The Cavaliers are seeking a respected, defensive-minded, hard-working teacher to be their next coach.
Those words describe Mike Brown, their former coach.
He could be their new one, too.
Brown, who along with superstar LeBron James led the Cavs to their greatest heights before he was fired three years ago, is one of the candidates the team intends to speak with as it looks to replace Byron Scott. The Cavs are in the initial stages of their coaching search after firing Scott, who went 64-166 in three seasons.
Brown’s return — once thought too far-fetched — is a distinct possibility.
Brown is close friends with Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant, who would not answer a direct question about the team’s former coach during a news conference to announce Scott’s dismissal on Thursday. Grant, though, made it clear the Cavs need to improve defensively and would bring in a coach “who is strong defensively with proven systems.”
Brown’s forte is defense and during his time with Cleveland the Cavs developed into a sound defensive team, but one that relied on James to carry them offensively. James has credited Brown with making him a better defensive player and the current Cavs need some defensive discipline after finishing ranked last in the league in defense.
Scott Skiles, Stan Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Mike Dunleavy are among the former NBA coaches who may be on the radar of Grant and owner Dan Gilbert, who will have an active role in the search to find Scott’s successor.
Grant would like to get a coach in place as soon as possible, but won’t rush the process. One of his first calls will likely be to Brown, who was fired just five games into this season by the Los Angeles Lakers. Coincidentally, and not related to Scott’s dismissal, Brown is planning to move his family back to the Cleveland area.
Brown wants to be close enough to watch his son, Elijah, play at Butler. The youngster recently committed to playing for the Bulldogs next season. Brown’s younger son, Cameron, has remained close to the friends he made while his dad coached the Cavs and intends to finish high school in Cleveland.
If the Cavs, with their young roster, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and future assets to build around, call him, Brown will listen.
“I’m not rushing to get back to (coaching),” he told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Whether it’s the Cavs situation or anybody else, it has to feel right for both sides. If they call, I wouldn’t hang up the phone. I’d definitely listen to what anybody has to say. But then you have to decide if it’s the right situation for myself, my family and the organization.”
Gilbert may want to make a big splash with his next coaching hire. He pursued Michigan State’s Tom Izzo three years ago before the long-time Spartans coach decided to stay at the school.
Gilbert’s wealth — Forbes recently estimated his net worth at $3.5 billion — could allow him to outbid other teams for candidates, and the right price could even be enticing to someone like Phil Jackson.
With a record 11 NBA coaching titles, Jackson has hinted that he might come back for the right situation. Cleveland may not be the Zen Master’s kind of place but Gilbert could make it seem a lot nicer with a mammoth salary, the promise to be active in free agency and perhaps the chance James could return in a year or two.
Cavs forward Luke Walton, who played for Jackson with the Lakers, wouldn’t rule out Jackson as a possibility.
“I get surprised every day in this league,” he said. “But we’re a pretty young team right here right now for coach Jackson to come back. I would be surprised if he’d come to such a young team on that side of the process. But I get shocked every day in this league, so I won’t say it’s not going to happen.”