What to look for in a new Cavs coach

May 19th, 2010 by John Krolik

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 haveĀ benefitedĀ 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.