CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers are bringing back the most successful coach they’ve ever had.
Cleveland officially re-hired Mike Brown on Wednesday, bringing back a coach who guided them to five straight playoff appearances and their only trip to the NBA Finals before he was fired following the 2010 season.
Brown agreed in principle to the contract on Tuesday. The sides finalized a deal which brings in the 43-year-old to coach a young team with an All-Star player and plenty of room for improvement — a similar situation to the one Brown inherited in 2005.
Brown is again working for owner Dan Gilbert, who fired him following the 2010 playoffs mostly to try and please LeBron James and keep him from leaving Cleveland as a free agent. James ended up bolting for Miami anyway, foiling Gilbert’s plan and leaving them without a coach whose .652 winning percentage is the sixth highest in history among coaches with at least 400 games.
Brown’s return has prompted a mixed reaction from Cleveland fans, some wondering why Gilbert would bring back a coach who couldn’t win it all with James.
Shortly after Brown’s reunion with the Cavs was made official, Gilbert went on Twitter to defend his decision. He pointed out that Brown and Phil Jackson are the only coaches with more than five years of experience to never miss the playoffs in their careers. Gilbert also noted that at 43, Brown “is not even near his peak as an NBA coach.”
“Not `selling’ boys and girls,” the billionaire owner wrote. “Just providing facts. You decide. Let’s see how things roll next year and beyond. How many days until opening tip?”
Of course, Brown’s return raises more speculation about what impact that could have on the possibility of James one day playing for the Cavs again. James can opt out of his contract with Miami as early as the summer of 2014 and the three-time league MVP has said he could imagine playing for Cleveland again.
On Wednesday night, James said he was pleased Brown was back with the Cavs.
“I’m happy for him,” James said before the Heat took a 2-0 lead over Milwaukee. “Very happy for him. I think he’s a really good coach, very defensive-minded coach. It’ll be good for those young guys that they have.”
Brown will replace Byron Scott, the man who replaced him three years ago. Scott was fired last week by Gilbert following his third straight losing season, one of injuries, blown leads and long losing streaks. The Cavs dropped 16 of their last 18 under Scott and Gilbert made the move, saying he was not seeing enough progress and that he was most disappointed by the Cavs’ defense.
Defense is Brown’s forte and the Cavs ranked among the league’s stingiest defensive teams during his tenure.
Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant, a close friend of Brown’s since college, met in Detroit on Sunday and the talks accelerated. The Cavs acted quickly to secure Brown, who was approached by a few other teams with vacancies.
“I am more than excited about Mike Brown’s return to the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Gilbert said in a release. “Mike has done nothing but win in this league since he was a first-year assistant many years ago. He is going to instill a much-needed defensive-first philosophy in our young and talented team that is going to serve as our foundation and identity as we continue down the path of building the kind of franchise that competes at a championship level for many years to come.”
The Cavs will re-introduce Brown as their new coach Wednesday afternoon at their training facility in Independence, Ohio.
Even before Scott was fired, Brown was planning to move his family back to Cleveland. Brown’s wife, Carolyn, and the couple’s teenage sons enjoyed their time here and wanted to come back.
With James emerging as a superstar, the Cavs made the finals in 2007 and won more than 60 games in 2008-09 (66-16) and 2009-10 (61-21). However, they failed to win the franchise’s first NBA title and Brown paid the price after the Cavs were beaten by Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Brown is getting a second chance to take the next step.
“I am thrilled to return to Cleveland to coach the Cavaliers,” Brown said in the release. “The commitment ownership and management have shown in their efforts to build a successful team and organization is deep and I am excited to lead the team forward.
“Nothing would mean more to me and my family than to help bring success to this very special community and to all of our committed and loyal fans.”