.
Brown is inheriting a team with a bright future. As long as he can stay healthy, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will only improve, and in Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, the Cavs have a solid nucleus.
Cleveland has two first-round picks in June’s NBA draft, the team has plenty of salary-cap space and Grant said last week that he intends to be aggressive in free agency this summer.