INDEPENDENCE — Mike Brown is out and David Griffin is in on a full-time basis.
The Cavaliers fired Brown as head coach Monday after just one year of his second stint on the job. Brown, whose team went a disappointing 33-49 and failed to make the playoffs, had a five-year, $20 million contract. The first four years were guaranteed.
Griffin had been the team’s acting general manager since the Feb. 6 firing of Chris Grant, who along with owner Dan Gilbert quickly rehired Brown when Byron Scott was fired as coach after the 2012-13 season. The Cavs went 17-16 after Griffin took over as GM.
Griffin will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. today at Cleveland Clinic Courts. The major topics will be Brown’s successor and whether the Cavs may still hire someone in the front office, perhaps even to work over Griffin.
Possible coaching candidates include Mark Jackson, who was recently fired by Golden State, Mike D’Antoni, who coached Phoenix while Griffin was in the Suns’ front office, Steve Kerr, who served as Phoenix’s president of basketball operations and GM for part of Griffin’s tenure with the Suns, and Alvin Gentry, who was also head coach of the Suns while Griffin was in Phoenix.
Kevin Ollie, who led Connecticut to the national championship, former Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins and Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin have also been mentioned, as have a number of others.
Whoever succeeds Brown, who previously coached the Cavs from 2005-10, will be the team’s third coach in three seasons. Making matters more difficult for Cleveland is that Golden State, Utah, New York, Minnesota, Detroit and the Los Angeles Lakers also currently have coaching vacancies.
“This is a very tough business,” Gilbert said in a press release issued by the team. “It pains all of us here that we needed to make the difficult decision of releasing Mike Brown. Mike worked hard over this last season to move our team in the right direction. Although there was some progress from our finish over the few prior seasons, we believe we need to head in a different direction. We wish Mike and his family nothing but the best.”
The elephant in the room in all this, of course, is LeBron James’ impending free agency, though there’s a chance the former Cavs forward will not opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat this summer.
“It’s just a tough business,” James said when asked about Brown’s firing prior to the Heat’s playoff game in Brooklyn. “I mean, that’s all it is. It’s a tough business and, you know, Mike Brown got the short end of a tough business.”
Brown had a 272-138 record in his first stint in Cleveland, including leading the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were swept by San Antonio. Cleveland won 66 and 61 games his final two regular seasons, but he was fired after the Cavs lost to Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Gilbert said that decision was a mistake when he rehired Brown last year, but that didn’t prevent the owner from firing his coach for a second time.
Under Brown, the 2013-14 Cavs improved their win total by nine from the previous season, but more was expected, including a playoff berth.
The team’s field goal percentage allowed went from last in the league under Scott to 12th under Brown, but the offense often seemed out of sync, with late-game inbounds plays frequently meeting with horrific results. Brown also seemed to have trouble gaining the respect of his players, who almost always said the right things but frequently failed to follow through on the court.
It’s not known how big of a role, if any, David Griffin played in the decision to fire Brown.
“Our ownership support provides the highest level of resources, flexibility and commitment to aggressively do whatever we believe needs to be done in order to win,” Griffin said in the press release. “There is no harder worker or better human being in our league than (Brown). This was not an easy decision. We thank Mike for his efforts and wish him, his wife Carolyn and their family only the best.”
Griffin joined the Cavs as vice president of basketball operations in September 2010. Prior to that, he spent 17 seasons with the Suns, the last three as senior vice president of basketball operations.
The Cavs have not said whether they are looking to add another person to the front office, but Gilbert noted the organization “interviewed several strong candidates for the GM position, including Griff.”
“We chose David as our GM because we believe he is the best person to lead our franchise at this critical time and into the future,” Gilbert said. “David brings over two decades of experience. He knows the ins and outs of this league as well as anyone and is also an outstanding talent evaluator.
“More importantly, he is a general manager who is aligned with our culture and philosophy, which is the foundation of how we do business. David is not only passionate about his own job, but also cares deeply about the success of everyone around him. His presence alone creates an infectious, positive environment with players, coaches, front office people and even our fan base.”
Griffin favors an up-tempo game similar to the one used by the Suns — most notably by D’Antoni — when he was with Phoenix. That type of game also seems to suit players like Kyrie Irving, who can sign a contract extension this summer, and Dion Waiters. It was the approach Jackson used with Golden State as well.
Griffin will also have to deal with the impending free agency of starting center Spencer Hawes and small forward Luol Deng. The Cavs will likely go to decent lengths to keep Hawes, but will pursue Deng only if the price is right.
Cleveland will have the ninth pick in the NBA Draft if the May 20 lottery goes according to form — the Cavs have a 6.1 percent chance of picking in the top three — and could have $26 million in salary cap space, with the potential to generate more.
“Our ownership’s commitment to this franchise and the fans of Cleveland is absolute,” Griffin said. “I feel that commitment not only by the resources they make available, but also with their tireless passion for delivering a championship-caliber team.
“Our entire organization reflects that passion and commitment. I am humbled and honored to be put in position to aggressively work with them, all of our front office staff and anyone who can contribute to achieving that vision.”