Has Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown Lost The Team?
The idea of tenure in NBA coaching circles in pretty laughable. I’m sure the coaches themselves don’t find the numbers quite so funny, I suppose, but the average length of term for NBA coaches is at about 2.3 seasons. Mike Brown is about to finish his 3rd season. He has beaten the odds and has outlasted the average term, so congrats are due to him for that. But is it even fathomable that his time with the team could be running short?
On the immediate surface, it would appear unreasonable to even bring this up. Mike Brown won 50 games in each of his first 2 seasons, led the Cavaliers to 3 playoff berths, has won 4 playoff series, and led the team to their only NBA Finals appearance in team history. Already Brown is 2nd in Cavaliers history in playoff games and 1st in playoff games won. He’s the only Cavaliers coach in franchise history to have a winning record in the playoffs. So clearly, most would probably argue, there’s no reason for the temperature on Brown’s seat to be rising.
But when you dig a little deeper, there are some major questions that can be asked. Lets examine just what kind of impact the Cavaliers coaches have had on the team in the LeBron James era:
It’s hard to argue with the end results. 3 straight playoff appearances. 3 straight 2nd place finishes in the division. 3 straight years as one of the top 4 teams in the conference. This is an unparalleled run of success for this franchise, and that makes it so much easier for us to turn a blind eye to the details inside the machine and to instead just focus on the output. But really, who’s responsible for this team’s success….Mike Brown or LeBron James?
In his 3 seasons as coach, the Cavaliers offense has fallen from 9th to 18th to 19th. That’s not improvement in any way. In fact, it’s a sign of getting worse. But people will say, “well, that’s because he focuses on defense…..he’s a great defensive coach.” He might be that. But look at the rankings. 14th, 4th, and 12th. Isn’t it possible that the ‘4th’ is the exception and not the rule?
The most alarming thing is that 2.3 seasons number I used earlier. There’s a reason for that number being so small, and one possible explanation is that after a couple seasons, a coach’s method starts falling on deaf ears. The team learns to tune out the coach and gets complacent in their own system. Which isn’t entirely Mike Brown’s fault….obviously today’s NBA athlete must accept their share of blame for this as well. But it takes a special kind of coach to continuously get the most out of their teams year after year, and I’m starting to question if Mike Brown is that kind of coach.
When you look at where this team was in Paul Silas’s final season with the team (12th on offense, 12th on defense, +0.8 PPG Diff) to where this year’s Mike Brown-led team is (19th on offense, 12th on defense, -0.6 PPG Diff), you have to ask the question. Is this team really any better than when Mike Brown took over? The question is especially interesting when you consider that Silas’s final season was only LeBron’s 2nd season. Imagine how good that team might have be with this version of LeBron James. When Dan Gilbert bought this team, the change at head coach was made primarily because the ownership wanted to have “their guys” in the front office and coaching roles. Now, Gilbert has to look hard and ask whether this team and franchise is really improving and is really on the right track to a championship.
I’m not in the business of calling for people to lose their jobs. So I’m not going to sit here and say Brown must go. But I am in the business of writing about this team and looking objectively at the stories the statistics tell about the team and to bring these numbers to light. I don’t foresee a coaching change this off season no matter what happens in the playoffs. But with some expiring contracts next season and some tradable assets, GM Danny Ferry is going to have a chance to seriously upgrade the talent on this roster. And when that happens, it will be imperative that Mike Brown get more out of his roster and find a way to bring some kind of offensive identity to this team. If he fails, not only will it be too late to save his job, but it might also be too late to keep LeBron James in town.