CLEVELAND — Not long ago, I had a conversation with an NBA coach. Neither of us had any inclination Mike Brown would return to the Cavaliers.
But the coach said something then that occurred to me when Brown was officially hired on Thursday morning to lead the Cavs.
“Mike has only been in situations where he was expected to win a championship almost immediately,” the coach said. “I personally think he’d be ideal in a different environment, where the goal would be to develop a younger team and take them to the playoffs.”
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Today, Brown has such a job.
For the Cavs, most of the key pieces are in place — and they are indeed young.
All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving just finished his second season. So did rapidly improving power forward Tristan Thompson. Shooting guard Dion Waiters and center Tyler Zeller just finished their first.
When healthy, those were four of the Cavs’ five starters to end the year (along with small forward Alonzo Gee).
This past season, the Cavs possessed all the traits of an inexperienced bunch.
They blew big leads. They got blown out at home. They left themselves open to question if they were actually playing their hardest, particularly at the defensive end.
They won games they weren’t expected to win, and lost games they had no business losing. They could be maddening.
Brown should change all that, according to the coach I spoke with.
“One thing about a Mike Brown team is they will bring it every night,” the coach said. “There will never be any doubts about their effort, particularly at the defensive end.”
In Brown’s previous stint with the Cavs (2005-10), and the one that followed with the Lakers, his teams were ready-made for the playoffs.
His Cavs teams featured a super-duper star in LeBron James. His Lakers teams featured one in Kobe Bryant.
Along with those guys, Brown coached plenty of other folks with championship rings and/or huge expectations — including Shaquille O’Neal, Ben Wallace, Pau Gasol and for five regular-season games, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Nobody on the Cavs’ roster fits those profiles. Nobody has “been there before.” Nobody really has had any major hopes placed on his shoulders.
It’s always been about making gradual improvement, letting the young guys evolve. It’s always been a process.
Again, it’s the exact opposite of what Brown is used to.
Before, it was win big right away or (in the case of the Lakers) the highway. Now, it’s get the team to take the next natural step.
So this is all new for Brown. This team won’t be winning 66 games. Not next year, anyway.
If the Cavs win even 41, it will be a major accomplishment. They have the talent. But the big-game experience, the playoff-style basketball, just isn’t there.
This is also new for Irving, Thompson, Waiters and Zeller. Brown will insist that they bend their knees, shuffle their feet and protect the rim. It won’t be a suggestion. It will be a demand. Anything less won’t be tolerated.
As for the offense, well, we all know Brown’s reputation in that area.
He lacks creativity, skeptics say. He can only coach one end of the floor, everyone insists.
But as Brown admitted at Thursday’s press conference, everyone who has a job has to find ways to grow, to improve on what they’ve done in the past.
Brown will be learning that as he goes in this second run in Cleveland. So will the guys on the team.
According to at least one NBA coach, it’s a good place for Brown, and a good place for the Cavs.
“Honestly? I think he’s a better fit for this job than he was anywhere else — either the last time in Cleveland, or in LA,” the coach said Thursday. “I think Cavs fans should be excited about what Mike Brown will do for this team.”