Everyone wanted him…everyone except his current team. The fans, the media, the opposition…everyone wanted him as the coach of their team. After six straight years of playoff appearances, garnering the respect of his players, and a proven track record of winning, he was near the top of his profession and one of the most respected men in basketball.
On July 15, 2013, he was traded. The Boston Celtics released Doc Rivers from his contract in order to pursue the coaching vacancy with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were so desperate to improve their coaching staff (not hard when their previous head coach was Vinny Del Negro), they even gave Boston a 2015 unprotected first round pick.
The reviews were unanimous…the Clippers had just vaulted themselves from “dangerous team” to “legitimate contender.” All this because of a man with one NBA Championship, one additional Eastern Conference final, and currently, a career winning percentage of .516.
Fast forward one year and Mike Brown couldn’t find himself in a more different situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just last summer he was signed to a five-year contract for a total of $20 million to return as the head coach in Cleveland, just three years after being fired there.
Now the fans and Cleveland media are hoping that Brown won’t get another season to prove his worth. All this to a man who made the playoffs for his first six seasons of coaching, appeared in one NBA Finals (losing in four straight games to the San Antonio Spurs), and has a career winning percentage of .616.
In fact, of the current head coaches with at least five years of total NBA head coaching experience, Mike Brown currently has the fourth-highest career winning percentage. Only Greg Popovich (.686), Erik Spoelstra (.660), and Scott Brooks (.633) are currently better. He even has a better career winning percentage than highly respected coaches like George Karl (.599) and the recently retired Rick Adelman (.582), neither of which have won an NBA Championship (the defining moment for Doc River’s reputation).
Brown simply coaches boring basketball. His focus and specialty is defense, while simply trying to run a safe and effective offense. In a lot of ways he is the antithesis of Mike D’Antoni, who coaches a high-paced and entertaining offense while ignoring the other side of the ball.
In all likelihood, Brown will be returning to Cleveland next season…even if it’s just due to the amount that it would cost to have him leave. And remember, all this is happening despite not knowing who the general manager will be.
If he is back, Brown desperately needs to find a way to improve the team on the offensive end as they finished in the bottom third of the league for offensive efficiency. Kyrie Irving even appeared to lose a lot of the joy that had made him one of the top young players in the game.
It would benefit Brown to find an assistant coach who is known for offensive creativity. Dwane Casey found himself in a similar position last year as a defensive mind who needed help on offense. Casey went out and lured Nick Nurse, who had coached the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and led them to two of the three most recent D-League Championships. With help from Nurse, the Raptors became a top 10 offensive team in the NBA and appeared in the playoffs for the first time in six years.
If Brown hopes to remain in Cleveland, he simply has to adapt. But is he willing to relinquish some control to do so? If not, he is bound to be the next casualty for a franchise that needs a scapegoat.