COMMENTARY | Last week's rehiring of Mike Brown inevitably brought flashbacks to when Cleveland was at the center of the basketball universe.
When Brown was last courtside with the Cavaliers, you couldn't turn on anything with a screen and not see a game, a commercial, an article, or some kind of commentary on the Cavaliers. That was when the Cavaliers were amassing a league-best 61-21 regular-season record, a favorite to win the championship, and, oh yeah, had the best player in the world in LeBron James.
And then it all fell apart.
When the Cavaliers crumbled against an inferior Celtics team in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals with a combustible mix of lackluster play and ineffective coaching, Mike Brown was banished and LeBron fled Cleveland in a way that only Art Modell could appreciate.
Fast-forwarding three seasons, Cleveland isn't the center of the basketball universe anymore; it's not even on the map. The Cavaliers put on a clinic this past season on how to lose both games and fans en route to a dismal 24-58 record. Gone are the sold-out arenas, nationally televised games, and playoff runs that breathed life into the fanbase and flooded Cleveland's downtown bars every spring for five years.
The only thing that remains from those days is a lesson: Elite players and coaches are not coming to Cleveland.
Even when LeBron was filling the arena every night, top-tier free agents and coaches couldn't be recruited by the small-market team with the miserable winters. If they couldn't land the Ray Allens, Amare Stoudemires, and the Phil Jacksons, they have no shot now.
Hopefully, something was learned in Cleveland in the aftermath of 2010. Perhaps following in the footsteps of other self-sustaining small-market teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder will serve as a blueprint for building a legitimate contender through savvy drafting, the extension of current players' contracts, and solid coaching rather than praying for outside help.
That's why Mike Brown is the best hire for the Cavaliers. He's simply the best coach Cleveland can attract.
It's true that the Cavaliers' offense under Mike Brown had less movement than a 65-and-over YMCA league. It's also true that he couldn't capture a title in his previous tenure while coaching the best player in the world and that he just got ousted from Los Angeles earlier this season after a 1-4 start (ask Mike D'Antoni if he thinks the coaching was the problem).
But the one thing Brown did do in Cleveland was turn a one-man team into a contender through the implementation of a defense-first philosophy. During Brown's last season in Cleveland, the Cavaliers ranked near the top of the league in key defensive categories like defensive efficiency, opponent's points per game, and opponent average scoring margin.
And there's reason to believe he could do it again with the Cavaliers' core group of players. The return of former NBA All-Defensive Team member Anderson Varejao to a lineup that includes young players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, who have shown an aptitude for defense, and Kyrie Irving, who has the athleticism to learn to play defense, could help give the Cavaliers an identity.
When you factor in future additions that will be garnered from their four picks scheduled for the upcoming draft--one guaranteed to be in the top six--with the amount of cap space that they have, a playoff run shouldn't be out of the question in 2014.
They already have the pieces in place; it's up to the cast-off coach to figure out how to put them together to bring the Cavaliers back to NBA relevancy.
But maybe Mike Brown's offense will disintegrate again into a 48-minute series of one-on-one matchups, and maybe Brown's defense won't take. If that happens, the calls to recruit Phil Jackson, LeBron, and every other future Hall of Famer in the league will certainly come. But if history is any indicator, there will be no one answering.
Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, OH.
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