Archive for the ‘The Coaching Situation’ Category

On the Izzo no-go and more

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Alright, so it isn’t Tom Izzo. Fine by me. Izzo is a good college coach, but the odds against college coaches succeeding in the pros are very, very high. The stakes are going to be pretty high around here if LeBron comes back, and you want a guy with real NBA coaching experience at the helm.

Assuming a Coach K/Phil Jackson miracle doesn’t happen, I would begrudgingly endorse Byron Scott as the next head coach of the Cavaliers. I’m trying to sell myself on the fact the Hornets were the #2 team in offensive efficiency during the 07-08 season, but it’s not easy.

First off, Scott’s teams never played all that fast, despite the fact they had Chris Paul. Seeing as to how the one strategy change most people want is more of LeBron in the open floor, this does not thrill me. Also, the Hornet offense was pretty much “give Chris Paul a pick and let him dribble where he wants.” It worked because Paul’s a beast, but come on. The #1 problem people had with Mike Brown was his tendency to do the exact same thing with LeBron.

Finally, since Mike Brown did pretty much everything but win a championship as the head coach of the Cavs, I’d like for his replacement to have actually won a championship. Brown for Scott smacks of making a change to make a change.

And yet I’m having trouble seeing good alternatives. I think Dwyane Casey would be a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, hire for an up-and-coming team, but he’s unproven and likely wouldn’t have LeBron’s trust. The Cleveland job is too much for him at this point of his career. (If the Cavs do lose LeBron, somehow snagging Casey away from the Clippers would be one of the few things that could soften that blow.)

Thibodeau is gone. So is Avery Johnson. Jeff Van Gundy isn’t leaving ESPN. By the way, I call shenanigans on Jeff Van Gundy as a potential Cleveland home run. In the last decade, Jeff Van Gundy has coached slow-paced, grind-it-out, offensively stagnant teams that failed to win championships. He has also been surprisingly funny on television. Which one of those two things make him sound like an improvement on Mike Brown? THIS MAN GAVE PATRICK EWING 15 SHOTS A GAME THE YEAR HE SHOT 43.5% FROM THE FLOOR. 46.6% SHOOTING GOT EWING 19 SHOTS A GAME. BANTERING CHARMINGLY WITH MARC JACKSON AND PREDICTING FREE THROW REBOUNDS DOES NOT WASH THOSE SINS OF OFFENSE AWAY. I am going to go here: in today’s NBA, Stan is light years ahead of his brother in NBA coaching theory.

So LeBron wouldn’t tell Izzo he was staying. Here’s my theory: Both the Cavs and the Bulls have told LeBron’s camp that they’re going to try and swing a crazy sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh. It would be tricky for the Cavs, and the Bulls might get a bite on the Deng contract. (Don’t think they will let go of Noah. No way Thibodeau lets go of a defender like that.) LeBron has to wait and see if one of those scenarios, or something like one of them getting Ray Allen for the MLE, works out. As much as LeBron loves Cleveland, there’s no way he could pass up on being part of a Rose/Somebody/James/Bosh/Noah team. (Imagine if they somehow got Allen to play two-guard. Whoa.)

Likewise, he definitely stays if Cleveland can snag Bosh. This is a big decision, and last year’s roster plus a college coach was not going to be enough to make it for him. I hate that this is how it is, but I do have to put myself in LeBron’s shoes a little bit on this one. It’s his legacy at stake here. The Cavs are going to have to change the package and not just the wrapping paper to get LeBron back, or hope that nobody else with cap space makes a big move. That’s the bottom line.

Alright, that’s enough for tonight. Get excited for game seven and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Sources: Izzo agrees to be new Cavaliers head coach

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The good people over at Waiting For Next Year, whom we love and admire over here at Cavs: The Blog, have broken the story that Tom Izzo has agreed to become the head coach of the Cavaliers. What is not in dispute right now is that Izzo held a meeting with his MSU players and discussed Cleveland’s offer with them.

According to WFNY, he told them he is leaving at the meeting and plans to make an official announcement later in the week. According to other outlets, Izzo told his team that he has not yet made his final decision.

I completely trust that WFNY is reporting what they believe to be true and have 100% confidence in their source. The only reason I’m not 100% positive Izzo will be the next head coach of the Cavs is that college coaches have been known to waffle on big decisions like this. We will, of course, keep you updated as this develops. Kudos to WFNY for getting such a major scoop.

Kelvin Sampson, Mega-Summit, and other things

Friday, May 28th, 2010

-So, Kelvin Sampson. Let me preface all of my thoughts on Sampson by saying that I don’t really watch college basketball. Ideologically, I’ve never really liked the whole “the NCAA makes billions of dollars on athletes whom they refuse to pay anywhere near their market value and cries ‘see no evil’ any time a player or coach acts at all like NCAA sports are a business” thing.  (I swear I thought this before I started attending USC.)

So anyways, the point is that I don’t care what Sampson did or didn’t do with his conference calls or whatever it was when he was at Indiana.  When he’s coaching the big boys, that stuff won’t matter in the slightest. On the other hand, I don’t really know his body of work as a head coach. I like that he’s been tutored by the Spurs and served as an assistant with the Bucks, both of whom have solid on-court systems. My gut reaction to Sampson is that the Cavs could do worse, but they could also do a lot better.

-In better news, William Wesley may be manipulating Tom Thibodeau’s decision! Seriously, I’m excited about this. I am a huge, huge, huge Thibodeau backer. Look at what he did/has done to the Cavs and Magic’s offensive game-plans. (Although the Magic do finally seem to be adjusting a bit.) For the past decade, he’s been the assistant coach on a team with a top-five defense. How many coaches, in any sport, have that kind of track record? The man is the Leo Mazzone of basketball.

I know his profile — defensive whiz, successful assistant on a championship team, et cetera — makes him seem like Mike Brown 2.0, but he’s been doing this a lot longer and a lot better than Brown had been when the Cavs hired him. LeBron + another big FA + a Thibodeau defense = scary.

-So, the LeBron/Wade/Joe Johnson mega-summit. Your thoughts? Personally, I think they were all probably arguing about which of them will get to play with Chris Bosh next season.

-Yes, part of me is a bit frustrated that Kobe is now 0-2 in game-winners in the playoffs and 2-2 in having his teammates bail him out. That said, this one wasn’t nearly as tough as the Thunder one to watch. First, it would have been a miracle comeback for the Suns. Second, the Lakers were going to win in overtime anyways. Third, Kobe played well enough to deserve that win. I am at peace. I’m not sure if that means I’m dead inside or not, is the thing.

-Derek Fisher is of the occult.

-Question for readers: would you prefer the Magic or Celtics to win this series? One of these days I’ll figure out how to make polls, but until then have at it in the comments.

A few thoughts on Mike Brown’s departure

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Well, that felt fairly anticlimactic. Mike Brown, who’s been the coach of the Cavaliers for the majority of the LeBron era, won the coach of the year award last season, has one of the best winning percentages among active coaches, and is the only man to have ever coached LeBron James in a playoff game, was fired on Sunday night. When it happened, most NBA fans wondered what took the Cavaliers so darn long to do it. As unfair as that may seem, that’s today’s NBA for you. (By the way, sorry for the late response to this on my part — I spent the last 24 hours moving and away from a computer.)

Make no mistake: firing Brown was probably the right move, given the situation. The bottom line is that the Cavs have failed to meet expectations in the playoffs for two years in a row. When a team fails to meet expectations, the weight of those expectations falls on the coach. More often than not, he finds himself out of a job. After a disappointing season, someone is going to be the fall guy, and it’s a lot easier to change coaches than it is to make a major roster move. If you can’t change the product, change the packaging.

That would be true any year, but it’s never been more true than it is this summer. With so many potential franchise players choosing where they’re going to play next season, perception is everything. On some level, it doesn’t matter if Mike Brown can coach or not at this point. Lots of people think he’s a bad coach, and that is a big deal with this free agency market. Even if (if) LeBron believes in Mike Brown, do you think a guy like Chris Bosh would beg for a sign-and-trade because he wants to play for Mike Brown? Regardless of how the Cavalier brass felt about Mike Brown, they ultimately weren’t left with much choice in this situation.

And that’s a shame, because Mike Brown didn’t deserve to have it end like this. When he took the Cavaliers over, they did not play defense. Without any major roster upgrades, he turned Cleveland into one of the best defensive teams in the league. Under his watch, LeBron James improved tremendously on both ends of the floor. In the 2006, 07, and ’08 playoffs, the team outperformed expectations every year through pure grit, defense, rebounding, and hustle. (And LeBron, although his offensive production used to go way down during the playoffs.)

He did his best to make adjustments when the team made major roster moves, often bringing in players who represented potential defensive liabilities. During this year’s regular season, he constantly tweaked the lineup in the face of a slew of injuries, allowing the Cavs to get the #1 record while playing a variety of styles.

And then the Celtics came and took all of that away. The Celtics beat the Cavaliers convincingly, and then it was time for Mike Brown to go. Maybe he would’ve had a chance if the series hadn’t have been so ugly, but it was. The facts are these: the Cavs won six games this post-season, their lowest playoff win total in the last five years. The Cavs almost never got blown out in the playoffs before — over the course of six games, they were blown out twice on their home floor. After that kind of performance, change is necessary. But how much of the blame for the Celtics fiasco should honestly rest on Mike Brown’s shoulders?

Mike Brown certainly made some mistakes in that Celtics series. His offense wasn’t complex enough to create open looks against Thibodeau’s defense. The intensity was not where it needed to be. He didn’t have his rotations ready for Boston, and not having enough “small-ball” lineups ready to match Boston’s athleticism was a fatal mistake. It’s Monday morning quarterbacking, but there are things Brown probably should have done differently in that series.

All of that being said, let’s take a second to acknowledge that Mike Brown had a very tough task in front of him during that series. Look what he had to work with:

-The Cavs’ three major acquisitions (Williams/Jamison/Shaq), who had been forced into the starting lineup and were brought in to win big playoff games, were all horrible matchups for the Celtics and were often hurting the Cavs in one way or another when they were on the floor. To put it bluntly, they were $40 million worth of suck. What do you do in that situation? Remember, these are supposed to be the players Mike Brown could lean on in tough situations. Do you cut the minutes of three of the four highest-paid players on the team during the most important games of the season? Do you tweak the starting lineup? Wouldn’t those moves reek of desperation?

-A reminder: the starting center and power forward had barely played together coming into the Boston series.

-Mike Brown went into every game having no idea who the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-best Cavalier was going to be that night.

-The Moon/Parker/West SG situation was a nightmare to figure out. Parker would hit threes, but he would get attacked on defense and was too passive offensively. Delonte made hustle plays and changed the game at times, but he couldn’t find the basket. Jamario’s length was exactly what the Cavs needed on defense, but then he’d miss a wide-open three by a couple of feet.

-J.J. Hickson started for almost the entire year and seems like the kind of athletic big the Cavs needed, but the Celtics were exploiting him on defense every time he touched the floor. Every time Hickson came in, it was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Should MB have trusted the 21-year old to figure it out?

-Do you bring in an ice-cold Boobie Gibson? Or how about Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was the team’s starting center up until this year and was an afterthought player coming into the playoffs? Again, how common are radical rotation adjustments like these in the midst of a playoff series?

Plus the team was getting killed on the boards. Plus the defense wasn’t there. I’m not saying any of the above is quantum mechanics, but the front office gave Mike Brown a LOT of things to figure out in a matter of weeks, and then on a game-to-game basis. Coaching-wise, the degree of difficulty in managing that rotation was darn near off the charts. Mike Brown has always been a guy who prevents losses more than a guy who creates wins — why is everyone acting shocked and betrayed when he failed to perform the roster alchemy necessary to beat a surprise Boston team that the roster hadn’t been built for?

It was Mike Brown’s time to go. That doesn’t mean it’s time to grab the rope and a rail. For five straight years, the Cavs made the playoffs. They won 66% of their regular-season games during that time, and 59% of their playoff games. Mike Brown coached defense, and took the Cavs to the playoffs because of that defense. He never made excuses, got into it with the players or the media, and never let his ego get in the way. He had the perspective and humility to publicly cede control of the offensive schemes over to assistant coaches. He never complained about the perception that his teams were winning in spite of him. He just put on his tie, spit in a cup, and coached very good basketball teams. He never did get that title, but neither have a lot of coaches who are held in a different stratosphere of regard than Brown ever will be. Was he the best guy to manage a team with the kind of the talent the Cavs had over the last two seasons? Maybe not. But over five seasons as a head coach, Mike Brown has shown himself to be a good man who can coach basketball.

Coaching jobs in the NBA are a funny thing. Brown likely won’t be getting a slew of plum offers coming his way anytime soon thanks to his reputation, and there’s only so much any coach can do for a team without much talent. I could see him getting a young team to play defense and sneak into the playoffs in the next couple of years, like Larry Brown and Scott Skiles did this season. At this point, I don’t see Mike Brown coaching a serious championship contender anytime in the foreseeable future. There’s a very good chance that Mike Brown will never have big-time success as a head coach, and an even better chance that his accomplishments over the last five years will be widely dismissed. Sports fans like quick narratives, and Mike Brown’s rubber stamp may always read “Over-matched, under-imaginative coach who may have kept LeBron from winning a ring.” That doesn’t mean Brown’s accomplishments as a Cavs coach didn’t happen, or that he doesn’t deserve a bit of respect for those accomplishments. For all that happened, and all that will be said and written, I hope Mike Brown knows that he could have done a much worse job during his time in Cleveland.

What to look for in a new Cavs coach

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

This much is obvious: there’s no way Mike Brown and LeBron will both be on the Cavaliers sideline next season. I’ve been a Brown defender over the years, and looking past Boston instead of putting real time into developing some lineups with a Varejao/James/Moon frontcourt is really the entire organization’s fault. But when teams fail to meet expectations, it’s the coach who’s usually the first to go. So, assuming (for the time being) that LeBron comes back, here are the qualities should look for in a new coach:

1. He has to be able to convince LeBron to stay.

Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a second. If LeBron returns, the Cavaliers will at least compete for a championship in the next couple of years. If he leaves, they will not. It doesn’t matter if the LeBron-less Cavs get a coach who is inhabited by the spirits of Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Tex Winter, and John Wooden. The Cavs will be better with LeBron if their new coach’s strategy is to turn the frontcourt into the Human Centipede. Pretending otherwise would be foolish. It’s not ideal, but there it is.

Do I wish that LeBron wasn’t so insistent on hand-picking a coach, especially when he may value personal relationships over coaching prowess when he makes his selection? Of course. On the other hand, look at things from LeBron’s point of view. He’s the guy getting most of the blame when his teams lose, and it’s his legacy on the line more than anybody else’s. So you can’t blame him for wanting to have as much control as possible over his situation. It is what it is.

2. He has to coach defense first.

Mike Brown was a defense-first guy and things didn’t work out. That said, going out and getting a run-and-gun coach would be putting out a fire with gasoline. This was the most disappointing Cavalier playoff run in recent memory. This was also the season where the Cavs were more inconsistent on defense than they have been since Mike Brown took over. I can’t remember a Mike Brown Cavs squad ever being as content to try and outscore opponents as the Cavs were this season. It worked in the regular season, but it was their downfall in the playoffs.

It’s not a coincidence that the Magic, Lakers, and Celtics were all top-five teams in defensive efficiency this season. Tom Thibodeau has picked apart the Cavs and Magic by coming up with two brilliant defensive strategies — load up the strong side against LeBron and anticipate the skip pass/kick-out, and single cover Dwight Howard and stay at home on the Magic’s shooters. Even when Dwight started scoring on Perkins in game two, Thibodeau stuck to his guns. Compare that to MB, who panicked after KG hit a few step-back jumpers over Shaq in game six.

3. He has to take advantage of LeBron’s versatility.

LeBron can play the four in a small-ball lineup. He can run the point effectively at times. He’s deadly off the ball, and just as good as a playmaker. LeBron showed all of those things this season, but when push came to shove MB didn’t deviate from lineups that featured him at the three. The next Cavs coach has to be confident in his ability to mix up his strategy when it matters most, and that starts with using LeBron in a variety of ways.

4. He has to manage the game, not the egos.

This is where having a “big-name” coach helps. Mike Brown was way too hesitant to bench his big stars when they weren’t getting the job done, and that killed the Cavs against the Celtics. Shaq’s minutes needed to be slashed. Jamison had no chance against KG. LeBron should have been spending time guarding KG. LeBron should have been posting more. Mo Williams should have been spending a lot more time on the pine. Jamario Moon needed to play a lot more.

Despite all of that, Brown continued to give the players with the biggest names and the biggest salaries minutes over the players who would have given the Cavs the best chance of winning. Maybe convincing Shaq to come off the bench was an unwinnable battle, but there were other situations where Mike Brown could have benefited his team by standing up to its players.

5. He has to find a way to coach LeBron.

Coaching LeBron correctly is a catch-22. On the one hand, LeBron is one of the most dynamic talents the game has ever seen, and limiting his freedom on the court will almost always end up hurting the team. You want LeBron being involved in any play as much as possible, because no player can impact a game in more ways. Is a possession where LeBron is forced to wait on the block or the weak side for a good shot, possibly never getting touch the ball, really better than giving LeBron the ball at the top of the circle with 18 seconds on the clock and living with the results?

At the same time, there are times LeBron desperately needs coaching. His footwork in the post needs improvement. He needs to be more aggressive when he does post up. His shot selection from the perimeter is often puzzling, particularly his heat-checks. So what do you do when he disobeys you? Bench him? The team will always be worse off with LeBron on the bench, and LeBron knows it. That makes him tough to discipline. It’s not an easy task, but LeBron’s coach needs to find a way to get through to him without handcuffing him in any way. Good luck.

6. Develop a lineup that can actually fast-break and put pressure on teams with their length and athleticism.

Not all fast-breaking teams need to be bad defensively; just look at what the Celtics did when the Cavs played them. Lineups with length, a real push guard next to LeBron, and solid, swarming defensive rotations should be able to force turnovers, grab long rebounds, and get out on the break. LeBron might be the best open-court player in the history of the NBA, so this isn’t rocket science.

That’s what I have for tonight. Let me know your thoughts.