CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert felt he made a big mistake when he fired Mike Brown as his coach in 2010.
That didn’t stop him from doing it again.
Brown’s second shot with the Cavs ended Monday after one just one season as Gilbert dismissed the only Cleveland coach who has ever made it to the NBA finals.
Brown had been re-hired last April by Gilbert, who regretted dismissing him four years earlier. While the Cavs’ record improved and they made strides defensively under Brown this season, the club missed the playoffs again and Gilbert decided it was time to make another change.
“This is a very tough business,” Gilbert said in a statement. “It pains all of us here that we needed to make the difficult decision of releasing Mike Brown. Mike worked hard over this last season to move our team in the right direction. Although, there was some progress from our finish over the few prior seasons, we believe we need to head in a different direction. We wish Mike and his family nothing but the best.”
In addition to firing Brown, Gilbert announced he’s retaining David Griffin as the club’s full-time general manager. Griffin had been the interim GM since Feb. 6, when Gilbert fired Chris Grant one day after the Cavs lost to a Los Angeles Lakers team which finished the game with just five eligible players.
Gilbert said Griffin would lead the search for Brown’s successor. It’s not known what input Griffin had in Brown’s firing.
Griffin has ties to former Phoenix executive Steve Kerr, who is one of New York president Phil Jackson’s top choices to take over the Knicks. Griffin also has worked with Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry. Other coaches who could get consideration for the Cavs’ opening include Mark Jackson and George Karl.
Brown had four years remaining on his $20 million contract. Brown, who was fired last year by the Lakers five games into his second season, could not be reached for comment.
Brown went 272-138 in his first stint with Cleveland. Led by superstar LeBron James, the Cavs made the finals for the first time in 2007 and were title contenders throughout Brown’s tenure. However, they didn’t advance past the Eastern Conference semifinals four years ago and Brown was let go.
At the time, it appeared Gilbert was making the move – and hiring Byron Scott as coach – to appease James and hopefully keep him in Cleveland. James, though, decided to leave as a free agent for Miami, where he is chasing his straight third NBA title with the Heat.
“It’s just a tough business. I mean, that’s all it is. It’s a tough business and, you know, Mike Brown got the short end of a tough business,” James said.
Gilbert brought back Brown to fix Cleveland’s defense, and the Cavs improved, moving from last in the league in field-goal percentage to 12th. But the offense never flowed like it should and the Cavs didn’t make a late playoff push despite a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Cleveland’s players didn’t care for Brown’s defense-first philosophy and there seemed to be a disconnect between the Cavs and the coaching staff.
Brown seemed resigned to his fate following the season finale, when he said he would support whatever decision Gilbert made.
“It’s his team,” Brown said.
Cleveland went 17-16 under Griffin, who worked as Grant’s assistant before being promoted. Gilbert said he interviewed several other candidates before deciding to remove the “interim” from Griffin’s title.
“We chose David as our GM because we believe he is the best person to lead our franchise at this critical time and into the future,” Gilbert said. “David brings over two decades of experience. He knows the ins and outs of this league as well as anyone and is also an outstanding talent evaluator.”
The Cavaliers will hold a news conference on Tuesday at the team’s facility in Independence.
Gilbert had high praise for Griffin, who previously worked in Phoenix’s front office before coming to Cleveland.
“He is a general manager who is aligned with our culture and philosophy which is the foundation of how we do business,” Gilbert said. “David is not only passionate about his own job but also cares deeply about the success of everyone around him. His presence alone creates an infectious positive environment with players, coaches, front office people and even our fan base. We already saw some progress in the short time David led our basketball side in the latter part of this past season. Clearly, we have substantial work ahead of us and I am confident that Griff will play an essential part of the growth and success of our organization.”
While the Cavs showed signs of progress with Brown, he was unable to get one of the league’s youngest teams to play consistently. His replacement will have a similar challenge, assuming Griffin doesn’t do a complete overhaul to Cleveland’s roster.
The Cavs are entering a critical summer. They’ll once again be in the draft lottery and the club is expected to be active in free agency. The team must also decide whether to offer Irving a maximum contract extension in July.