COLUMN: Firing Brown a necessity for Cavs
Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:00 AM
For Cavs fans, the news that head coach Mike Brown had been fired earlier this week had a familiar ring to it. After all, it was the second time that Brown had been terminated by the franchise.
Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, has already seen one face-of-the-franchise guard leave town after being underwhelmed by Brown’s performance as the coach, Gilbert isn’t waiting around this time.
In the summer of 2010, the world watched as a handful of NBA teams, including the Cavaliers, met with LeBron James in an attempt to lure the future Hall of Famer to their city. Cleveland even fired Brown during this process, despite his having guided the franchise to an appearance in the NBA Finals. In the end, as we all know, LeBron chose to “take his talents to South Beach” and Gilbert wrote a comic sans letter to fans vowing that the Cavs would win a title before LeBron did.
Well, LeBron and the Miami Heat are the two-time defending NBA title holders while Gilbert and the Cavs haven’t even sniffed the post-season since James left town. Now, with Kyrie Irving just a year away from free agency, Gilbert and the Cavs are in full-on scramble mode to try to convince this latest superstar to stick around in Cleveland.
Cleveland’s new general manager, David Griffin, who had his interim tag removed in conjunction with Brown’s firing, Has said that Irving wasn’t behind the decision to remove Brown as the head coach, but rumors have been rampant that Brown and Irving had a difficult relationship. In today’s sports world, a tumultuous relationship between star player and coach almost always equals bad news for the coach, especially in the NBA, which is a league far more star-driven than any of the other major professional sports.
Even if Irving didn’t directly ask for Brown to be fired, Gilbert and the Cavs’ brass are making a preemptive strike in hopes that the right coach can convince Irving to ink an extension. Gilbert swapped Brown for Byron Scott, a well-liked veteran “player’s coach” when trying to keep James in town, but LeBron didn’t get a chance to play under Scott and decided, in part, that the lure of playing for the Pat Riley-run Heat franchise, with fellow stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, was more likely to bring him a ring than trying to carry a roster full of has-beens and never-will-bes by himself.
Four years later, Irving has to be thinking many of the same thoughts.
Cleveland used the number one overall pick to take Anthony Bennett last year and many have considered him to be the worst top pick of all time. Bennett has a chance to be a good, perhaps even very good, player, but the Cavs are up against a ticking clock. They need Bennett to be an average NBA big man, at worst, and they need it to happen during the 2014-15 season.
They have some other pieces. Guys like Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are already very good players, and both are still just 22 years old. Center Anderson Varejao is both injury-prone and overrated, and is due to make nearly $10 million next season. That cap space becomes a tradeable commodity in the NBA with one year left on his deal. Couple that with Luol Deng’s $14-plus million that comes off the books this summer, and the Cavs have room to make a splash in the free agent market, whether that be by re-signing Deng and adding another second-tier star, or going after a bigger fish who can play 1b to Irving’s 1a in Cleveland.
Gilbert and the Cavs have been a punchline for much of the past four years since James bolted for Miami, but the Cavs owner isn’t dumb. The steps he’s taking this summer, a year earlier than he did in the LeBron situation, show he’s learned from that experience and isn’t willing to make the same mistakes and watch another superstar skip town.
Whether they say so publicly or not, Irving will have a say in which free agents the Cavs pursue and he will have a say in who is hired to be the next head coach of the franchise, whether that be John Calipari or Mark Jackson, or whomever. By keeping Irving in the loop, maybe, just maybe, the Cavs can keep a young star and build a championship-caliber team around him instead of watching another ESPN special where Irving announces his decision to join the Knicks or the Lakers and leaving the Cavs to start over yet again.