The Best LeBron Destination Debate… It’s A Mistake to Skip the Lake

May 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

You may recognize the twist on a familiar term in the headline for this article. Like it or not, Cleveland is referred to by some as “The Mistake By The Lake.” While no city REALLY deserves that harsh of a nickname, Cleveland has had its share of occurrences that make such a moniker stick. There is the infamous and dubious incident of Cuyahoga River catching on fire in Cleveland (yup, even the water catches on fire), and the litany of devastating sports failures where Bleacher Fan doesn’t even need to down a couple of beers before recounting them for you.

As a child of Northeast Ohio, LeBron James understands the history of the area. Therefore, he has the context to truly understand how important his presence is, not only to the team and fans, but to the entire region. LeBron is seen by fans as the player that will right the many wrongs that have befallen Cleveland, and the entire Northeast Ohio area, over the past several decades.

So, it’s a good thing that none of that matters to LeBron.

None of it.

LeBron James is a business man readying himself to make a big business decision. The history, the emotion, the ties – none of it matters to him. This decision is all about what makes the most business sense for LeBron James.

Given that context, LeBron must be a shoe-in for L.A., New York, or Chicago, right? Wrong. The best business decision LeBron can possibly make on June 30 is to remain in Cleveland.

First, a few reasons why those other cities do not make sense.

LeBron will not want to share a city with Kobe Bryant, an actual championship basketball player. Kobe owns that town, and the Clippers are in disarray. This is obviously a bad move.

Chicago will never work for LeBron because he will never establish himself, even if he wins seven championships. That will always be Michael Jordan’s town, and he is fooling himself if he believes otherwise.

The Knicks make no sense because LeBron may receive numerous “business opportunities” (Knicks fans… read that as “distractions”), but he will not have a strong team around him for even more years than he will have to wait for talent in Cleveland (aren’t the Knicks still paying Stephon Marbury?). The other New York team, the Nets, does not make sense because the new owner – a Russian billionaire – has zero understanding of how to run a successful American sports franchise. Oil money is not well-earned sports money. Strong leadership from the front office on down is crucial to a team’s success, and the fact that new owner Mikhail Prokhorov has appointed a Russian diplomat’s daughter to the top post at the Nets is a huge red flag. Despite her MBA from Stanford, her ability to run a sports franchise – let alone revive an awful one like the Nets – is highly questionable.

The best career move and business move LeBron James can make to remove the “over” from over-rated is to win a championship. Because of that prevailing reason, the city – and team – that gives LeBron the best chance to win is Cleveland.

Of course there are caveats. Mike Brown cannot coach a championship team. He is a terrible playoff coach because his adjustments are as slow as molasses. Rather than in-game adjustments Brown appears to require 24 hours of film watching and game planning to tweak his lineups or in-game maneuvers. The Cavs need a more disciplined, authoritative coaching style that comes from a place of championship respect. At this stage, it appears that LeBron will only choose to listen to, and be confronted by, a coach who has had championship level success. Perhaps it is a gut feeling, but LeBron’s inability to overcome his frustrations with how Brown handled some situations during the Celtics series clearly impacted his game in a negative way.

Brown has to go, but so does James’ oversized ego. LeBron needs a coach who will take command and put him in his place. A coach who will call him out for poor effort, for losing focus, and for not taking his job seriously enough. A coach who isn’t afraid to say, “LeBron, you are not in high school any longer. You are a professional. If you wish to become a champion, you must change your approach to your profession and be willing to sacrifice more.” An ego-less LeBron (well, even a smaller ego, at least) is better equipped to learn. A new coach is better equipped to teach LeBron what he must learn in order to become a champion.

Brown must go, and LeBron must listen.

Danny Ferry, the Cavaliers’ general manager, has done a good job of upgrading the team’s roster the last several seasons. But, now it is no longer about getting a bunch of good players, it is about getting the right players. Moving from a quantity to a quality strategy is vital. Shaq may have, at least in some people’s minds, been one of the best possible players available to acquire last summer. But he was not the right fit.

Of course the old objections will present themselves as Ferry goes about his challenging job. “No players want to move to Cleveland,” and “the Cavs just don’t have enough money to work with.” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has proven that money is no object… and that applies to both player salaries and how he takes care of his players off the court. LeBron has aspects of his game to work on so he is a better teammate and better professional to play with, but the standard anti-Cleveland objections are mostly addressed by a great owner.

This is a business decision for LeBron James. But, for LeBron, business cannot solely be about dollars and “sense.” Big, successful business is only possible for LeBron if he wins a championship. Anything less and LeBron is just another arrogant athlete who never won a championship, and he will be rightly accused of spending too much time counting his money. One championship makes LeBron legit. But, the only city and franchise that can offer LeBron what he needs to win a championship quickly is the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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The Cavaliers Playoff Loss Debate… Cleveland Was Too Cavalier

May 17, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

I’m not normally one to gloat (especially when I never wanted to be right in the first place), but – I told you so!

Last year, after the Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals, I highlighted the many serious shortcomings of Cleveland’s newest version of Marty Schottenheimer – head coach Mike Brown. Brown’s inability to make good adjustments during the game, combined with a blind reliance on talent to overcome strategy, cost the Cavs a shot at the 2009 NBA Finals.

Rather than acknowledge Brown’s problems last year and fire him when they SHOULD have, the Cavs’ owner (Dan Gilbert) and GM (Danny Ferry) allowed the regular season accolade of “2009 Coach of the Year” to cloud their judgment – a decision that has now come back to haunt them (possibly at the expense of LeBron James).

Getting Outcoached

Without rehashing shortcomings of Mike Brown that I already highlighted 12 months ago, I will simply reiterate a couple key indicators:

  • Lack of Halftime Adjustments: The Cavaliers were outscored in the third quarter by the Boston Celtics by a total of 30 points over their four losses in the six-game series.
  • Poor Execution When it Matters Most: The Cavaliers were out-rebounded 144-168 in the four games they lost to the Celtics, and 230-239 overall. Likewise, the Cavs had 71 turnovers to the Celtics 53 during their four losses, and 93 to 76 over the entire series.
  • Matchup Problems: Once again, Mike Brown failed to play the matchup game, and the result was that Rajon Rondo, who is generally a B-class point guard, ended up looking like a superstar against the seemingly hapless Cavaliers. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison were ineffective, and LeBron (hurt elbow or not) was completely shut down for much of the series.

Creating a Culture of Winning Being Laid Back

Added to those problems that were evident even last season, however, came a new realization as the ALLEGED best team self-destructed once more. Mike Brown has no control over the players on his team.

During a January 27 interview, Mo Williams was quoted as saying that Shaquille O’Neal called the Cavaliers, “the most laid back team he’s ever played on.” At the time the comment seemed innocuous enough, but in hindsight that is a VERY telling statement.

Consider some of the other teams that Shaq has played for that weren’t “laid back:”

2005-2006 Miami Heat: Coached by Pat Riley all the way to a championship.

1999-2004 Los Angeles Lakers: Coached by Phil Jackson, won THREE NBA championships, and reached the Finals a fourth time.

Coaches who create and demand a championship culture actually WIN championships, while coaches who are laid back get laid back effort. That is not a coincidence!

The Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics because Mike Brown is an impotent coach who has failed to lead, instead delegating that responsibility to his players.

During games, players (including LeBron James) could often be seen clowning around on the bench, rather than paying attention to what was going on out on the court. It was silliness, plain and simple, which by itself is not a major crime. The Cavs were winning games AND they were having fun. Consequently, the fans were all having fun with them.

Those acts, however, were symptoms of a bigger problem.

From overly elaborate, choreographed player introductions to that STUPID “gooseneck” gesture, it should have been evident THEN that the team spent FAR TOO MUCH time focusing on trivial (and CHILDISH) games, and probably not nearly enough time focusing on winning a championship.

If THIS is how seriously they approached the regular season, why should we have believed their approach to the playoffs would be any different?!

Rather than committing 100 percent to building and maintaining a championship culture, where WINNING was the top priority, Mike Brown allowed his team to instead commit to making up fancy handshakes as though they were forming a secret club for sixth-graders.

Phil Jackson would NEVER tolerate that kind of foolishness from his players. Even with larger-than-life personalities on his teams such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Dennis Rodman, Jackson was the unquestioned leader. He maintained the role as coach and boss, and DEMANDED that his players act accordingly, as was the case for Pat Riley with all of his championships in Miami and Los Angeles. Mike Brown, however, is apparently okay with unfocused goofing off, which has been paid off in kind.

Everyone on the Cavaliers’ team simply EXPECTED to reach the Finals. The problem is that no one actually helped them prepare to get there, and that is where Mike Brown has ultimately failed. The result was an ineffective performance by unprepared players against a team who KNEW what to expect, and (more importantly) HOW to win when it mattered most.

Good luck to the Boston Celtics and their coach, Doc Rivers, who truly embody the essence of being a CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM – something the Cavaliers may never be – at least with Mike Brown at the helm!

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The NBA Coach Under Pressure Debate – Cavs Fans May End Up “Witnessing” Brown’s Termination

October 14, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument and Loyal Homer’s arguments about which NBA head coach is under the most pressure to win the championship this season.

There are no more excuses allowed for Mike Brown, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The only result that will be accepted in the city of Cleveland for the 2009-2010 season is the NBA Championship – anything less is failure.

Why does Brown face such lofty expectations, with virtually no room for error? For Brown, the pressure to win a championship is the result of undeniable talent on the team combined with previous letdowns, golden promises, and a sense that time is running out.

Undeniable talent

Last season, Mike Brown was recognized as the NBA’s Coach of the Year. His star forward, LeBron James, was recognized as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, and was named a starter for the 2008 All-Star Game. Along with James, guard Mo Williams was also named to the All Star team last season.

Under the guidance of the Coach of the Year, and with the support of the league’s MVP and a second All-Star player, the Cavaliers were able to prove over the course of the entire season that they were an elite team, going on to claim the league’s best regular season record at 66-16. Then in the offseason, general manager Danny Ferry added to the team through a “Shaq-uisition” that brought center (and future Hall of Famer) Shaquille O’Neal to the team.

The Cavaliers, a team that is already among the top teams in the NBA last season, have still managed to upgrade the team, and are definitely a favorite to win the NBA Championship in 2009.

Previous Letdowns

What if I told you that the team that claimed the Coach of the Year, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, the league’s best record in the regular season, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs (after losing only two home games during the entire season) would not even reach the NBA Finals? Would you consider that a failure?

That is exactly what happened to the Cavaliers last season, though. Despite a very impressive regular season performance, the Cavaliers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. The best team, with the best coach, the best player, and home-court advantage with nearly record-breaking home-court performance, lost in six games to the Magic (including two losses in Cleveland). The Cavaliers, during their series against Orlando, looked NOTHING like the Cavs of the regular season.

That disappointment came on the heels of the previous two seasons, which included getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2006-2007 Finals, and then losing in the second round of the playoffs against the eventual champion Boston Celtics of 2007-2008.

The resurgence of the Cavaliers in the NBA over the past few seasons has been primarily the result of adding LeBron James to the roster. James, who is arguably the best player in basketball, has been able to turn a Cavaliers team which won only 17 games in the season (and had not reached the playoffs for five years) prior to his arrival onto a team that has since reached the postseason four consecutive years (including the first Conference Championship in franchise history), and is poised to make another playoff run this season.

With the best player in the league on the court, the coaches and general managers of the Cavaliers have tried (so far in vain) to build a supporting cast around James that will help bring a title to Cleveland.

Golden promises

Last season, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert quite literally guaranteed a championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Promises do not get any grander. The owner of the team VOWED to bring a title to a city that has been starved for a championship in ANY sport for nearly 50 years. Now, the fans of the Cavaliers do not just WANT a championship, they actually EXPECT it!

The implied message to Mike Brown is that the owner is willing to do whatever it takes to win that championship. If Brown cannot do it, then Gilbert will find someone else who can.

Time is running out!

In not-so-breaking news – LeBron’s contract is up soon, and he may not stay in Cleveland!

A major factor that is causing much of the panic (and subsequent pressure) in the city of Cleveland is the threat of losing LeBron. The general consensus is that LeBron will be happy to stay in Cleveland, as long as he believes he can win a championship here. With the expiration of his current contract drawing ever closer, many believe that this will be the Cavs’ last chance to prove to LeBron that they can be a championship team.

For Mike Brown, that ticking clock could very well also be counting away his remaining time as head coach of the Cavaliers. With all of the talent, support, and resources at his disposal, in conjunction with the elevated expectations (and worries) of the fans in Cleveland, anything short of a title-run by Brown and his Cavaliers this season is a failure.

How is THAT for pressure?!

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The Fire Mike Brown Debate – The Verdict

June 12, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek’s opinion.

First, I’ll continue to give credit to both Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek for starting off their arguments with real life analogies. Bleacher Fan’s gas station example and Sports Geek chronicling a typical bad day at work really set the tone for their respective arguments.

There’s no doubt that Mike Brown is feeling a little heat up in Cleveland. In fact, he’s feeling a lot of heat. In the back of the mind of many of the Cleveland Cavaliers must be that one little sentence that none of them are willing to admit is possible. What sentence is that, you ask? I’ll tell you…


This is cause for real panic. No one is arguing that in this debate. The fans necessarily have a “win now” attitude, and management, publically at least, has adopted the same attitude (see Bleacher Fan’s opinion for details).

But, firing the coach isn’t always the answer. Maybe some upgrades need to happen within the team. As Sports Geek suggested, the Cavs need an athletic big man to play alongside LeBron James. Perhaps the bench needs to be strengthened, too. Firing the coach won’t strengthen the team. Mike Brown won 66 games and was the NBA Coach of the Year. Whether or not he won it on the strength of Number 23 is not the point. He was still the head coach when his team won all of those games.

Now, if the Cavs don’t win it all next year – or at least make it to the NBA Finals – then a stronger case can be made to fire Mike Brown and question his ability to lead the Cavs to a championship. But, that case isn’t strong enough right now. Not yet.

Therefore, the winner of this debate is…


The Fire Mike Brown Debate – In Defense of Mike Brown

June 12, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s opinion.

We’ve all had a bad day at work before, right? Somebody says something snarky in a meeting, or grates on nerves, or steals credit for a project. Instead of just letting it go, what do you do? You vent. You might vent to a co-worker in a back room or call a friend in a hallway. When you vent you don’t think about being politically correct, or taking everyone’s feelings into consideration. You just want to vent… you want to get those negative feelings out of you. Who’s to say having a front office job for a major NBA franchise doesn’t have the same situations taking place? My guess is that’s all that happened – in contrast to the “reports” that surfaced Thursday stating the Cleveland Cavaliers were considering firing reigning Coach of the Year, and owner of more pair of fashionable glasses than any other grown man, Mike Brown. The sports media is, once again, making a big deal out of nothing. Plus, Mike Brown does not deserve to get fired.

How does a guy get a prestigious award like NBA Coach of the Year? Coaching a team that went 66-16 in the regular season, and 39-2 at home, is a good start. Brown has been credited far and wide for inspiring his star LeBron James to put in the same effort on the defensive end of the floor as he always has on the offensive end. Mike Brown has made LeBron James a better defender and a more complete basketball player. In fact, James has grown so much as a player in the 2008-2009 regular season that he earned his first NBA MVP award this year. Mike Brown is good for LeBron James.

Mike Brown has also improved as a coach each year he’s been in the NBA, despite the fact that he has really only had one consistent contributor on the roster since he started coaching – LeBron James. Brown, like James, has suffered from a lack of talent and depth on the roster. It’s hard to install elaborate motion offense if the other players on the team cannot hit an open shot. Which leads me to my next point…

The Cavaliers do not have abundant talent on their roster, Bleacher Fan. How can Mike Brown be asked to create a championship team with only one championship player? The Cavs have no dominant big player (a must for any championship-quality team in this era of the NBA). They also lack depth in the backcourt. For Bleacher Fan to claim the Cavaliers had superior talent to the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals is completely false. The Magic have 4-5 players who can take a game winning shot – the definition of a true team. The Cavs have one, which they proved.

Those realities make it unfair to place all of the blame for the Cavaliers unlikely demise at Brown’s feet. Name any championship coach in NBA history – Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Greg Popovich – and it’s easy to see they all had more than one championship caliber player on the roster who performed well on a consistent basis. It’s unfair to expect championship quality teams from Brown, but not give him the tools to live up to those expectations. The mismatches Bleacher Fan talks about were not manufactured by a coach. Stan Van Gundy didn’t make Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu grow to 6’10.” He didn’t sign them to contracts, either. Their General Manager Otis Smith did. Mike Brown is in a difficult situation because the lack of talent, height, and depth on the Cavaliers roster.

Brown’s job as a head coach is to formulate a philosophy that will win championships. He chose defense – a proven path to the Larry O’Brien trophy. The players even bought into that philosophy and played hard for him – another proof point that Brown is an effective coach.

Not only should the Cavs not fire Mike Brown, they can’t act unilaterally. It’s also important to note that LeBron is in a position in Cleveland where all decisions regarding coaches and personnel must be approved by him. You can’t fire the coach for the best basketball player on the planet and not consult him… unless you want zero chance of resigning him when his contract expires in 2010.

The key to helping Mike Brown fully realize his potential as a coach is getting him more good players that perform consistently and fit his philosophy. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is not an athletic, tough center. Neither is Anderson Varejao. Or Joe Smith. Or JJ Hickson. Mike Brown’s success is in part tied to Danny Ferry’s ability to surround the franchise star with more talented players. Even good coaches can’t make something out nothing.

The Fire Mike Brown Debate – Nobody Rides For Free

June 12, 2009

Rumors abound right now regarding the future of Mike Brown as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Cavs are smart, they’ll pull into a gas station, ask Brown to run in and ask for directions, then take off while he’s inside. I would get as far away from him as possible, and fast. Sticking with Brown may cost the Cavs LeBron James.

Sure, Mike Brown has coached a successful team. His record as a head coach is very strong, sitting at 211 wins to only 117 losses. It’s hard to argue those numbers. But, let’s realistically consider where those numbers came from – LeBron James.

LeBron is, without question, one of the best players in the game today. In a game where you play only five people at a time, having 20% of your on-court staff qualify as “one of the best in the game” gives you a distinct advantage. Basketball, unlike baseball or football, creates an environment where a team can be carried by a single player. In no way does a single player guarantee a championship; but, he can single-handedly take credit for many wins along the way. Therefore, I challenge anyone to prove to me that the Cavaliers’ success is due to anyone other than LeBron James.

“But Bleacher Fan,” I hear you say, “Mike Brown was named coach of the year! The Cavs CAN’T fire him.”

I argue, having watched the Cavaliers falter quite embarrassingly against the Orlando Magic, that Mike Brown did not win Coach of the Year because of his coaching ability. He won Coach of the Year because his team had the best record in basketball. To recap, WHY did the Cavs have the best record in basketball? Everyone say it with me… LeBron James!

Now, why did the Cavaliers lose the Eastern Conference Finals to the Magic? Because of Mike Brown’s coaching. Sure, the Magic were able to capitalize on mismatches created in the line-up, but those mismatches were manufactured by a superior coach, Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy out-coached Brown to the point that the Cavs actually looked like they didn’t belong in the Eastern Conference Finals.

To give Brown some credit, his strategy coming into each game was relatively strong. The Cavs were able to run up a quick (and rather large) lead in several of the games. Where Brown failed, though, was his inability to anticipate or respond to the adjustments made by Van Gundy, a much better coach. The end result was that Brown got schooled, despite having better talent on the court.

The 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, though, is not the first time this problem has popped up. The Cavaliers were outscored in the third quarter in 50% of their games this year (although the problem has been ongoing since Brown came on board). Mike Brown is incapable of making any type of a half-time adjustment. Think about it. The Cavaliers were one of the top two teams in first half scoring all year. Yet, somehow, during the halftime break, they became sub-standard. It is because the opposing coaches make adjustments during halftime that Brown is incapable of handling. This is something that can be overcome when playing teams like the New York Knicks or the Washington Wizards. When you are playing teams with superior coaches, such as Stan Van Gundy, the stakes get raised and overcoming that obstacle becomes a little more challenging.

Getting back to my original point, why should the Cavs fire Mike Brown? Because in pressure situations, against the better teams and better coaches, Mike Brown will always come up second best. Under Mike Brown, the Cavaliers will NOT win a championship, and LeBron will seek greener pastures as a result. If Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert REALLY wants to promise Cleveland an end to their championship drought, then he should begin with the taking care of the problem, and fire Mike Brown!

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s opinion.