The Pat Riley Taking the Heat Debate… Keep the Hair Gel in the Bottle

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

It’s no surprise to me that the Miami Heat are struggling somewhat, and their current status in the NBA standings indicates that they are indeed struggling. I thought it would take some time for the evil trifecta to gel, and that’s been the case on many nights. But 10-8? That’s a record I thought would belong to a team like the Atlanta Hawks, a middle of the road team with no real shot of advancing deep into the playoffs. These struggles have led to the popular opinion that Eric Spoelstra is squarely on the hot seat and rumblings have been coming out of South Beach that Spoelstra , or Spo (as LeBron calls him) is losing the confidence and trust of his players. It’s just speculation that current Heat president Pat Riley may come down from the front office, put a fresh batch of hair gel in, and return courtside. But, with all due respect to what the Zen Master thinks, count me among those who don’t think that would be such a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong. Pat Riley is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He has won five NBA championships, including one in 2006 with a Dwyane Wade-led Heat team. That was then. This is now. Riley is now 65 years young. Not old by an means, but old enough to be the grandfather of some of these Heat players.

I’m hearing the critics say, “Well, Pat just won a title four years ago. He hasn’t lost it.” Well, in my mind, Pat Riley had something to prove that season. Yes, he came in and saved the day for Superman (Shaq) and won a title. But he also had to prove to himself, and maybe to the rest of the league, that he could win without the great Lakers teams on the court in front of him. You see, all of his previous championships were won during the Showtime Era . He was able to win with the Heat and for that, he was awarded a lifetime supply of hair gel, probably.

Lest we forget, however, what happened during Riley’s last season in Miami, which was the 2007-2008 campaign. He went a forgettable 15-67, which was the worst record of his career. Maybe that’s fresh in Wade’s mind when Wade is supposedly secretly not in support of Riley coming back courtside. If Riley wouldn’t have the support of Wade, then why even make that move if you are the Heat? Isn’t that where you are now? Isn’t there a coach in charge who supposedly doesn’t have the support of the players? D-Wade’s quote of, “I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know” certainly is interesting, considering Spo was already on staff when Wade was drafted.

It’s not realistic to think Riley could come down out of coaching retirement on his little white stallion and wave the magic wand and all of a sudden make the troubles of the Heat go away. Some of these troubles are going to have to be worked around (the lack of a true center and the dubious distinction of having a member of the Fab Five on the team, some 19 years after he first stepped on campus in Ann Arbor). Who is to say Riley could fix this mid-season, especially since he has been out of coaching for two and a half years?

There are just too many unknowns with Riley. Yes, he has the experience, but after telling the James-Chris Bosh-Wade during the off-season that “Spo” was the man, would he have the respect? That’s questionable, and that makes Riley’s possible return courtside a questionable decision.

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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 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…

LEBRON JAMES IS A FREE AGENT AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE 2009-2010 SEASON!!!!

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…

SPORTS GEEK!!!!!!


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 – Should The Cavs Fire The Coach of the Year?

June 12, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek’s opinion.



The 2009 NBA Finals is in full swing, and that should be the focus of NBA fans right now. But, rather quietly, Mike Brown’s status as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers has been called into question by some.

Congratulations Coach Brown. After winning 66 regular season games this past year, you have to fight for your job?

There are conflicting reports about Brown’s status.

Reportedly, several “sources close to the situation” are saying that the front office is divided on the status of Brown’s future. Others are saying that Brown’s job is safe. If the reports about a divided front office are true, what should Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry do?

Brown’s record after four years is an impressive 211-117. That’s a .643 winning percentage. Not too bad, huh? How about a 66-16 record this past season, including 39-2 at home. And, oh yeah, he is the reigning NBA Coach of the Year!

That’s the good news. Now, the bad news.

Brown’s team (or maybe LeBron’s team?) made the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals as the odds on favorites over the talented Orlando Magic. But, they were upset by the Magic in six games. King James is due to be a free agent after next season (in case you haven’t heard… and if you haven’t, where have you been?).

The question posed by Loyal Homer, and by a good portion of America’s sports fans, is:

Does Mike Brown deserve to lose his job as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Bleacher Fan will argue that Brown hasn’t taken this team to the next level and more is expected by the coach of LeBron James’ team.

Sports Geek will argue that Mike Brown has done enough to keep his job.

Present your case to me so I can make one of you happy and one of you mad!