The Cavaliers have fired head coach Mike Brown, the team announced on Monday. Cleveland has also officially named David Griffin, who served as team's interim general manager since the firing of Chris Grant in February, as its general manager going forward.
“This is a very tough business," Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said via team release. "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."
This is now the second time that Brown has been fired by the Cavs in the past four years. Brown had previously served as the team's head coach from 2005-2010, during which the team -- anchored by LeBron James -- failed to move beyond the second round of the playoffs on three occasions. Cleveland did make a run to the NBA Finals under Brown in 2007, though by the time of his firing Brown was a strategically limiting component for a team aspiring to contend for the NBA title. He was fired as James became a free agent in 2010, in part of a plan to pursue James' return. At that time he was the most successful coach by win percentage in the franchise's history, and just a year removed from being awarded as the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2009.
Brown was again hired by the Cavs in 2013, after being fired just six games into the second season of a four-year, $18.3 million deal with the Lakers. His latest firing comes just one year into a five-year contract with the Cavs worth a reported $20 million. The full value of Brown's contract with the Lakers was partially offset by his signing on with the Cavs, and the same would likely be true with regard to his deal with Cleveland were Brown to sign on to coach another NBA team.
Cleveland's offense regressed ever so slightly under Brown despite the addition of Jarrett Jack, the mid-season acquisition of Luol Deng and the return of Anderson Varejao. That trend was consistent with Brown's established flaws as a coach; his lack of offensive creativity contributed to his first firing from the Cavaliers in 2010, when his scheme, sets and rotation failed to withstand postseason scrutiny. Brown did, however, help the Cavs avoid a repeat showing as one of the league's worst defensive teams in this latest term. By season's end, Cleveland ranked a respectable 17th in defensive efficiency, up from 27th the season prior. That wasn't enough to save Brown's job nor was it enough to earn the Cavs a playoff berth in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. Cleveland finished 33-49 with Brown at the helm after Byron Scott led the Cavs to a 24-58 record in 2012-13.
For the moment, Brown's staff of assistant coaches will remain under contract with the team. It is not uncommon for that staff to be turned over upon the hiring of a new head coach, though some assistants could remain.
The search for Brown's replacement will begin immediately, and the process could be expedited to have a new coach signed by the time of the NBA Draft. Which pick Cleveland will have in this summer's draft has yet to be determined, though there is an 81 percent chance that the Cavs will end up with the No. 9 overall pick. In theory, Cleveland could pick as high as No. 1 overall or as low as No. 12 overall, depending on how the draft lottery breaks. The Cavs also own the No. 33 overall pick via the Magic as an outstanding debt from a deal completed in 2011.
Whoever takes the job as Cleveland's next head coach would likely want some say in the team's draft day dealings and direction. This is a young, talented team at a pivot point. The Cavs gave up future assets to acquire Deng and center Spencer Hawes last season, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents come July. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland's best player and a clear offensive star, has just one guaranteed season remaining under contract before his rookie deal expires. There's an interesting combination of youth and talent stocked on Cleveland's roster, though that mix is muddled with asterisks and questions of fit. The futures of players like Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller remain wholly uncertain, though the input and preferences of a new coach would help define the future roles of each.
Cleveland's coaching search looks to be relatively open, though Sam Amick of USA Today identified one early candidate in Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin. Since retiring as a player in 2008, Griffin has served as an assistant under Scott Skiles (then with the Bucks) and Tom Thibodeau. In April, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com identified Griffin as a future head coach in waiting:
Griffin is not yet 40 -- 39 until July, he's more than 11 years younger than [fellow Bulls assistant Ed] Pinckney -- which means there are a bunch of people in the game who have watched him grow up from youth camps to his stint now as a lead assistant to Thibodeau. Those who have say that, since high school, Griffin has displayed a polished maturity that screams NBA head coach.Marc Stein of ESPN.com also raised a valid point regarding potential coaching candidates: Might those candidates whom David Griffin has worked with previously find their ways on to the Cavs' short list? Griffin spent 17 seasons within the Suns organization, including three as the senior vice president of basketball operations from 2007-2010. Among those coaches who could reasonably be in the running for this particular job, Griffin has working relationships with Mike D'Antoni (who recently resigned as head coach of the Lakers), Alvin Gentry (who is currently a Clippers assistant) and Vinny Del Negro (who was fired as head coach of the Clippers in 2013).
...“You combine that kind of professionalism with that kind of mentorship and you’re going to have a good chance to succeed,” a general manager says.
The result is a coaching prospect who was characterized by one league insider as “a player-friendly Tom Thibodeau.”