NBA: Cavaliers fire coach Brown after 5 seasons, successive 60-win seasons
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — Mike Brown won everything in five years coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everything, that is, except an NBA title.
Brown, the most successful coach in franchise history, was fired Monday after failing to win a championship with superstar — and soon-to-be free agent — LeBron James.
Brown's dismissal had been expected since the Cavs were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, a stunning exit for a team favored to win it all. The Cavaliers had a midnight deadline Sunday to fire Brown or the team would have had to compensate him for next season.
The team did not schedule a news conference to discuss the coaching change.
In five seasons, Brown, who had one year left on his contract, went 314-177 and was the league's coach of the year in 2009. He took Cleveland to the postseason every year and led the Cavaliers to their only finals appearance in 2007.
But the Cavs, despite having the best regular-season record the past two years, fell short of winning their first title and now face an uncertain future with James, the league's two-time defending MVP, eligible for free agency and expected to listen to offers from other teams.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert made the decision to fire Brown following an organizational review that began following the Cavs' sudden collapse. Cleveland had a 2-1 series lead over the Celtics before losing three straight, including the final two at home by a combined 50 points.
"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 said in a statement. "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."
Brown was not immediately available for comment. No one answered the door at his home in Westlake, Ohio.
The James' family publicist said the All-Star forward is out of town on vacation and is not available to comment on Brown's dismissal.
Brown was voted the league's coach of the year last season when the Cavs won 66 games. However, Cleveland lost to Orlando in the conference finals and it was assumed Brown would have to get the team closer to a championship to keep his job.
But the Cavs regressed and were badly outplayed by the Celtics. The embarrassing home performances, coupled with the second-round ouster forced Gilbert to make a difficult decision on Brown, who won 127 regular-season games the past two seasons.
With James moving toward free agency, the Cavs needed to show him a willingness to change and dismissing Brown, however painful, may have been necessary to re-sign James.
"I have truly enjoyed working with Mike Brown," general manager Danny Ferry said. "Mike has played a huge role in turning around the Cavs organization. Over the past five years, Mike established a work ethic, defensive identity and culture of winning that was not here previously."
Ferry, too, has an unsure future in Cleveland as his contract is set to expire next month.
Brown is expected to get a long look from the five other teams with head coaching vacancies. Cleveland's assistant coaches remain under contract.
Brown's fifth season ended like all the others he shared with James — title-less.
It wasn't all his fault, but the 40-year-old Brown, a former assistant in Washington, San Antonio and Indiana hired by Gilbert in 2005 to change Cleveland's culture with a foundation based on defense, couldn't deliver a title this season despite having the game's most skilled player and a roster upgraded with the additions of All-Stars Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison.
The Cavs' defense, suffocating and relentless at times during the regular season, was atrocious in the series against Boston. Cleveland allowed more than 100 points in six games and couldn't contain Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.
Brown was outcoached by Boston's Doc Rivers, who had his team better prepared and got more from his players. The Cavs were constantly beaten to loose balls and long rebounds, something Brown couldn't help but perhaps a sign that he had already lost his team.
Brown's rotations were a mess in the series, leading to the team's inability to get into any type of offensive rhythm. With James unable to dominate as he so often does, the Cavs' offense was stagnant and players didn't seem to have any sense of their roles.
During his tenure, Brown rarely — if ever — criticized James. The opposite wasn't true.
In past seasons, James complained about the team's lack of offensive imagination. The 25-year-old and Brown worked through most differences and seemed to have a solid relationship, but it began to fade as this brief postseason unfolded.
James publicly questioned why O'Neal only played 49 seconds in the fourth quarter of the Game 4 loss in Boston. In the opening round against the Bulls, James campaigned to get J.J. Hickson more playing time, creating an awkward stand-off between the coach and superstar.
Adding to the drama in Cleveland's final home game was the sight of Kentucky coach John Calipari, a close friend of James, sitting in a courtside seat — next to James' agent — adjacent to Cleveland's bench.