All posts by David Friedman

David Friedman is a freelance writer specializing in professional basketball. His work has been published in several magazines, including Hoop, Lindy's Pro Basketball, Basketball Times and Basketball Digest. He has also contributed to, and and his articles are frequently reprinted at Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA). Friedman wrote the chapter about the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America (Haworth Press, 2005). Check out his basketball blog: 20 Second Timeout
Oakland raiders

Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots Prediction, Pick & Spread

The Oakland Raiders (0-2) travel across the country to play the New England Patriots (1-1) for a 1 p.m. start on Sunday in week three of the NFL season. In each of their losses, the Raiders have scored a total of 14 points, as they went down to the New York Jets and the Houston Texans. In week one, New England was surprised by Miami, losing 33-20, while in the second week, the Pats hammered the Vikings 30-7.

This is a year when you can’t expect much from Oakland. They have a decent amount of rebuilding to do on offense and need a lot of help in stopping the run on defense.

It says something about a NFL team when their quarterback leads the team in passing and rushing. But that’s the way that it is with the Raiders. Rookie QB Derek Carr has gained 57 yards in 5 attempts for an average of 11.4 yards per carry. His passing record includes 3 TDs and 2 picks. His top two receivers, James Jones and Mychal Rivera, have more fumbles (4 with 3 lost) than touchdowns (3).

There are five players who have double digit tackle numbers, three are linebackers and the other two are in the secondary. This is a team that is solid against the pass (2nd), but they cannot stop the run (32nd). Safety Tyvon Branch leads the team with a total of 19 tackles, while linebacker Sio Moore is second with 18.

This looks to be a tough trip for Oakland, a team that has been on a long and winding road in this early part of the season. Perhaps they can beat the Patriots with their defense?

It’s no secret that Tom Brady is getting older. He’s leading the 27th ranked passing game in the league. The running game at 16th isn’t much better. However, the Pats proved against the Vikings last week that they are capable of putting a lot of points on the scoreboard.

Tom Brady is completing just 55.8% of his passes. That’s well below what he is capable of, and you should see that percentage rise over the season. This week he goes up against a team that has one thing going for it, pass D. Expect the Pats to wear down Oakland with their running attack, which features Steven Ridley (33 ATT, 122 YDS, 3.5 AVG) and Shane Vereen (13 ATT, 76 YDS, 5.8 AVG). Receiver Julian Edelman (12 rec, 176 YDS, 14.7 YPC) also has 30 yards in three carries. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be a big force as a pass catcher. Each of the four players named has scored a touchdown this season.

The New England secondary has improved a lot since last season. The squad has a total of five interceptions. The defense has also made seven sacks. LB Jerod Mayo has notched two sacks and 19 tackles total, while LB Dont’a Hightower, who also has two sacks, has posted nine tackles. Overall, this is a tough defense that can shut down opponents.

The Pats play at Gillette Stadium where they rarely lose. If the game comes down to a field goal, placekicker Stephen Gostkowski is five of five with four of those scores coming from between 40 and 49 yards.

The Patriots are 15.5-point favorites. From what’s on paper that may seem right on target. But New England will win by the margin they need to and not according to what handicappers think. Brady may have some problems with the Oakland secondary, but New England has a lot of weapons, and the Raiders cannot defuse them all. Look for a New England win.

What Have We Learned During “LeBron-a-Palooza”?

Until the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinal series between Boston and Cleveland, I had always been very impressed not only with LeBron James’ obvious athletic gifts but also with his work ethic and the way that he seemed to be mature beyond his years. James seemed to “get it”: James avoided off court trouble, did not disrespect his coaches and teammates and he worked very hard to improve his main skill set weaknesses (defense, perimeter shooting, free throw shooting). James evolved from an All-Star to one of the league’s five best players to someone who was almost Kobe Bryant’s equal to someone who surpassed Bryant in terms of regular season productivity/consistency.

LeBron James

My perception of James shifted after game two of the Boston series: the Cavs lost 104-86 at home and James looked lifeless for most of the contest, though he made his boxscore numbers somewhat respectable with a late scoring burst during garbage time. Anyone can have a bad game, but things really got weird during the postgame press conferences when Coach Mike Brown came out ranting, raving and (literally) cussing about how poor the team’s effort was only to have James follow him to the podium and act as if nothing was wrong. In my game recap I wrote:

Are Brown and James playing “good cop, bad cop” with the other Cavs? Or is Brown’s message about the team’s lack of intensity simply not resonating with James and the other players? We will not know the answer to that question until we see what happens in game three. It is incumbent on James to not only put up big numbers in that contest but to also play with a sense of commitment and intensity that commands/inspires his teammates to likewise display energy, focus and passion. Kobe Bryant is often criticized for harshly calling out his teammates but his leadership style has a proven track record of success: three championships won alongside O’Neal (when Bryant’s burning desire and work ethic provided a necessary contrast to O’Neal’s more laid-back approach) plus a Finals appearance in 2008 and a championship in 2009. If the combination of James’ calm demeanor and Brown’s demonstrable anger drives the Cavs to victory in game three then that is all good–but if the Cavs do not respond appropriately then there will be reason to question if James’ casual response to the game two loss struck the right tone.

James and the Cavs bounced back in game three but that only proved to be a temporary reprieve that was soon followed by a horrifically passive effort by James in game five; James simply quit during that pivotal contest and there is no other way to put it: this has nothing to do with numbers (though his numbers were terrible, too) and everything to do with the total disinterest that he displayed, simply giving up the ball and standing so far away from the hoop that he did not even represent a viable threat. Though James put up better numbers and seemed to try a little harder in game six, that contest ended disgracefully as the Cleveland players literally quit en masse with the outcome still potentially up for grabs: when no Cav bothered to commit a foul to force the Celtics to make free throws to ice the game, ESPN’s Mark Jackson declared with disgust, “This smells to me of quitting. You’ve given up.” I cannot ever recall seeing a team just throw in the towel near the end of an elimination game if the remotest possibility of victory still existed—but James set the tone in game five and everyone else followed his lead after that.

Despite all of the talk about James’ mystery elbow ailment, MRI tests revealed nothing more than a bruise and there is no indication that James required any special treatment after the Cavs’ season prematurely ended; throughout the Boston series, James was tossing half court shots before games with his “bad” elbow, so it is hard to believe that he was experiencing a serious problem.

What do the preceding paragraphs have to do with James’ much anticipated upcoming announcement? Prior to the Boston series, I believed that James was very focused on winning multiple championships and I did not see any advantage that he could gain by leaving his hometown team that could pay him more than any other team and that had an owner who is willing to spend a lot of money, a general manager who continually upgraded the roster’s talent/depth and a defensive-minded coach who had guided the team to the 2007 NBA Finals plus the best regular season record in 2009 and 2010. Even though James clearly has always loved attention and craved the idea of being courted by various franchises, I had always thought that for all of the above reasons he would re-sign with the Cavs and I repeatedly said that I thought that James would be foolish to become Captain of the Gotham Titanic, the destination that so many broadcasters/journalists assumed/hoped that James would select.

After the Boston series, the Cavs made Coach Mike Brown and–to a lesser extent–General Manager Danny Ferry the fall guys for the team’s failure to win a championship. James has no right to be disappointed with the quality of the team’s roster: it is known that he gave at least tacit approval to the various transactions that Ferry made and it is also obvious that Ferry had a figurative gun to his head precisely because James did not sign a long term deal in order to create this free agency frenzy this summer; Ferry had to try to put together a championship caliber team on the fly instead of having the freedom to develop young players who could assume larger roles over time. Ferry did a remarkably good job of continuing to upgrade the roster despite the deadline looming over his head.

Many people had assumed that none of the major free agent dominoes would fall into place until James announced his decision but James will actually be among the last of the “top tier” players to act because Amare Stoudemire has already agreed to sign with the New York Knicks and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be teaming up as members of the Miami Heat. Wade and Bosh have both publicly said that they are willing to sacrifice because their primary goal is to win “multiple championships”; Bosh may be giving up $30 million or so to go to Miami if Toronto does not agree to a sign and trade deal and both players may end up reducing their scoring averages. Meanwhile, Stoudemire is clearly trying to recruit James to come to New York and Stoudemire is boasting that next summer he will be able to entice other star players—most notably Tony Parker—to join the Knicks.

James has been conspicuously tightlipped about what his ultimate goals are and/or what he would be willing to sacrifice to obtain those goals but it is fascinating to consider what his decision will say about him. The first and most obvious point regarding all of these players is that it is difficult to take seriously any statement suggesting that winning is the top priority: if that were the case, then each of these guys would have been lining up to sign with the Lakers for the mid-level exception. The Lakers have been to the Finals three straight times and won back to back championships, so the addition of any “top tier” guy would significantly boost the team’s overall talent and depth, but the reality is that all of these guys want to make max money—or as close to it as possible.

New Jersey Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov offered an insightful take after meeting with James; Prokhorov speculated that James will not join Wade and Bosh in Miami because even though the Heat could win two or three titles in that scenario it would “damage LeBron James’ brand” to win championships as part of such a powerful trio. Basically, Prokhorov is saying that James would rather win fewer—or no—championships than to possibly be surrounded by so much talent that his greatness will not be endlessly praised, as if Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are somehow diminished because they each played with multiple Hall of Famers.

By the way, I am not convinced that Wade and Bosh—or even James, Wade and Bosh—will automatically make Miami the best team in the East, let alone the NBA. Championship teams generally need not only two legitimate stars but they also must have a supporting cast of solid role players; the Lakers have little bench strength other than inconsistent quasi-starter Lamar Odom but their starting lineup includes two All-Stars (Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol) plus a former All-Star/Defensive Player of the Year (Ron Artest), a solid center (Andrew Bynum) and a wily, clutch veteran point guard (Derek Fisher). Miami’s plan, at least for next season, appears to be to surround two or three stars with a bunch of minimum wage (by NBA standards) players—and that formula may be good enough to win 55 games and a couple playoff series but it will not work against championship level teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Magic (or even the Cavaliers if James stays put).

Here are James’ most likely options and what each choice would reveal about James’ mindset:

5) New York Knicks: Even with the Stoudemire signing it still does not make much sense for James to go to New York if his number one goal is winning. The Knicks have absolutely no depth, plus Stoudemire is not legitimately a max level talent and there is a very real risk that the injuries to Stoudemire’s knees and/or eyes will curtail his effectiveness in the near future (that is why the Phoenix Suns did not want to give him max money even though he played so well down the stretch last season). Also, Coach Mike D’Antoni’s preferred style of high octane offense combined with tepid defense is not a championship winning methodology. If James goes to New York then he is choosing glitz, glamour and what he perceives to be potential marketing opportunities over winning.

4) New Jersey Nets: The Nets had the league’s worst record last season, so even though they hired an excellent coach (Avery Johnson) and even though their talent base is not quite as bad as their putrid record suggests they still are clearly not a championship caliber team even if James comes aboard. Prokhorov has vowed to make the Nets into a championship team within five years and many people are wowed by his huge personal fortune but it is important to remember that he amassed his money in Russia by buying assets at depreciated prices in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union—essentially, he profited from insider deals because he formed alliances with powerful members of the government. It is far from certain that the “talents” Prokhorov used to become a billionaire are applicable toward building an NBA championship team. If James signs with the Nets then he is saying that his top priority is to leverage Prokhorov and Jay Z’s visibility to become a “global icon.”

3) Chicago Bulls: The Bulls already have a nice nucleus in place with Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer (who has said that he will sign with Chicago), Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. New Coach Tom Thibodeau is a highly regarded defensive-minded assistant coach who helped the Celtics to win the 2008 title and reach the 2010 NBA Finals but he has never held a head coaching job at the NBA level. Adding James would clearly make the Bulls one of the top four teams in the East but it is doubtful that the Bulls could beat the Celtics or Magic in a seven game playoff series if those teams are at full strength. Chicago is a more likely destination for James than New York or New Jersey if James’ top priority is winning but Chicago will not have the raw talent of the Bosh/Wade duo or the deep roster that has propelled the Cavs to 60-plus wins for two straight seasons.

2) Miami Heat: The Heat offer more star power than any of the other options: Wade and Bosh are in place on the court, while Pat Riley is in the front office (and could very well decide to take over the coaching reigns, just as he did when Wade and Shaquille O’Neal led the Heat to the 2006 championship). If they team up, James, Wade and Bosh will surely say all of the right things about sacrificing and working together but when things get tough who will want the ball in the clutch and who will get it? It is obviously tempting for James to go to Miami to play alongside Wade and Bosh but I think that he should reject that option not because of Prokhorov’s reasoning about “LeBron James’ brand” but because it is not clear how the Heat will fill out their roster; if James returns to Cleveland the Cavs will once again be top level championship contenders even if owner Dan Gilbert does not further upgrade the roster—and there is every reason to believe that the Cavs will find a way to add some more veteran talent to help James. If James goes to Miami this will indicate that he believes that three stars can essentially win a championship by themselves.

1) Cleveland Cavaliers: It has become fashionable in some quarters to act as if James has had no help in Cleveland but the Cavs had enough talent to post the league’s best record the past two seasons while ranking among the league leaders in point differential, defensive field goal percentage and rebounding—clear indications that the team was well coached and had sufficient depth to execute the coach’s game plan. If James is really concerned about his legacy as a great player—as opposed to his ability to market himself or become a “global icon”– then he should stay in Cleveland. Even winning “just” one championship in Cleveland will say a lot about James’ talent and character.

Byron Scott is not necessarily an upgrade over the fired Brown but Scott  is clearly a very good coach who knows how to lead teams to the NBA Finals: the ironic thing about Scott is that other than his credentials as an NBA player his resume is eerily similar to Brown’s: the beat writers in their respective cities asserted that their offenses were largely run by their assistants (John Kuester in Cleveland, Eddie Jordan in New Jersey), they led teams to the NBA Finals but did not win and their tenures ended when it seemed like their teams had quit (Scott’s Hornets were blown out by the Nuggets in the 2009 playoffs by even worse margins than Brown’s Cavs lost to the Celtics last season). Nevertheless, I think that both Brown and Scott have been wrongly criticized and that Scott is a good enough coach to win a championship provided that he has a championship caliber roster. If James remains a Cav then Shaquille O’Neal—one of the few centers who has the size to guard Dwight Howard one on one—will likely also come back and the team will have several veteran, playoff tested All-Stars (James, O’Neal, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and possibly even Zydrunas Ilgauskas). Assuming that Scott maintains the defensive focus that Brown established the Cavs would once again be a 60-plus win team that likely would earn homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. In that scenario, the Cavs should resist the temptation to make wholesale changes the way that they did in the past few seasons and instead simply try to develop more chemistry with their current roster; O’Neal and Jamison hardly had the chance to play together before the Cavs faced the Celtics in the playoffs.

LeBron James has proven many things:

1) He can post numbers that make “stat gurus” drool all over their spreadsheets.
2) He has a unique combination of athletic talent, basketball skill set and high level conditioning that enables him to be a dominant performer throughout the course of the grueling 82 game season.
3) When he feels like it, he can perform at a very high level during postseason play.
4) He has an insatiable desire for attention and praise.
5) He can cause wealthy, famous, accomplished people to figuratively–if not literally–grovel at his feet.

However, LeBron James has not proven one thing that is more important and more substantive than all of these things put together: he has not proven that winning a championship is his all-consuming goal. This is not about whether or not James is capable of being the best player on a championship team: he clearly possesses all of the necessary athletic gifts and basketball skills to do so. The unanswered question is whether or not James is consumed by winning the way that Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were and the way that Kobe Bryant is.

LeBron James and the Cavs developed elaborate pre-game dance routines but we have seen that all of the togetherness that this supposedly represented proved to be meaningless in terms of winning a championship: championships are won by teams with serious-minded, focused leaders. James has had his fun by dominating the airwaves with all of this free agency hoopla but that was just the “pre-game dance routine” for the rest of his career: after he makes his announcement on Thursday he must get down to the hard business of leading a team to a championship. If he fails to do so then his reputation in the minds of serious, knowledgeable basketball observers will never match the ranking that he receives from the “stat gurus.”

Cavs Fire Mike Brown After Best Five Year Run in Franchise History

Mike BrownThe Cleveland Cavaliers have officially fired Coach Mike Brown, an action that surprises no one and certainly delights some misguided fans and media members—the same people, I suspect, who called for Bill Belichick’s head a decade and a half ago. Defense wins championships in pro sports but defensive-minded coaches generally do not “win” press conferences, so media members often turn against such coaches and sometimes the media members succeed in convincing the local fan base that writers, broadcasters and fans venting their frustrations on talk radio know more about coaching than actual coaches do.

Belichick learned his craft under a variety of NFL coaches, helped the New York Giants to win two Super Bowls as their defensive coordinator and then “failed” in Cleveland—if you define inheriting a 3-13 team and transforming them into a squad that won a playoff game just four years later as a “failure”—before creating a dynasty in New England; media members were consistently unimpressed by Belichick until the sheer weight of his successes finally muted their short-sighted and superficial critiques of his wardrobe and his dry press conference statements. Remember how the Cleveland media used to mock Belichick’s play-calling? His New England offenses have been shattering records for years but rather than admitting that they misjudged Belichick the media asserted that Belichick had nothing to do with his team’s explosive offense because he was just relying on Charlie Weis’ genius, a theory that has been refuted in light of Weis’ tenure with Notre Dame. As a last resort, these media members like to assert that Belichick “changed” after he left Cleveland but if you listen to the people who actually know football—the players, coaches and executives—they will tell you that Belichick got a raw deal in Cleveland and that he won in New England with the same basic philosophy that he tried to employ in Cleveland. Does any person with a shred of common sense believe that after Belichick was a great coach in New York he inexplicably turned into a fool in Cleveland before suddenly becoming a genius in New England? Belichick is a football lifer and the people inside the game have respected his knowledge for decades, even when the media had a field day mocking Belichick. Did Belichick learn some things along the way? Of course—it would be foolish to do otherwise—but Belichick’s core football values have been the same for a long time.

Brown’s resume is very similar to Belichick’s: Brown learned his craft under a variety of NBA coaches, he helped the Spurs win an NBA championship (though Brown’s role on that coaching staff was not as prominent as Belichick’s role with the Giants) and then he “failed” in Cleveland—if you define being the most successful head coach (in both the regular season and the playoffs) in franchise history as a “failure.” Media members repeatedly insist that Brown does not know how to coach offense, even though the Cavs ranked third in the NBA in field goal percentage (.485) and ninth in the NBA in scoring (102.1 ppg) in 2009-10; in 2004-05–the season before Brown arrived in Cleveland–the Cavs ranked 15th in field goal percentage and 17th in scoring. It is true that the Cavs have upgraded their roster during that time frame but it is wrong to ignore the fact that the Cavs became an efficient and productive team offensively under Brown’s watch. The self-proclaimed “experts” in Cleveland liked to credit former assistant coach John Kuester with anything that the Cavs did right offensively but in Kuester’s final season with the team (2008-09) the Cavs ranked sixth in field goal percentage and 13th in scoring, so the above rankings show that the Cavs continued to progress offensively even after Kuester departed to become Detroit’s head coach. By the way, Detroit fell from 39-43 to 27-55 under Kuester in 2009-10 and the Pistons ranked worse in both scoring (29th, down from 28th) and field goal percentage (27th, down from 16th). That is not to say that Kuester is wholly—or even mostly—to blame for Detroit’s problems; the point is that some members of the Cleveland media portrayed Kuester as an offensive guru but that has yet to be proven to be true.

When Brown came to Cleveland five years ago, the Cavs had absolutely no history of sustained playoff success nor did the franchise have the right culture to reasonably expect to attain that status. Brown pledged to make the Cavs a defensive-minded team and he was true to his word: in 2004-05, the Cavs ranked 11th in points allowed, 14th in point differential and 18th in defensive field goal percentage; by 2006-07, the Cavs ranked in the top eight in all three categories, in 2008-09 the Cavs ranked first, first and second respectively in those categories and this season the Cavs ranked fifth, second and fourth. Brown not only led the Cavs to the best record in the league the past two years—the first coach to achieve this since Phil Jackson did it with the Jordan-Pippen Bulls in 1996 and 1997—but the Cavs won more than 60 games in both of those seasons. Only 14 teams other than Mike Brown’s Cavs have won at least 60 games in a season since 2000 (the first season after the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign): 2009 Lakers (coached by Phil Jackson), 2009 Celtics (Doc Rivers), 2008 Celtics (Rivers), 2007 Mavericks (Avery Johnson), 2007 Suns (Mike D’Antoni), 2006 Pistons (Flip Saunders), 2006 Spurs (Gregg Popovich), 2006 Mavericks (Johnson), 2005 Suns (D’Antoni), 2004 Pacers (Rick Carlisle), 2003 Spurs (Popovich), 2003 Mavericks (Don Nelson), 2002 Kings (Rick Adelman), 2000 Lakers (Phil Jackson).

Getting rid of a coach is the easiest move to make but now comes the hard part: hiring a coach who will actually do a better job than Brown did, which at this point can mean one thing and one thing only: winning an NBA championship—anything less than that is a failure, because Brown already took the Cavs to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Good luck finding another coach who can guide the Cavs to 60-plus wins, let alone win a championship; fans may think that coaching an NBA team is easy but a team owner should know better.

Brown is a convenient scapegoat but the first thing that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert should have done after the season ended was sit down one on one with LeBron James, pop in a DVD of game five of the Boston series and ask James, “What was that?” There is no doubt that James quit in that game; the only question is why and James is the only person who can answer that. Considering that Kobe Bryant is playing through an assortment of injuries, Steve Nash hardly bats an eye despite taking numerous shots to his face and Kevin Garnett has persevered despite having to drag around his surgically repaired right leg, it really does not make a whole lot of sense to use an elbow “boo-boo” as an excuse—and what, other than “boo-boo,” can you call an injury that does not show up on an MRI, has been officially called a bruise and did not prevent James from firing half court three pointers prior to game six of the Boston series? I am not saying that James was not hurt at all but there is no reason to believe that he is more seriously injured than a whole host of players who are still making contributions to playoff contenders without uttering any complaints or excuses.

Do not buy the nonsense that James quit because he got frustrated at having to do so much just for the Cavs to have a chance to win—when you are a two-time MVP seeking out a max level contract you are quite rightly expected to be highly productive. Kobe Bryant’s supporting cast is constantly praised and yet look at how productive Bryant has to be for the Lakers to win: during this year’s playoffs, the Lakers are 7-1 when Bryant scores at least 30 points but they are just 3-2 when he scores 24 points or less. During the 2009 playoffs, the Lakers went 7-1 when Bryant scored at least 33 points (including 4-0 when he scored at least 40 points) but they went just 8-6 when he scored 32 points or less, including 1-2 when he scored 20 points or less. The Lakers went 6-2 when Bryant scored at least 33 points in the 2008 playoffs but they were just 8-5 when he scored 32 points or less, including 2-3 when he scored 24 points or less.

The bottom line is that no matter how good a team’s supporting cast is—or how good it is purported to be—teams ultimately rise or fall based on how well their best player performs: to cite just one other example, in the 2003 NBA Finals, Tim Duncan had David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson alongside him but in the clinching game Duncan rang up 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocked shots. So, yes, it is true that James has put up some awesome individual numbers but that does not “prove” that he lacks help; the great players who came before LeBron James and won championships all put up monster numbers during their title runs and James will have to do likewise in order to win his first championship.

It is also very weak that James is conveniently “on vacation” and thus unavailable to make any comment in the wake of Brown’s firing. Does James really think that he can remove his fingerprints from the “crime” simply by being silent? As the team’s leader, he should make some kind of public statement; it would be nice if James had enough humility and honesty to admit that Brown’s emphasis on defense played a large role in helping him to develop into a top flight defensive player.

Unfortunately, just like James stalked off without talking to the media in the wake of Cleveland’s loss to Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, he left it up to his teammates to respond to the firing of the most successful coach in Cavs’ history. Point guard Mo Williams emphatically defended Brown: “Do I think he deserved it? No. My question is: Who’s out there that’s better? He’s not a bad coach. To fire him, that’s making a big statement. After him, you have to get a Hall of Fame coach. I thought we prematurely acted on our emotions, as an organization. I think he did a good job. If anything, bring in a veteran assistant. I think we just could have gotten better instead of blowing it all up. Now we’re starting over.”

Williams makes an excellent point, because Hank Egan once told me that it takes until “deep into your second year” before a team has completely internalized a new coaching’s staff’s system. Assuming that the Cavs fired Brown in order to fundamentally change their system, it will likely take until well into the 2011-12 season before the Cavs are completely in tune with the new way of doing things.

Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas echoed Williams’ sentiments: “Obviously, we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve, which is to win a championship. But if you’re going to lay all the blame on Coach Brown and think that’s going to solve everything, you’ve got another thing coming. I think we’re all at fault–the players, everybody. You have to, at some point, accept some of the responsibility. We all have to do that. A coach only can take you so far. At some point you have to do it yourself and we didn’t do it. I think Coach Brown will be fine. He’ll be coaching again, and I’m very sure he’ll have success.”

It is interesting that when the whole Orlando Magic team seemed to quit in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics the players received the brunt of the blame; the only person who criticized Coach Stan Van Gundy was Van Gundy himself in his postgame press conference. Yet Mike Brown has been fired, in essence, because LeBron James quit in game five versus Boston and Dan Gilbert apparently believes that the Cavs have a better chance of retaining James’ services by cutting ties with Brown. Gilbert and the entire Cavs organization have bent over backwards for five years to please James and James responded by quitting in the most important game of the season, hanging his coach out to dry in the process.

I’ll leave the last word to Ilgauskas. Many people speculated that Ilgauskas had a beef with Coach Brown after Brown did not play Ilgauskas at all on a night when Ilgauskas had invited family members to watch him set the franchise record for most games played (Ilgauskas eventually did set the mark) but Ilgauskas had nothing but positive things to say about Brown, concluding with these words: “I just have this funny feeling that they might come to regret this decision, unless they go for Phil Jackson or something. You can throw all the names you want at the wall, but the reality is different. I’ve been through a lot of coaches and coaching staffs and, trust me, they’re not all that good.”

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