How Do You Solve a Problem Like Finding Mike Brown's Replacement?
Mike Brown is finally out, and while questions remain about who knew what when, it's Mike Brown. He did his best, but at the end of the day, the Cavs didn't win a title, and short of that, Brown wasn't the coach to keep James in Cleveland.
So, Danny Ferry goes shopping for a new fearless leader. Except from the outside, the clouds seems crooked, as this coach is being recruited with the express purpose of appealing to LeBron James.
As much as the very letter of the Collective Bargain Agreement, and David Stern himself, would love to see players stick with their current teams, there's always the "what have you done for me lately" or "is the grass greener?" factor at play. What the Cavs have going for them: LeBron knows them so well. What the Cavs have working against them: LeBron knows them so well. Especially after the way this season ended -- even if you blame it on all LBJ, dude wants to move ahead as if that hadn't been the case. He'll be looking to clean up, or just burn off, that blemish.
What you get, then, is an artificial distance between the franchise, and the city, James has long called home. Things didn't end so well, he shouldn't be swayed by emotion alone, and through the mini-max, LeBron made it quite clear that it was on Ferry to give him a team he could win with. That they came so close only makes it a harder sell; who is to say that this roster hasn't maxed out its potential?
Cleveland has more sentimentality behind its sails, in strict basketball terms, the Cavs probably have more to prove to Bron than any non-lottery team. Nowhere is this more apparent than in how they approach their coaching search.
As Ziller explained earlier, the Cavs currently have Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, and Tom Izzo at the top of their list. That's not a list, it's a roll-call of the most talked-about coaches in the game of basketball, at any level. It is, to put it bluntly, the ultimate showroom approach to luring back Cleveland's favorite son. Forget that doofy local newscaster anthem; that works against everything the Cavs need to consider here.
Imagine James being lead into a sterile white showroom, where he finds Phil Jackson and Chris Bosh, seated next to each other and diagramming out plays together. James would be forced to stay because the Cavaliers have put together an offer he can't refuse. Who knows what could happen if Jeff Van Gundy steps into that room. Byron Scott is a name, but not a selling point. He would almost be an admission of defeat -- "hey, at least we have Byron Scott as our coach" -- if Scott would even be interested in a post-James Cavs.
The long run of assistants and sleepers that follow would suggest an entirely different kind of dynamic; bring in a name lesser than LeBron -- that is, sell him on that candidate -- and there would be an assumption that James helped pick the coach. Or at very least, approved him. Would that cause problems in the locker room? I don't even know what that phrase means. Yet you have to wonder if the image-conscious James wants to be seen as trying to control the team, or his coach.
That's how Cleveland differs from all other teams. Its roster will come under greater scrutiny -- again, either James gives it the warts-and-all treatment that only he can, or it's reworked and laid out as simply the strongest option. And the same thing goes for the entire package, including the choice of coach. The Bulls, Heat, and any other suitor you feel like discussing, has the advantage of being somewhere else.
That might seem like a purely academic point, but consider: Do we actually know if James will mesh with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah? No, but we're hearing from the POTUS that it's a perfect match. Secondly, it's a not a given that Chicago will go all out to get a coach James wants, or try to blow him out of the water with their hire by choosing glitz above all else. That franchise is an option, on its own track.
Mike D'Antoni likely was part of the Knicks master plan to bring LeBron James to Madison Square Garden. However, D'Antoni inviting James to New York, and proposing they have a magical adventure together, is quite different from Cleveland either bowling over LeBron with walking Hall of Fame plaques, or giving him Brownie Redux -- a tactician who at the end of the day, leaves the leadership to his star player. To throw out another team, and thus start down the path to rehashing every possible free agency scenario, Miami's this way whether Erik Spoelstra sticks around or Pat Riley stages another junta from within.
Heck, even if the Nets were to succeed in getting James and, say, Cal, to call Newark/Brooklyn home, it would be an alliance in a strange land. Not the latter having to be perfect so that the former will stick around and ... be perfect.
And that's why, in the end, LeBron finds himself in the same position as the Cavs. Yes, Cleveland will be ecstatic if he stays. But after that initial shock wears off, the team will be expected to pick up where it left off. No honeymoon period, no growing pains, no getting to know a new system or teammates. Cleveland may be in the toughest position with regard to James.
Unfortunately, even if they clear that hurdle, they can't get around the fact that LeBron himself might be looking for something of a fresh start, or at least some room to breathe.