General Managers eyeing Varejao and Ramon Sessions

According to sources, Anderson Varejao and point guard Ramon Sessions are generating interest from general mangers around the league and could be traded by the March 15 trade deadline.

Cavaliers aren’t believed to be shopping the fan favorite, but contenders looking for an energetic big man will no doubt call the rebuilding franchise with offers.

“It would have to be an unbelievable person to get back,” Scott said. “I look at him as one of the guys you look at and say, ‘He’s not going anywhere.’ I just feel he’s that valuable and feel that strongly about him and what he means to this team.”

Varejao, 29, has three more seasons on a priced-to-move deal worth $27 million. The Cavaliers likely could get a first-round pick and perhaps a young center in return from some club looking for a valuable reserve post man.

The Brazilian would have been in demand last season as well if he had not torn a tendon in his ankle in a Jan. 6 practice. With injuries piling up, Scott recalls talking of how they could ill afford to lose Varejao on Jan. 5.

“I guess I should have kept my mouth shut,” he said. “Words can’t express how good it is to have Andy on the team because of what he means to the team and what he brings.”

Varejao is averaging 9.1 points and ranks ninth in the NBA with 10.1 rebounds.

However, Varejao appears commited to the Cavaliers:

“I’m focusing on staying healthy and helping this team,” Varejao said. “Leadership is the way you act not only on the court but the way you do things during the games, after the games and before the games.”

Varejao has been a fan favorite but you might suddenly see him playing with another team while playing poker online or with your friends.


Fresh Start for Cavs Brings Hope for a New Future

The Cleveland Cavaliers are coming off a 19-63 season which was no surprise as they were picked to be among the worst teams by those who know that NBA betting is the place to look for lines after the loss of LeBron James to the Miami Heat.

The process of rebuilding the franchise may be shorter than originally expected however as the Cavaliers will have a shot to compete in the newly formed NBA that has just completed a labor deal that is hoped to give franchises such as Cleveland the ability to compete with teams like the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.

The face of the franchise for the immediate appears to be point guard Baron Davis, who was rumored for “amnesty” status but appears to be set to stay with the Cavaliers.  Davis adds a much needed “big name” presence as well as the ability to dish the ball around.  Last year Davis split time between the LA Clippers and Cavaliers.  He averaged 14 points per game for the Cavaliers along with 6.1 assists per outing.

Head coach Byron Scott will have plenty of work ahead of him as he begins to assess one of the youngest rosters in pro basketball as the Cavaliers have done a complete makeover of their roster since the departure of King James.  Cleveland does not appear to be a team interested in quick fixes through free agency and instead will look to build a new foundation through the draft in the years ahead.

Cleveland General Manager Chris Grant acknowledges that there are more questions than answers as training camps in the NBA open.  The Cavaliers drafted Duke point guard Kyrie Irving and Texas power forward Tristan Thompson last summer and both are expected to get extended looks and opportunities for playing time.  Omri Casspi was acquired from Sacramento to add strength to the front court.

It took the Cavs most of last season to catch on to Scott’s offense as they ranked 29th in the NBA, which is not encouraging but with the new blood on the roster and being a year removed from “The Decision,” Cleveland has a new chance to remake itself and rebuild credibility with their fans and the league.  While there are plenty of questions and much to learn about the Cavs, most people who know that NBA betting is the place to look for lines do agree the worst is behind this franchise.

When Will You Be Able to Bet on NBA Basketball?

The first two weeks of the NBA regular season have been cancelled and the prospects for ending the NBA lockout do not appear promising.  When will you be able to bet on NBA Basketball again?  Let’s take a look at the NBA lockout, the issues and what would happen in a shortened season.

The NBA normally plays an 82-game schedule but not many fans will get too excited as long as the league plays at least a 50-game season. The last time the league had a work stoppage was in 1998-99 and the league played a 50-game regular season.  The Knicks actually finished 27-23 that season and ended up in the NBA Finals where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.

NBA Games Next Year – Maybe

If you are holding out hope that the NBA owners and players will get together and the league will only lose two weeks of the season then you better face reality.  Listen to what former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. “Over the next couple of months, I don’t think you’re going to see what is perceived as progress,” Granik said. “Both sides have drawn a line in the sand. At best, you’ve got to hope for a replay of what happened in 1998-99.”

There are two main issues keeping the sides from coming to a new deal, the split of revenue and a hard salary cap. The owners want the players to get 47% of revenue, down from their current 57% while the players are willing to go down to 53%.  The owners might be willing to go to 50-50 but that idea was rejected by the players so owners have gone back to the 47% figure.  The players are also opposed to any form of a hard salary cap system that the owners say they must have.

The year’s NBA Basketball calendar is quite uncertain as the owners are not going to budge on their demands, especially when it has been reported that more than half of the NBA teams are losing money.  Many owners will lose less money by not playing.  The only way the NBA lockout will end is if the players give in to most of what the owners demand.  That is not going to happen anytime soon.  The best case scenario has the two sides coming together in 2012 to save a short season but there is a real chance the entire 2011-2012 NBA betting season could be lost.

Dan Gilbert STRONG reaction to Lebron’s betrayal

The Cavaliers owner didn’t wait long to issue a very strong statement calling Lebron’s action during the free agency and his “decision” as “cowardly betrayal”. He went also to promise Cavaliers fans an NBA championship before the self-proclaimed “king” get one.

Here is his statement which you can also read on

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.

The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.

There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.

You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


You can take it to the bank.

If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our “motivation” to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown “chosen one” sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And “who” we would want them to grow-up to become.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called “curse” on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former “King” will be taking the “curse” with him down south. And until he does “right” by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland.

Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day….

I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:

DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue….

Dan Gilbert
Majority Owner
Cleveland Cavaliers

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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What is Wrong With the Cavs?

Entering this year’s playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to be primed for success while the aging Boston Celtics had been little better than a .500 team for the greater portion of the regular season (27-24 in the final 51 games). The Cavs were nearly unbeatable at home while the Celtics were uncharacteristically vulnerable in Boston and displayed a propensity for blowing big leads. All of the trends suggested that the Cavs should beat the Celtics and TNT’s Charles Barkley even declared that Cleveland could sweep Boston. I did not predict a sweep but I expected the Cavs to eliminate Boston in fewer than seven games, a result that is now impossible in the wake of the Cavs’ embarrassing 120-88 home loss in game five, the second consecutive time that the Celtics have routed the Cavs in Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics deserve credit for playing some of their best basketball in recent memory, with Rajon Rondo operating at a very high level and Kevin Garnett looking healthier than he has all year, but with all due respect to Boston it is obvious that the Cavs are playing well below their normal standard.

Prior to the series, I said that the Celtics’ one decisive matchup advantage would be Rondo versus whoever checked him. I expected LeBron James to have a significant advantage over Paul Pierce and for Shaquille O’Neal to get various Boston bigs into foul trouble. Based on how hobbled Garnett looked this season, I thought that Garnett and Antawn Jamison would be a wash. Ray Allen has an edge over Anthony Parker but I did not expect that margin to be decisive in the series at this stage of Allen’s career. Throughout the season, the Cavs had a much more consistent and productive bench than the Celtics.

After five games, the reality is that Rondo has been the best player in the series, confounding the Cavs to the point that they tried so hard to contain him in game five that they lost track of future Hall of Famers Pierce, Garnett and Allen. Garnett’s postups have been more consistently effective than Jamison’s drives to the hoop, though the Cavs could even out that matchup a bit by providing Jamison with more touches. James is annihilating Pierce overall but in the pivotal fifth game Pierce clearly got the best of James. O’Neal has shot a high percentage from the field (.510) and the free throw line (.690, a very good number for him) and has delivered all that could reasonably be expected from him in the “Big Bill Cartwright” role. Parker and others have done a credible job versus Allen, though—like Pierce—Allen did break out in game five.

It is easy to blame Coach Mike Brown for the Cavs’ problems but I do not think that Brown’s game plans are defective. When the Cavs have played hard they have beaten the Celtics but the Celtics dominated when the Cavs played lethargically; NBA players are highly paid professional athletes, so something is seriously wrong if the Cavs need “rah, rah” speeches from Brown in order to be motivated. Brown’s mentor, San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, mocked that very concept during his team’s series versus Phoenix; asked if he would remind his team about some of their earlier playoff successes in order to inspire them after the Suns took a 2-0 series lead, Popovich could not conceal his disdain for the reporter’s ignorance and sarcastically said that he might also ask his team to win one for the Gipper. Providing motivation may be a big deal for high school and college coaches but in the professional ranks the coach’s primary responsibility is to devise the correct game plan for each opponent.

No rational person can reasonably criticize Coach Brown’s capabilities as a game planner; during his tenure he transformed the Cavs into a defensive-minded team even though they have always had several players in their rotation who have limitations/liabilities as individual defenders. Recently, it has become chic to declare that Coach Brown is poor at making in game adjustments but I have yet to hear concrete, reasonable suggestions about what he should do differently. The truth of the matter is that game planning is actually far more important than the vaunted in game adjustments. Great coaches like Phil Jackson use their practices to prepare their players for the most likely eventualities and then those coaches generally sit placidly on the bench during games; most coaches who you see jumping up and down and ranting and raving during games are just putting on a show for the TV cameras. If the players are not properly prepared beforehand then it is doubtful that the coach can make some magical adjustment that will turn things around in the heat of battle; in fact, the best “adjustments” are actually moves that were thought of long before the game began. Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh famously “scripted” a certain number of plays before each game and many fans assumed that this meant that he ran those plays in a predetermined order regardless of the situation but that is silly; what Walsh did is prepare several sets of plays for various contingencies (second and long, third and short, counters to various blitzes, etc.) and then chose from that list as appropriate. The reason he did this is that he learned during his time as a Cincinnati assistant coach that when the weather is freezing and the play clock is running down the circumstances are not ideal to make in game adjustments: if you have not already prepared something for the situation at hand then you are in trouble: Walsh compared this to trying to run a multimillion dollar company by holding an important board meeting outdoors in freezing cold with severe time constraints.

Anyone who praises Coach Brown’s game planning but criticizes Coach Brown’s in game coaching either does not understand how coaching really works at the professional level or is simply trying to call Brown incompetent without using that word; if the Cavs are really failing to adjust during games then that means that either the players are not executing correctly or the game plan is flawed/incomplete. There are no mystery plays or magic plays; both teams in a playoff series are very familiar with what the other team runs and they go into each game with plans to counteract the opponent’s favorite sets but it is up to the players to execute those plans. For instance, when reporters kept asking Boston Coach Doc Rivers about the possibility of LeBron James being switched onto Rajon Rondo at some point, Rivers replied that the Celtics had factored this into their planning before the series began. If/when the Cavs put James on Rondo for an extended period of time Rivers will not make an “in game adjustment”; he will merely remind his players to execute whatever game plan he put into place before the series. The same is true for Coach Brown regarding various moves that Rivers might make.

The only thing that I would criticize about Brown’s coaching this year is the way that he “rested” players at the end of the regular season. I have never liked that approach in any sport; it has yet to work for the Indianapolis Colts, who almost annually race out to the best record in the NFL but won their only Super Bowl title in the one season in which they did not have the best record and thus did not “rest” players. The Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls went 72-10 and 69-13 in back to back seasons during their second three-peat, with those star players logging heavy minutes even in “meaningless” late season games. The point is that there really are no “meaningless” games—and this was even more true for the Cavs because they needed to develop chemistry among various players who had not spent much time on the court together. Back in March after Shaquille O’Neal got hurt, I wrote that the one obstacle that could derail Cleveland’s championship quest is that during the playoffs the Cavs would have to develop on court chemistry on the fly because key members of their rotation had not played together very much during the season. The Cavs were so much better than the Chicago Bulls that the talent disparity made up for any chemistry problems in the first round but playing against a Boston team whose nucleus won the 2008 NBA title has revealed that the Cavs are not “on a string” defensively the way that Coach Brown would like them to be; many times in game five you saw two defenders run at one Celtic only to leave another Celtic wide open. Those kinds of communication issues are only solved by practice and repetition and that is why I firmly believe that the Cavs should have set up their playoff rotation during the final regular season games. The Orlando Magic took their final games seriously even though they were “meaningless” in terms of the Eastern Conference standings and it is no coincidence that they are the hottest team in the playoffs right now.

It is not realistic to suggest that Coach Brown bench Mo Williams because Williams has difficulty guarding Rajon Rondo. Guess what—most NBA point guards have trouble defending Rondo; that is why Rondo is an All-Star. The World Champion L.A. Lakers sometimes have to crossmatch because starting point guard Derek Fisher cannot keep up with his counterpart but you don’t see Phil Jackson benching a player who is a key member of the starting lineup. Williams ranks second on the Cavs in the Boston series with 29 assists but he has only committed seven turnovers; James leads the Cavs with 33 assists but he also has 18 turnovers. There is no question that the Cavs need for Williams to improve his shooting percentage but taking him out of his comfort zone as a starter is unlikely to help in that regard. ESPN analyst/Hall of Fame Coach Dr. Jack Ramsay made a great point during a recent radio interview: after his 1977 Portland Trail Blazers lost the first two games of the NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers, his assistant coaches made all kinds of suggestions about strategy changes and lineup alterations but Ramsay concluded that if he so drastically altered his approach that he would be sending the wrong message to the team. Instead, Ramsay told his players that they had not yet played their best game but that if they executed properly that they were good enough to beat Philadelphia. Portland won four straight games to capture the championship.

Some observers complain that the Cavs play too slowly on offense, relying too heavily on postups by Shaquille O’Neal instead of utilizing a smaller, quicker lineup. Did Mike D’Antoni or Don Nelson win an NBA championship when I was not looking? NBA championship teams almost always feature a strong post presence. Even Jordan’s Chicago Bulls had first Bill Cartwright and later Luc Longley and those teams generally featured their centers early in the game in order try to draw fouls and also to force the opposing team to reveal its defensive game plan. Coach Brown is correct to utilize O’Neal in a similar fashion. It is not like O’Neal is shooting the ball 20 times a game but even with limited touches he has often been able to create foul trouble for the opposing team and to get the Cavs in the bonus early, an important factor that casual fans do not fully appreciate.

Depending on how the opponent guards O’Neal, the Cavs can then run different actions to free up cutters and/or three point shooters on the weak side. That is how the Cavs built an eight point lead early in game five. As O’Neal correctly noted after the game, the Cavs did not lose because of how they played offensively but rather because of defensive breakdowns.

The most important thing for a basketball team to do offensively is create penetration into the painted area; that is how a team generates high percentage shots. That can be accomplished by posting up, by driving to the hoop or by passing to cutters. When O’Neal is in the game he is the team’s best postup option; at other times, the Cavs penetrate into the paint via drives by James, Jamison, Williams or Delonte West. The Cavs ranked ninth in scoring during the regular season—ahead of the Lakers and Celtics and right behind the Magic—and they finished third in field goal percentage, so there is little statistical support for the contention that Coach Brown’s offensive game plan is inefficient. The Cavs rank fourth in playoff scoring and third in field goal percentage, so it is not like their offense has fallen apart in the postseason, either.

So if Coach Brown is not the problem and playing “small ball” is not the answer then why are the Cavs facing elimination tonight? The bottom line is simple: even the best game plan in the world will fail if the team’s best player does not invest his mind, heart, body and soul in the process of trying to win a championship. If LeBron James plays at an MVP level and does his part to execute the game plan then his teammates will follow suit and the Cavs will win this series—but after seeing the Cavs lose three of the previous four games to the Celtics it seems increasingly unlikely that James is willing to put his stamp on this series in that manner. The strangest thing so far in this series—other than the fact that Cleveland lost two home games—was the Twilight Zone-like vibe of the postgame press conferences after Cleveland’s game two loss. First, Coach Brown stormed into the room, angrily called out his team and uttered an expletive during a live NBA TV broadcast; then James calmly spoke to the media as if he did not have a care in the world, denying that Brown had said any harsh words to the team in the locker room and joking that perhaps the Coach does not love the media as much as he loves his players. I sat there thinking that either Brown and James were playing “good cop, bad cop” or else there was a serious disconnect between them. It seemed like James’ great game three performance brushed any internal problems under the rug but the past two games have made it increasingly apparent that while Brown is very concerned and disappointed by his team’s poor performance and lack of execution James just does not think that this is a big deal.

Brown is right to be upset, because he very likely will be fired if the Cavs fail to win the championship—but James may be deluding himself if he is assuming that he will definitely have many other opportunities to win a ring. History is littered with the stories of great players and powerful teams that seemed destined to win championships but fell short due to injuries and other unforeseen factors. Dan Marino made it to the Super Bowl after his second season and then never again appeared in the big game. There is no guarantee that James will return to the NBA Finals and it is far from certain that he will ever again play for a team that is as deep, talented and well balanced as this Cleveland team. If James’ apparent indifference is his way of signaling that he wants to play for a different coach and/or a different team he may look back in 10 years and realize that he squandered his best chance to win a ring. James needs to rouse himself out of whatever mental funk he is in and perform in games six and seven the way that he did in game three.

Cavaliers Look to Rebound in Game 6

Last night I was sitting with a friend of mine, who I coach basketball with, to watch the Cavaliers game. We were in shock at the attitude and expressions that the Cavaliers players were showing. My friend kept saying that the team is showing no intensity, which was why the Celtics were able to get so many rebounds. None of the players were in position and they did not seem to want the ball.

It also appears that the Cavaliers are not in any type of rhythm. They always feed off of LeBron, but if Lebron does not play well, like last night, then everyone just stood around. The team is full of professionals, let me say that again, professionals. They all know how to play on both sides of the ball and how to excel. Since the team has not been in any type of rhythm offensively or defensively, they are unable to build upon good possessions.

When the team has been down at the closing moments of a quarter, they walk the ball up the court. The team needs a sense of urgency and wanting to go for 2 for 1s. If we continue to play the slow down pace and not move offensively then nothing will happen and we will settle for jump shots like we have in all of our losses.

In the end, it comes down to defense first and foremost. I can understand any of the players having a bad shooting night, but there is no excuse for not playing defense. No matter what happens on the offensive side of the basketball, it does not affect how to play defense. The team gives up way too many offensive rebounds, back door cuts, and points in transition. This starts with the starting 5. There is no reason to give a player 5-8 feet when the have the ball, even though you know that they won’t shoot the basketball. If you cover them and are on top of them, this makes it tougher for the player to make passes.

I say offensively, keep working the ball inside, and that Mike Brown needs to find out who his post players are. He has many to choose from, and can not settle on a rotation between JJ Hickson, Shaq, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauska, Antawn Jamison, and Leon Powe. Once Mike Brown knows the 4 that he will play, just play them and stick with them.

Furthermore, it does appear that LeBron James is not attacking the basket as often and is not slashing to the basket when he has the ball. Since he has taken only a few 3s so far this series, use what he has going for him, his height. I would have LeBron James post up on the box and work on the inside. He is taller, stronger, and more physical than most people give him credit for. If he is double teamed, he can pass it to Anthony Parker who shot 54% during the regular season for 3s. Also, if they double team him with the other post player, that will leave Shaq, open for an easy dunk.