Seven years ago, Mike Brown’s first head coaching job abruptly ended for the reason most head coaching jobs end. He failed. The best team in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, did not advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in a row after winning 60 regular season games. It happened on his watch and Brown was the fall guy, frequently assailed with the label of boring offensive coach. His crime was greater because he had LeBron James and couldn’t find a way to get James over the hump. That it was James free agent year only added more tempest to the pot. James was no longer on Brown’s side, disgruntled and unhappy watching the NBA Finals at home. It was no one’s surprise who took the fall and blame.
Six weeks after walking papers were shoved in Mike Brown’s face, LeBron James stunned the world with his infamous The Decision catastrophe. Mike Brown was an afterthought in both Cleveland- Byron Scott took his place- and the life of LeBron James.
Mike Brown has not been a stationery figure since Dan Gilbert fired him in 2010. Brown is not the type of man to feel sorry for himself for what he did and did not do. He already was a success story of immense proportions, community college, then San Diego, then video coordinator and Gregg Popovich assistant. Mike Brown has a ring courtesy of Tim Duncan. He worked for ESPN. He has coached his kids. He was the Lakers x’s and o’s game planner. He returned to Cleveland. He became the Warriors assistant. So, to do the math, after LeBron James, Mike Brown coached 152 games before he landed in Oakland. For a man whose career has skewed both unlucky and lucky, feast and famine, praise and a lot of blame, Mike Brown’s wheel of fortune seems to have spun on good times.
Mike Brown is the only NBA coach to have had influence over four different MVP’s: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant. While many coaches never get the opportunity to coach one MVP, Mike Brown has gotten the opportunity multiple times. Three of the four MVP’s he coached were 30 years old or younger. (Kobe Bryant was not). Three of the four MVP’s he coached were top-10 lottery picks. (Kobe Bryant was not). All were different. Kobe, the fanatical scorer. Curry, the gifted three point shooter and dribbler. LeBron, the greatest of all time in many people’s eyes, at 6-8, an athletic freak. Durant, the 6-11 perimeter scorer no one can guard. With each, Mike Brown was different. He had to be.
LeBron was a wide-eyed kid trying to match his talent with the pro game and Brown had to guide him there. Kobe was a five time champion, he needed management more than coaching and the tough part was Brown followed Phil Jackson. With Steph and KD it was continuing to keep the train running smoothly and not mess anything up that Steve Kerr had established.
Before the Warriors, all of Mike Brown’s teams were imperfect. LeBron was great with a pretty average supporting cast, yet was blamed for the Cavs always coming up short. Kobe had one of his greatest seasons under Mike Brown but he still missed Phil and the Triangle. Steph and KD were rewards for the pendulum swinging wildly. In their prime, Steph and KD have the talent advantage and are not dependent on Brown to create an offense for them; that has already been done.
His first NBA Finals, Mike Brown is under a microscope more than he would have been if he was still in Cleveland or in L.A. In those cities he had two of the top-5 iso players the NBA has produced. In Oakland, his stars are selfless and their games don’t depend on them beginning and ending every possession. No longer in basketball’s middle class, Mike Brown has hit the lottery; can he keep his head above water if Steve Kerr doesn’t return?
If the Warriors don’t do what everyone expects them to do, and Steve Kerr is a spectator, blame will fall Mike Brown’s way. Expect his adjustments to be picked apart. They will say Mike Brown is not Steve Kerr. They will point back to previous failures and say see, told you he can’t handle a whirlwind offense. He’s Mike Brown.
But this is the best part of the Mike Brown story if you like happy endings. He is a man who was fired twice by the same team. He was given his walking papers in L.A. two days after he was told his job was safe, one day after he slept at his office watching film. Now at the center of the NBA universe, Mike Brown has a full circle moment. The organization who first trusted him as a head coach is now the organization he has to beat. His first superstar is now the superstar he has to stop. His first NBA Finals is now the stage in which all eyes will be on him.
His last stint in Cleveland, another forgettable and putrid year, Mike Brown had a young Kyrie Irving who refused to play defense. That was a team with Anthony Bennett on it and Dion Waiters. Everyone was young and immature and sulking and about halfway through the season they just tuned Mike Brown out. His walking papers were the most predictable thing about a terrible end.
As payback, Mike Brown can cause suffering in the city of Cleveland but in a totally different way than before when he left them bitter. By ruining their dreams, he can give the locals a sour taste in their mouth if he defeats them the way everyone expects. It will be atonement for what the Cavs did to the Warriors last year in the Finals.
In this series, it comes down to guarding LeBron and Kyrie. They beat the Warriors in game 7, last year. No Warriors had the ability to handle their iso game. What is different about the Warriors on defense now?
photo via llananba