Profiles in Coaching: Mike Brown and the Curse of Average
USA Today Sports
The fates of NBA head coaches are hopelessly intertwined with the abilities and personalities of their players. For that reason they usually only get attention for performance on the extreme ends of the spectrum – utter disaster and chest-beating success. But that perspective ignores a creatively rich middle class of coaches grinding away in relative anonymity. Here at Hickory-High we fancy ourselves as the bane of relative anonymity and so for the next few days we’ll be looking at these leaders, both lauded and ignored, for our Profiles in Coaching series.
In today’s NBA, coaches aren’t allowed to be average. Just last season, two were booted from their positions at 0.500 records – and a third just five games into the regular season. The latter of these three to fall victim to the axe was Mike Brown, a seemingly average coach that is often painted as something worse while showing the signs of being something better.
Reputation weighs heavily on the public’s opinion of a coach, and one whose star left for another team after failing to capture a championship that was subsequently fired and then fired yet again after an underwhelming 83 games in a new gig under the bright lights of Los Angeles won’t normally collect good graces. Whatever his reputation has been and will be, Mike Brown is a very decent NBA head coach. He has his flaws, namely ego-managing and everything on the offensive end, but once it’s his squad’s turn to defend the rock – things change.
Never in a full season has one of Mike Brown’s teams finished in the bottom half of the league in points allowed per 100 possession. This is a six-season sample size, totaling 476 games. A slew of these teams included prominent starting roles for names like Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mo Williams, with collective rosters that LeBron himself couldn’t carry to a chip. In seasons following the departure of Mike Brown, the Cavaliers fell 22 spots (!) and the Lakers 7 in points allowed per 100 possessions rankings.
This season, Mike Brown is back at the helm in Cleveland. Last year the Cavaliers were surrendering 109.4 points per 100 possessions, a number that has sunk to 106.2 this season under Brown – even with below-average defenders across the roster including a cement-footed Andrew Bynum at the starting center position. But because of Brown’s deficiencies on the offensive side of the rock and his inability to be the vocal leader of a team, his label can merely be “average.”
Since when is that a knock on a head coach though? Brown, like 29 others, has one of the toughest jobs in the spectrum of professional basketball and has been solid if not better. Defense is (and always will be) the key to the highest pillar of success in NBA basketball, and Brown is a genius in that regard. Does this mean Brown can win a championship? Who knows. But were his two firings and constant blaming justifiable?
In the current NBA, results often out-weigh the process. Despite the holes in every roster Mike Brown commanded in his career -whether it be on the court or off – he’s been fired twice due to his inability to capture a championship. Despite his brilliance in knowing how to defend in this league – not an easy task – he’s been bemoaned and slandered by both fans and media. All for being good, but not great. Specialized, but not omnipotent.
Will the mindset of NBA teams or fans change? I wouldn’t expect it to. But for the time being, expectations surrounding the Cavaliers aren’t very high in Ohio, which means for once in his career Mike Brown doesn’t have a familiar ax hanging above his noggin.
This depreciation in pressure could mean a fresh start for Brown, who was immediately thrust into the fight to get LeBron James his first ring, then later Kobe’s sixth. How a team’s outlook pertains to the success of their coach often depends on who said coach is. Many rise to the occasion, others aren’t in the right situation and up to this point – as far as titles are concerned – Brown has fallen short. This year is a first for Brown to take hold of a relatively young team, not expected to make much noise, and prove one of two things. That average head coaches rightfully deserves spots in this league, or that Mike Brown is not an average NBA head coach.
We’re only a quarter into the 2013-14 season, so any results would be thinly verified. As mentioned, the Cavaliers have boosted their defensive effort but have plummeted offensively – a predictable collapse with Mike Brown taking the reins. There are still 57 games left to play, plus four more years on Mike Brown’s current contract. Plenty of time to see if the needle can’t be moved.