From the moment Mike Brown marches back into the Cleveland Cavaliers, ownership needs to empower him to tell everyone the truth: LeBron James is gone and he's never returning to the franchise.
No more tanking for draft picks. No more empty free-agent classes. No more false promises and mirages. No more illusions of chasing James in the summer of 2014, only to compromise themselves over and over in the conceptual pursuit of him.
The Cavaliers have a franchise player, Kyrie Irving, and here's the problem today: No one cares his thoughts on the next coach, nor how the hiring affects him. Every day Brown's ever spent on the job as Cavaliers coach, every choice and action was colored with how LeBron James would react, how he'd respond.
For the good of this franchise, Brown doesn't need to be set up again as the fall guy for James wanting to play elsewhere. Three years later, Brown returns to coach the Cavaliers and somehow they're all still trying to get LeBron James to love them.
"The way Mike had to bend for LeBron weakened him as a leader," one former Cavaliers staffer told Yahoo! Sports. "They'd be crazy to put him through that again. It's pointless."
It is a fact James' agent, Rich Paul, has eagerly created anticipation for James' possible return in 2014, but eventually his client will have to spare himself the pummeling of raising Northeast Ohio's hopes, only to dash them under closer inspection of the move.
To trade Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra for Cavs general manager Chris Grant and Brown is unfathomable. Riley has surrounded James with magnificent talent and a winning culture, and Spoelstra's creativity and discipline have played a significant part in his transcendent evolution.
Yes, James loves Northeast Ohio and will always keep a home there, but the idea of returning as the conquering hero is probably much more romantic than reality. Outside of Irving, there's still little infrastructure to these Cavaliers.
Privately, the Cleveland front office has pitched a fantasy of trading young players and picks to Portland for All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, sources said. Only, that's never going to happen. Cleveland is far higher on its two top-five picks, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, than the rest of the NBA.
Outside of winning the lottery for Irving, it's hard to make the case for one thing the Cavaliers have gotten right in the wake of James' departure.
And all the Shane Battiers and Ray Allens who had come into James' life with the Heat wouldn't join him in Cleveland. As Battier told Yahoo! Sports in March about the lure of LeBron James for veteran free agents willing to take discounts to chase championships with him, "It'll help him if he's in a warm city."
"I love LeBron, but if LeBron asks me to go play with the Anchorage Bears of the Alaskan Basketball Association," Battier said, "that'll be a tough sell for Mrs. Battier."
If you're living and playing on the shores of Biscayne Bay, Cleveland is Anchorage.
There's no shame there. This isn't an indictment of Cleveland. It's a great, passionate NBA market, but the Cavaliers need to start trying to win basketball games. They have a franchise player, and they've squandered chances to surround him with the best available talent. Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas made no sense on draft day, and makes even less now.
Byron Scott never fought the front office on gutting the roster, but Brown won't have patience for it. Brown isn't flashy, but his teams are excellent on the defensive end, and few, if any, more appealing coaching candidates were accessible for Cleveland. The call to Phil Jackson was a farce, a way for the organization to simply say, "See, we tried."
For Brown, the choice was easy: For the happiness of his family, he moved back to Cleveland. They want to live there and he wants to coach again. What job is out there that's so much better that he would want to uproot his family again?
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As one league source who knows Brown well said, "There are still some scars," and most of those centered on the relationship with owner Dan Gilbert. Brown understands that former GM Danny Ferry fought Gilbert to keep him as coach in 2010, and that ultimately played a part in Ferry walking out of the job. To keep James, Gilbert believed he had to fire Brown.
As it turns out, it wouldn't have mattered. LeBron was gone, and he was never coming back in 2010. Three years later, Brown is back and the Cavaliers no longer need to live in make-believe land. These are Kyrie Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers and the franchise needs to stop stalling, stop selling false hope and start winning again. As Mike Brown walks back into the room, let him say it for everyone to hear. Once and for all, let this franchise, this city, this coach – let everyone – move on.
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