The Golden State Warriors are one step closer to avenging last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A lot of the credit can go to interim Head Coach Mike Brown who has filled in better than expected. Since taking over for the out of commission Steve Kerr after Game 2 versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Brown has led the Warriors to an undefeated record in the playoffs and a trip to their third straight Finals.
Brown is more than qualified to be put in this position as the head man. He got his start in the NBA dating all the way back to 1997 where he served as an assistant for the Washington Wizards. He then moved on to become an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for the 2001-2002 seasons, just missing out on a championship ring when the Spurs won the title in 2003. Brown would later get hired onto Indiana’s coaching staff with both Isiah Thomas and Rick Carlisle at the helm. Brown would serve in Indiana for two seasons before getting the call from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Mike Brown got his first crack at being the head coach when he took over for Brenden Mahone. In his first year as a coach, Brown was blessed with a basketball prodigy in the bloom of his youth, LeBron James. Within the first two seasons as Cleveland’s coach, Brown posted two consecutive 50-32 seasons. In that second year, Cleveland would make it to the NBA finals to eventually be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
It was clear that Brown was building a winning culture, specifically around James. Brown was never able to reach the finals again in his tenure as the coach, despite gathering regular season records of 61-21 and an astounding 66-16. After a Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic team surprised the NBA world and defeated Cleveland in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, it was a disgruntled star in James who appealed for a personnel change. Owner Dan Gilbert took the side of James and Mike Brown’s time with Cleveland was over…or was it? In his first 5 years as a head coach for Cleveland, Brown posted an overall record (regular and post-season) of 314-167, a 65% winning percentage.
A Chance in Laker-land
After the Los Angeles Lakers had repeated as champions in 2010 after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7, the hopes of a three-peat were in their sights. Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, who contemplated retirement following the victory, decided to give it one more year and go for his third career three-peat. It did not work out as planned and it was time for Jackson to ride off into the sunset and for the Lakers to move on. Los Angeles then turned their attention to finding Jackson’s predecessor,.
Brown would catch a lot of flak for trying to change what worked for the Lakers in previous seasons…the offense. Brown wanted to institute the Princeton offense which focuses on the fluidity of movement within its players. While the Lakers had already been so familiar with the triangle offense, changing an entire offense seemed disastrous from day one. Brown, clearly was not hired in Los Angeles for his offensive prowess, but rather his defensive philosophy for which he built his career reputation on.
Brown’s postseason woes continued with the Lakers. The Lakers ran into a young and upstart Oklahoma City Thunder team which they did not have any answers for. The Thunder, with the three-headed monster of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, eliminated the Lakers in 5 games and Brown was put on the hot seat heading into the off-season after just one year. Only five games into the following season, Brown was relieved of his duties after starting 1-4. His overall record with the Lakers would come to 47-36, a 56% winning percentage.
Reunion in Cleveland
It may have been short-lived, but Brown’s return to Cleveland was a chance for him to prove his worth as a coach. Brown previously had been employed and given teams with rosters labeled as ‘contenders’ with either LeBron or Kobe running the show. In his second stint in Cleveland, Brown was given the task of developing the young talent without a superstar and to try and bring his winning ways back to the city of Cleveland. The 2013-2014 Cavaliers had with it two number one overall picks in Anthony Bennett and Kyrie Irving to go along with players like Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and a proven yet injury-plagued big man in Andrew Bynum.
Although Brown was not able to reach the post-season for the first time in his career that season, he was able to gather a 33-49 record and give Cleveland hopes of a possible return to glory. Brown was out of the job at the end of the season and wouldn’t find his way back onto an NBA staff until this past year when Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, hired him.
So what is next for Mike Brown?
If Brown can keep on winning in Steve Kerr’s absence and Golden State raises the Larry O’Brien trophy, Mike Brown may be next year’s, Luke Walton. However, if he sees it more fit to stay on as an assistant for Golden State, his name will be on the short list of coaches when a more appealing vacancy on the coaching carousel opens up elsewhere in the league.
If there was ever a team that would want to take a chance on Brown, a logical fit would be the Denver Nuggets. Mike Malone is held in high regards by the Denver front office and his contract runs through the 2018-2019 season. Malone’s contract holds a team option in his final year with them and if the Nuggets and Malone do not deliver soon and are not trending in the right direction Malones services will most likely be cut off, regardless of his strong ties to the front office.
With the future possibility of the Nuggets having a vacancy at the head coach position, Brown would jump at the opportunity to lead the talent they currently have on the roster. With players like Nikola Jokic and Emmanual Mudiay already developing into some of the league’s best young players, the guidance and experience that Brown has gathered in his storied career seem to be a match made for success. Even if Brown may not find success right away, his impact on players like Jokic, Mudiay, and even Jamal Murray will prove to work tremendously for the Denver franchise going forward.