June 28, 2016

Partly sunny

Rick Noland: Predictions aren’t easy with Cavs

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert won’t fire Chris Grant as general manager and replace him with Danny Ferry, Wayne Embry or Harry Weltman.

But since former Cavs coach Mike Brown now appears to be one of the leading candidates — maybe the No. 1 candidate — to be the new Cavs coach, I won’t completely, 100 percent rule it out, either.

I also won’t totally rule out the Cavs hiring back Brown and LeBron James still opting out of his contract in July 2014 — after the Miami Heat has won three straight titles, no less — and returning to Cleveland.

In other words, in this business, and especially with this organization, never say never.

I’m not saying Brown isn’t a good choice. Heck, he might be the best choice. I’m just saying this is the kind of choice usually reserved for the likes of the late Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.

Yet Brown and Gilbert had dinner Sunday, and the Cavs apparently want to move fast before another team starts making serious overtures to the 43-year-old Brown.

There are some solid, logical reasons why this makes at least some sense — not the least of which is the coaching candidate pool is full of the same old, tired suspects.

(I suspect national reports the Cavs have reached out to none other than Phil Jackson about a job somewhere in the organization were leaked by the franchise itself. This is not only a way of making it look like Cleveland is sparing no cost and leaving no stone unturned, but also a public relations ploy aimed at lessening some of the substantial fallout likely to occur if Brown is indeed hired.)

Brown’s .653 winning percentage — he’s 314-167 over seven seasons — is the sixth-best in NBA history for a coach with a minimum of 450 games, and he was 272-138 in his five seasons in Cleveland (.663).

In his six full seasons on the bench — he was fired five games into this season by the Los Angeles Lakers — his teams have made the playoffs six times and won at least one series every time.

In 2007, Brown coached the Cavs to their only NBA Finals appearance, where they were unceremoniously swept by the much better San Antonio Spurs.

In 2009, he was named NBA Coach of the Year after leading the Cavs to a franchise-best 66-16 regular-season record.

In 2010, he won 61 more games, meaning Cleveland went 127-37 in his final two seasons, an astounding winning percentage of .774 that still wasn’t enough to keep him from getting canned.

Brown is also a defense-first, defense-second and defense-third coach, and after three seasons of watching the recently fired Byron Scott totally mismanage that portion of the game, that quality apparently looks better than ever to Gilbert.

Finally, the relationship between the extremely affable Brown and now more mature James never really deteriorated to the point some portrayed it, and a lot of the damage that was there has been repaired.

But let’s not forget a few things before we go out and put Brown in the same coaching legends category as Jackson, Red Auerbach, Red Holzman or even Lenny Wilkens or Mike Fratello.

One, Brown’s offense during his five seasons in Cleveland often consisted of putting the ball in James’ hands and spreading the floor. Part of that was due to James’ unwillingness to do anything else, but it still happened.

(At this time, we invite you to close your eyes and imagine Kyrie Irving replacing James as the young superstar dribbling the ball for 21 uninterrupted seconds above the 3-point arc.)

Two, for all Brown’s alleged defensive genius, Orlando surrounded Dwight Howard with four 3-point shooters and made the Cavs look absolutely stupid in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals.

Three, exactly what happened in 2010, when James either A) had a sore elbow or B) gave up as the Brown-coached Cavs lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals remains one of the biggest disappointments in Cleveland pro sports history.

That series ultimately led to the firing of Brown, in large part because the Cavs felt a new coach — it turned out to be at-best No. 2 choice Scott — represented their best chance of re-signing unrestricted free agent James. (They picked Scott, remember, after Michigan State’s Tom Izzo turned them down.)

Two weeks after the firing of Brown came the resignation of GM Ferry, who has never said so publicly but obviously either A) didn’t agree with the firing of Brown, B) felt Gilbert was going over his head on certain decision-making matters or C) both.

The trifecta became complete about a month later when James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach.

In the three seasons since, the Cavs have also gone south, posting records of 19-63, 21-45 and 24-58, which adds up to 64-166 (.278) and is apparently all part of Grant’s master rebuilding plan (eat your heart out, Embry and Weltman).

After watching Cleveland blow leads of 27, 26, 22 and 20 points this season under Scott — you can just see the guy standing there with his arms crossed, can’t you? — Gilbert and Grant may have decided Brown is the right man to help revive their moribund franchise.

A man with unyielding principles, Brown had already decided to move his family back to Westlake, so if the two sides are mutually interested, it might not be much longer before an agreement is announced.

Whether the total elapsed time of three years will make it the right decision remains to be seen, but I’m not ruling that out, either.

Anything is possible, after all.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.