What to make of Mike Brown’s return to Cleveland?
His reputation as a defensive coach is somewhat overblown, but still an asset. The same cannot be said for his offensive game plans, which are truly offensive.
During his first go-round in Cleveland, Brown’s crunch-time offense mostly consisted of running LeBron James left, LeBron right, and LeBron up-the-middle. Brown followed the same pattern with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Iso after iso after iso… Thereby enabling opponents’ defenses to know precisely where the ball would be and where it was going to be. Hey, even LeBron raised public and private objections to the Cavs predictable offense.
Moreover, several of his ex-players and many coaches around the league decry Bown’s inability to make meaningful adjustments both during and between games. Likewise are Brown’s in-game substitutions ridiculed as creating mismatches that opponents can eagerly exploit.
Also, Brown spends too much practice time lecturing his players. Stiffening their limbs, boring them, getting them used to disregarding whatever he has to say. Yet notice how his assistants do virtually all of the talking during game-time huddles.
Even more troublesome is Brown’s easy-going way of relating to his players – so easy-going that both LeBron and Kobe intimidated him and mostly did whatever they wanted once the game clock was lit. This situation created further undercurrents of disrespect among the other players on both the Lakers and the Cavs.
For the foreseeable future, the Cavs destiny is primarily in the hands of their point guard, Kyrie Irving, a certified All-Star. Perhaps Irving hasn’t been an NBA or local icon long enough for him to use Brown as a doormat. Or perhaps he has, or might eventually become just another NBA superstar ego maniac.
Dion Waiters is the Cavs second banana, a shooting guard who can score but can’t shoot.
Add the likes of Anderson Varejao (aka Mister Flop), the sturdy Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee, and the erratic Marreese Speights, and Cleveland’s roster doesn’t inspire any reasonable hope of reaching the playoffs sooner rather than much later. For sure, the Cavs have about money available to lure free agents, but it’s hard to imagine any game-changing free agents willing to join the less-than-mediocre Cavs.
In any case, Brown’s contract calls for four guaranteed years plus one partially guaranteed season at the Cavs option for a total package of $20 million.
That’s a lot of loot for a guy who couldn’t win a championship with either LeBron or Kobe, who during Brown’s respective stints in L.A. and Cleveland were rated pick-‘em as being the best player on the planet. Plus, LeBron was surrounded with guys like Larry Hughes, Damon Jones, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as well as a still-spry Shaquille O'Neal. Too bad they were all reduced to spectators by Brown’s myopic offenses while LeBron had the ball on a string.
In L.A., Kobe was complemented by the considerable talents of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Meta World Peace – just about the same roster that was only two seasons removed from an NBA title.
Cavs fans certainly don’t (and shouldn’t) expect miracles, but under Brown the best they can hope for is a team that plays tight defense, scattered offense, and will maybe reach the outer fringes of respectability. But they certainly can expect to see a coach whose glaring shortcomings won’t be bailed out by the routine miracles of LBJ or Kobe.
Indeed, as Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” Especially not to Cleveland.