The most successful coach in Cavaliers history is now a former coach.
In a move expected since the team lost three consecutive games to be upset by the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals, the Cavs fired coach Mike Brown on Sunday according to a league source. The news was first reported by ESPN.
It ended his run as the franchise’s 17th coach after five seasons in which he broke numerous team records and was named the NBA’s 2008-09 Coach of the Year.
The team announced the firing this morning. The reason the act had to be done before the end of the weekend was there was a clause in Brown’s contract, an extension signed in 2007, that guaranteed him about half of his salary for next season of $4 million if he was let go within 10 days of the end of this season.
Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert, who hand picked Brown and gave him his first head coaching job after an extensive coaching search in 2005, is believed to have been the driving force behind the decision. Though it followed more than a week of intensive meetings in which the merits and drawbacks of a coaching changed were deeply discussed.
Some Cavs’ players, including LeBron James, also seemed to lose patience with Brown after some of his adjustments and rotations didn’t work against the Celtics in the playoffs.
However, James is not believed to have made a personal push with management for a coaching change. He left it to the front office to make the final decision.
Brown seemed to struggle with his rotations after having to incorporate Shaquille O’Neal back into the team in the playoffs after O’Neal missed the final six weeks of the season. He started a lineup in the first game of the playoffs that he hadn’t used all season and the turbulence from multiple players changing roles appeared to upset the balance of the team.
Those problems plus, according to sources, some disagreement over some game plans for playoff games with some of the team leaders eventually led to some discord in the locker room during the Celtics series.
The day Brown was hired, June 2, 2005, he promised he would make the Cavs a defense-based team. It was a pledge he would back up, using defense to win 100 regular games and four playoff series in just his first two seasons.
After some improvement in his first season, Brown’s help-and-recover defensive system started to take hold. In the 2006-07 season, the Cavs allowed just 92 points a game in the regular season and just 86 points a game in the playoffs as the Cavs reached their first-ever Finals.
When the Cavs won a team-record 66 games in the ’08-09 season, the Cavs allowed just 91 points a game and 43 percent opponent shooting.
Perhaps some of Brown’s strongest work was his ability to help James become a better defender. After being suspect on defense his first two seasons in the NBA, James steadily improved under Brown. He was named first team All-Defense in each of the last two seasons.
But over the last two seasons, Brown’s defense has struggled in the clutch. In losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, the Cavs allowed 103 points per game and 48 percent shooting. In getting ousted by the Celtics in the second round this year, the Cavs gave up 100 points and 47 percent shooting per game.
During his tenure Brown was often criticized for his offensive systems. But over the last two years made assistant coaches offensive coordinators and the Cavs had their best offensive year in Brown’s tenure this season. The Cavs were one of the top six offensive teams in the league, averaging 102 points and shooting 48 percent per game.
Brown’s regular season record was 272-138, a .663 winning percentage that was the best in team history. Brown also set a team record for playoff wins, finishing 42-29.
“I have truly enjoyed working with Mike Brown. Mike has played a huge role in turning around the Cavs organization,” said Danny Ferry in a statement released by the Cavaliers this morning. “Over the past five years, Mike established a work ethic, defensive identity and culture of winning that was not here previously.”
Brown was named the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year by members of the media.
“Mike Brown is a class act. On behalf of the entire Cavaliers organization, there is only gratitude and appreciation for Mike’s accomplishments over the past five years,” stated Cavaliers Majority Owner Dan Gilbert. “I think it is clear that Mike Brown has been instrumental in contributing to the growth and progress we have experienced in recent years. We wish Mike and his family the best of luck in any future challenges that Mike chooses to accept going forward.”
“After a long and deep analysis of all of the factors that led to the disappointing early ends to our playoff runs over the past two seasons, we concluded that it was time for the Cavaliers to move in a different direction,” Gilbert added. “The expectations of this organization are very high and, although change always carries an element of risk, there are times when that risk must be taken in an attempt to break through to new, higher levels of accomplishment. This is one of those times.”