September 20, 2014

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Cavs agree on 5-year deal to bring back former coach Mike Brown

INDEPENDENCE — The 19th head coach in Cavaliers history will be the same as the 17th.

Just five days after firing Byron Scott, the Cavs reached a deal Tuesday with Mike Brown, who is expected to be formally introduced — again — today during an afternoon press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts.

Mike Brown, shown here coaching the Lakers in 2011, is returning to the Cavaliers. (AP photo.)

Brown reportedly received a five-year deal worth more than $20 million. Other than a cursory call to Phil Jackson, he was the only person the Cavs interviewed for the job.

Now 43, Brown coached the Cavs for five seasons from 2005-10. Cleveland made the postseason and won at least one playoff series each year, including reaching the NBA Finals in 2007.

The team he will inherit now is much different than the one he took over — and left — the first time around, as only Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson remain from Brown’s final season in Cleveland (and Gibson probably won’t be back).

Superstar LeBron James left for Miami shortly after Brown was fired in 2010, and the Cavs, who have attempted to rebuild through the draft, went 64-166 (.278) in three seasons under Scott.

When Scott was fired Thursday following a 24-58 season that included blown leads of 27, 26, 22 and 20 points, general manager Chris Grant, a college teammate of Brown’s at the University of San Diego, said he wanted a defensive-minded coach with a history of winning who was also a hard worker and a grinder.

Enter Brown, who grew up in a military family and worked his way from an unpaid video intern with the Denver Nuggets to what will now be his third NBA head coaching job.

Brown will take over a defensively deficient Cavs team that finished last in the league in field goal percentage allowed, but his roster will not be devoid of talent.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, just 21, is already right near the top when it comes to the best players at his position, while power forward Tristan Thompson and shooting guard Dion Waiters are considered long-term building blocks.

The Cavs also have two picks in the 2013 NBA Draft — their own will be No. 3 overall if the lottery goes according to form and the other will be No. 19 — plus a ton of maneuverability under the salary cap.

All that likely made the job extremely attractive to Brown, whose presence in Cleveland is unlikely to be a hindrance to any possible return by James, who can opt out of his contract with the Heat as early as July 2014.

Though their time together didn’t end under the greatest of circumstances, Brown and James got along well for most of their five years in Cleveland and still seem to have a genuine respect for one another.

“I’m happy for him,” James told reporters in Miami prior to the Heat hosting Milwaukee in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. “It will be good for those young guys that they have. I think he’s a really good coach, (a) very defensive-minded coach.”

When asked if he had reached out to congratulate his former coach, James said he had shut down his cell phone for the duration of the playoffs, like he does every year.

Of more immediate concern for Cavs fans, Brown has never really had to spend a lot of time developing young talent, but that is about to change. J.J. Hickson, Shannon Brown and Danny Green didn’t exactly thrive under him, while Gibson did reasonably well.

James was entering his third season in the NBA when Brown took over in 2005, and the Cavs, under then GM Danny Ferry, added veterans Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones in a huge offseason spending spree designed to help them become a title contender.

The Cavs went 50-32 in each of Brown’s first two seasons, shocking Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals to advance to the NBA Finals, where they were swept by San Antonio.

Cleveland slumped to 45-37 under Brown in 2007-08 and won 66 and 61 regular-season games in his final two years.

Brown’s final two postseason appearances with the Cavs didn’t go nearly as well.

After being named NBA Coach of the Year following the 2008-09 regular season, Brown’s defense was shredded in the conference finals by the Orlando Magic, which surrounded center Dwight Howard with four 3-point shooters and often made the Cavs look helpless.

The next postseason, things got even stranger, as James complained of a sore elbow — he went so far as to shoot a free throw left-handed — and seemed oddly disinterested as the Cavs lost to Boston in the conference semifinals.

Brown sat out the 2010-11 season, then coached the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 and 2012-13. He was fired five games into this season. The Lakers owed Brown $6-7 million over the next two years, but will likely get some relief from that once he’s officially under contract to the Cavs.

Brown’s lifetime record is 314-167, the sixth-highest winning percentage (.653) in NBA history for someone who has coached at least 450 games. Brown was 272-138 with the Cavs (.663), making him the winningest coach in franchise history.

Brown reportedly had other head coaching offers — it is believed Philadelphia was very interested — but chose Cleveland in part because his family loves the Northeast Ohio area.

Brown, who had started house hunting before Scott was fired, is expected to live in Westlake. His oldest son Elijah, who attended St. Edward before Brown took the Lakers job, will be a freshman basketball player at Butler University next season.

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