On Wednesday the Cleveland Cavaliers officially announced via press conference that they would be bringing Mike Brown back for a second stint as the head coach of the Wine and Gold. After coaching five seasons in Cleveland and two seasons – only getting five games into his second term before being canned – with the Los Angeles Lakers, owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager Chris Grant are now ready to give Brown a second go-around. After all, Brown did win a higher percentage of games in both the regular season (66.3 percent) and playoffs (59.2 percent) than any other coach in Cavaliers history.
Gilbert’s Sunday night dinner meeting with Brown, which was only scheduled to last an hour, quickly turned into a near seven-hour extravaganza that had the two talking basketball styles and schemes and how Brown would exactly approach a team with raw, young talent. Brown has inherited teams that have been, for the most part, established in the two head coaching situations that he has been a part of during his seven years as a head coach in the NBA. Having the opportunity to coach LeBron when his stardom was reaching MVP levels and heading Laker teams consisting of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash made him feel more comfortable upon taking control of these teams.
Despite the offensive struggles in the postseason that played a big part in Gilbert’s decision to part with him after the 2009-10 season, Brown had led his team to back-to-back 60-plus win seasons. Brown’s crowning seasons were the 2006-07 and 2008-09 campaigns, in which he led the team to its first NBA Finals appearance (were swept by the San Antonio Spurs) and won the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year Award respectively. Somewhat ironically, Byron Scott won Coach of the Year honors with the New Orleans Hornets the season prior to Brown’s achievement.
Here are some peak statistics that Brown led his Cleveland teams to:
Offensive Efficiency: 109.7 (4th) – 2008-09
Defensive Efficiency: 99.4 (t-2nd) – 2008-09
Rebounding Rate: 52.4 (1st) – 2009-10
Defensive Rebounding Rate: Ranked within Top 4 in four of his five seasons
–75.7 (4th) – 2005-06
–75.8 (2nd) – 2006-07
–75.9 (2nd) – 2007-08
–77.2 (2nd) – 2009-10
True Shooting Percentage: 57.0 (3rd) – 2009-10
Assist Ratio: 16.0 (4th) – 2009-10
Effective Field Goal Percentage: 53.2 (3rd) – 2008-09
Brown’s offenses (I wanted to throw defensive rebounding rate in there because I thought the numbers were interesting) seemed to flourish under offensive assistant John Kuester upon his taking over of said duties at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. There have been talks of bringing Kuester back to the Cavs, and I would be on board for this decision. I think it’s an extremely important decision for Brown to bring in someone who can let Kyrie Irving thrive in their offensive system. When Kuester first came to Cleveland, his plan was to use his big frontcourt men to free up the guard play. Using bigs on the weak side and having them be active without having the ball in this position was his plan of attack, and Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller are both players who would benefit from Kuster coming back to Cleveland. Varejao played two of his healthiest seasons (81 and 76 games respectively) under Kuester, as he had the two best shooting seasons of his career (53.6 and 57.2 percent). This was due to the simple lobs or dump passes that the floor general would give to Varejao if he couldn’t penetrate in the lane for a layup or if the outside shooters were trapped. Granted Varejao didn’t get the ball as much in this offense because he wasn’t a starter, but the dribble-drive motion style that Kuester uses brings the best out of his guards and would allow Varejao to exert more energy on defense. Whether it would be Irving attacking the rim or kicking it out to a player such as Dion Waiters, (hopefully) Otto Porter or a quasi-four, the Cavaliers need to do work in the offseason to find players who would fit this model if Kuester or a coach like him is brought on board. Using dribble penetration, which Irving is great at doing, is what makes this offense run fluidly. Usually you would have two players acting as point guards like how Cleveland used to use LeBron, so Waiters could potentially fill this role as well. The shooting guard’s aggressiveness toward attacking the rim would help his shooting percentage tremendously, as he wouldn’t go to shooting jumpers as a first resort. Having Varejao as your post player and putting the other two players (to be determined) in the corners to kick out to would be the plan of attack. A healthy Andy would accumulate offensive rebounds at a faster rate than he did for 25 games last season (5.5 offensive rebounds PER 36 minutes).
This offense worked for the most part because of the hodgepodge of sharp shooters that the Cavaliers had to work with in Kuester’s two seasons with the team. Of players who attempted more than 100 three-pointers during the 2008-09 campaign, only LeBron James converted on less than 38 percent of his long-range shots (shot 34.4 percent). The team finished second in the league that season in three-point shooting percentage, converting on 39.3 percent of their shots. Mo Williams (43.6 percent), Wally Szczerbiak (41.1 percent) and Sasha Pavlovic (41.0 percent) all shot over 40 percent from long range in 2008-09. Cleveland also finished second in the league in three-point shooting in Kuester’s second year with the team, shooting 38.1 percent as a team. Before that season the Cavaliers, under Mike Brown, had not ranked in the top half in three-point shooting, as this system proved well for players like Daniel Gibson and Williams. During the 2009-10 season, out of players who attempted more than 100 three-pointers, only LeBron James shot under 41 percent. Gibson (47.7 percent), Williams (42.9 percent) and Anthony Parker (41.4 percent) all thrived during the regular season, but went cold, especially in Brown’s final season before being fired, once the playoffs got underway. That’s when discipline comes in.
It hasn’t been officially announced, but it’s been reported by FOX Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico that Kuester and Jamahl Mosley (we will talk about his strategy in a later post), who has on Scott’s staff last season, would join his side as assistants. This is most likely certain at this point, and I’m glad that this is happening. Cleveland has had a hard time roping in top-tier free agents, but with the money they have to spend this offseason, they can find the necessary niche role players who fit into Kuester’s offensive plan. A lot of pieces are already there to mold.