Different Voices: Defending Cleveland on Mike Brown


Though he isn't the sole target, Mike Brown has managed to unsurprisingly be everybody's favorite scapegoat for a Cavaliers frenetic offense that has frustrated fans early in the season.


There is a long standing view that Brown is strictly a defensive coach and those LeBron era Cavaliers were defensive juggernauts while being more offensively mediocre like the current Pacers squads, but that just isn't true. The current Pacers squad that is currently 9-1 and more importantly sporting the highest point differential in the league at 9.4, is only ranked 15th in offensive efficiency so far this season.  In the last two years here of the LeBron era the Cavaliers ranked 4th overall in offensive efficiency. Who was the coach?  Mike Brown.  


Those Cavaliers were a floor spacing machine that slowed down play and excelled in the half court due to having solid perimeter shooting and the unparalleled drive and kick ability of LeBron James. They were catered to compliment LeBron, but on a team with limited offensive talent outside of him, it was the smartest way to scheme an offense. Mike Brown didn't sign Larry Hughes or any other of the mediocre level talent that the front office was able to bring in.  He just worked with what he had.  Sure one of those players was LeBron James, but the rest of those rosters were mediocre. Ferry did an impressive enough job recovering from the franchise albatross that was the Larry Hughes' contract, but he could only make marginal upgrades; never again having a real shot at a second all-star level talent. 


And don't remind me that Mo Williams made an All-Star game.  He was a last minute replacement and benefited from the "well, schucks, this is so good that there has to be another All-Star on this roster somewhere" syndrome that sometimes happens with All-Star selections in the NBA. I liked a lot of those players, but everyone in Cleveland needs to be realistic about what that roster was, mediocre.  Let's try to look at it now without the ex-lovers lens that so much of Cleveland adapted when analyzing "The Decision", what preceded it, as well as what followed. I include myself in this group. 


Mike Brown's stint in LA was almost doomed to fail as he was made to follow coaching legend Phil Jackson, and, forced to do battle with the biggest basketball ego the world has ever seen in an aging Kobe Bryant.  Even then he coaxed the best year out of Andrew Bynum anyone has ever seen in his first season as the Lakers coach. All of this despite Kobe's resistance to the idea of running the offense through Bynum, which culminated into chemistry problems that plagued their losses to a great Oklahoma City team in the playoffs that year. He was then scapegoated early in his second season, as a supposedly championship caliber roster struggled out of the gate and despite Brown's dismissal, continued to do so. It was also a roster that with a bunch of changes that had little practice time together in the preseason, mainly because of key injuries.




Maybe, but I find that argument lazy and way too one sided. It is no secret; Brown himself has stated he didn't work on offense in the preseason and training camp instead choosing to use that limited time to install his defense and worry about the offense later.  He even used the phrase "winging it" when describing their offensive approach against the Wizards on Saturday night, and you know what? It worked. 


Offense in the NBA, more so than defense, is dictated by the players you have at your disposal. It makes sense to install this later as Brown gains a better understanding of the roster and how it best fits together. Any Cavs fan who says they knew the answer to this team's offensive woes was to run a backcourt trio of Jarret Jack, Matthew Dellavedova, and Kyrie Irving, is telling fibs. 


Some people wanted to put it down to Kyrie Irving just "snapping out of his funk" and making shots. The thing is he's not finishing well around the basket, but moving Kyrie off the ball while the team ran screens for him kick started the offense and showcased what a great shooter he is.  This was Mike Brown's decision. Kyrie Irving did not tell him what line up to go with. If Mike Brown would have said "Hey Kyrie, just go one on one every time", I'm sure Kyrie would have been happy to be his dribble happy self and oblige.  Give the man some credit, and some time. He's a good coach. He has a five year contract and he isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and the Cavaliers are better off for it.


Mike Brown's "build a team from the defense up" approach is already paying dividends in this young season. The Cavs so far this year rank in the top 1/3rd of defensive efficiency, this after finishing the last three years in the bottom four.  It is quite nice to see a team that can

actually get stops when it matters; a trait that was highlighted by the final possession in a win at home against a very good Minnesota team in which the Cavaliers forced Minnesota into a deep and contested Kevin Love three point shot. 


While there is still room for improvement, especially with their lazy transition defense, the Cavaliers defense is a lot easier on the eyes than last year. The Cavs are also doing this despite having to deploy defensively light line ups in order to get their currently stalled offense flowing, and, Bynum's limited minutes aside, without the services of a true center to protect the rim. 


One nice aspect of the long seasons of baseball and basketball is that teams are afforded time to experiment and fiddle with rotations, plays, and line ups, which is much less doable in the "every game feels like do or die NFL".  This affords teams with young talent the time and experience to go through growing pains, instead of being forced to sacrifice development for a more "win now at all cost" approach. Mike Brown will continue tinker with the pieces he's been given, and his track records show he'll eventually get it right.