When big news breaks in the NBA, Right Down Euclid’s Chris Manning and RDE editor Zak Kolesar have you covered. In this edition of “Countertop Conversation” Chris and Zak discuss the ongoing Cleveland Cavaliers head-coaching search.
After letting Coach Byron Scott go last week, the search is already on for a new head coach. Former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown appears to be the front-runner after meeting with Dan Gilbert last night, but other candidates are available. Namely, Brian Shaw and Phil Jackson have been brought up as possible candidates.
Chris Manning: For the record, I am totally against letting Byron Scott go after three seasons as coach. Did he have a losing record? Yes. Did he have flaws? Yes – as does every coach. But considering all of the injuries and overall lack of talent on his Cleveland Cavaliers roster, he did a pretty good job. And not to repeat the “catering the superstar” issues of the LeBron James era, but Kyrie Irving supports him. In my mind, he at least deserved another season.
Zak Kolesar: I know that many have compared the model that Cleveland is currently going through by assembling their team with high picks in the draft to what Oklahoma City did with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but I’m also going to compare another scenario regarding Coach Scott. When he was coach of the Hornets, it took him until his fourth season in New Orleans (his third coaching star point guard Chris Paul) to lead his team to the playoffs. After three seasons of playing under-.500 basketball, the Hornets finally clicked upon their roster being mended in the offseason before the 2007-08 season. We should’ve gave him his one final season under contract, because how can a team achieve on the defensive side of the ball when their main threat misses close to 150 games over a coaches’ tenure? Now it’s almost certain that a defensive-minded leader will be brought in.
CM: I agree, and that’s why I’m not surprised that Mike Brown appears to be the Cavaliers’ top choice. He comes from a defensive background and recently moved back to the area. I always got the sense that owner Dan Gilbert was a fan of Brown as well, and probably only fired him to try and keep James in Cleveland. He’s not my top choice, but he is a coach who could come in and do work for the defensive unit. He also fits the city well in a way a big name coach would not. In my mind, Brown is the odds on favorite to be head coach next season.
ZK: I would have to also agree that right now Brown is at the forefront of this early race for the head coaching position in Cleveland. Although I said the race is early, I expect it to be wrapped up in the immediate future. The Cavs want to have a definite direction for their team early on in the offseason so they can draw out a game plan for the draft and to get ahead of the free agency game. Cleveland is a pretty unattractive destination to begin with, but the amount of money and (four) draft picks they have at their disposal this summer may change some opinions. Brown turned LeBron into the defensive prowess that he is today, but his offensive strategy is what concerned people during his previous tenure in Cleveland. The Princeton failed in Los Angeles, and with the Cavaliers recently reaching out to Phil Jackson (extremely doubtful), the Triangle Offense would not be a good fit for this team as well anyways.
CM: And that leads into my concern about Brown. Cleveland’s premier talent –Irving – is a player built on his offense, and we already know that Brown is much better at coaching the defensive end of the floor rather than the offensive. That makes me hope that, if he gets hired, he brings along an offensive coordinator to help him maximize this team’s offensive potential. But in the sense of improving the defense, he is the perfect hire. If he can get the guys to buy into his system, then it should be a smooth transition. We’ve heard that Brown’s meeting with Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant went well last night and, if hired, I’m sure his first call is going to be to Anderson Varejao – a player he previously coached and knows very well.
ZK: Varejao was a major staple of Cleveland’s efficient rebounding squad when Brown was coach. In his five seasons with the Cavaliers, Brown’s teams finished second (three times), fourth and eighth in the defensive rebound rate category. Without a (healthy) player like Varejao on the roster, Cleveland needs to start looking toward the future in finding their big who can lead the brigade in shutting down opponent’s second-chance opportunities. The front office needs to look ahead, and I think thinking past the Wild Thing years should start now. He’s great when he plays, but Brown is going to need a plethora of athletic board hoarders to get this team to the defensive level it needs to. Granted that Varejao missed a lot of time over Brown’s five years as well, but just take a look at the 2009-10 season compared to this past season: 1,655 total defensive rebounds between LeBron, Andy, J.J. Hickson, Shaquille O’Neal and Z compared to 1,396 defensive boards between Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Alonzo Gee, Andy and Kyrie. With Andy’s contract up next season, they really need to consider bringing in a cohort of physical bigs (Thompson and Zeller are fine for now).
CM: And I mentioned this on the podcast we recorded yesterday, but Hickson would be a good fit for this team if Marreese Speights does leave in free agency. However, my biggest concern about hiring Brown would be how the city itself would react. Would a city whose current longest tenured coach is first-year Indians skipper Terry Francona accept Brown? Would they, a fan base that has suffered more heartbreak because of their sports teams than most other cities, be willing to let Brown come back? That question alone makes it harder to nail this whole coaching situation down. It would not shock me one bit if Brown is hired (and I am warming up to the idea, albeit slowly) but it is at least worth looking into other new names, like Brian Shaw or other top assistants. This is ultimately a coaching choice that could affect the franchise for years, whether said affect is positive or negative.
ZK: Shaw, who was the runner-up to Scott in snagging the Cleveland job three years ago, is an associate head coach with the Indiana Pacers right now – a team that ranks among the highest in most defensive categories this season. Shaw turned down the opportunity to coach the Charlotte Bobcats last season because he wants to be in a situation where he has a chance. Although Cleveland is still very far away from playoff contention, they have a lot of leverage with draft picks and money like I mentioned earlier. Shaw, who played in the Triangle Offense, has stated that he isn’t that huge a fan of the Jackson-inspired offensive, so that bodes well for Cleveland, as they are far away from having the pieces to run an efficient Triangle scheme.
CM: I could not agree more with that statement. The Triangle relies on skilled passing big men to make the offense work, and the Cavaliers really don’t have that on their roster. That, along with the need for drastic improvement, makes Brown the clear favorite. Let’s just hope he decides to spend time teaching defense rather than hitting up Chick-Fil-A.