Tuesday, April 30, 2013
On Second Chances
Last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers introduced former Lakers head coach Mike Brown as the team's replacement for the fired Byron Scott. Of course, three years ago, the former-Laker Scott was introduced as the team's replacement for the fired Brown, but Scott's role as the pivot only confuses the issue.
No, the headline of the transaction is that Cleveland, just three years removed from determining Brown was unworthy of its coaching job, decided they had to move quickly and hire Brown for that same job before his services were snatched up elsewhere.
Brown's hiring generated two levels of perplexion. Of course rehiring an employee previously fired from the same position deserves snorts of disbelief, just as a Texas Hold 'em flop of three aces does; we quickly learn to recognize and appreciate a brief gust of the improbable when it blows through our backyards, knowing well that it will soon be replaced by a steady flow of the mundanely expected.
But a second reaction mounted in the days after the reintroduction. To many, the Brown era was a clear failure because it spent peak LeBron James years and yielded zero Finals wins. If championships are the goal, they asked, how could Brown's reign possibly be considered successful?
In the wake of James' first championship with Miami last year, his history in Cleveland has been rewritten into an easily digestible platitude. The popular narrative suggests that James' late Cavs teams failed to win championships through some unholy concurrence of the awful roster surrounding him, his own mental and emotional shortcomings, and Brown's comically inept coaching, particularly on offense.
But for this thread to be true, it requires more than revisions to history. The "failure" of Brown's Cavs necessitates entire chapters to be shredded and burned.
The 2012-13 Miami Heat completed the league's second longest winning streak and cruised to the top seed in the playoffs. With 66 wins, they will go down as a historically great team. In Brown's best season, 2008-09, the high point of a five-year period widely tagged as a failure, the Cavs won ... 66 games.
In fact, considering the improvements James has made to his game and the contributions of Dwyane Wade, the other future Hall of Famer with whom he shares a locker room, Brown's 66-win season earns the nod on degree of difficulty.
The real truth, the one that can't be twisted or watered down to drive page views or ratings points, is that James and Brown's fates are intertwined. In a little over a year, James will once again be making a decision about the future home of his talents. There is a good chance his situation in Miami will be too efficient and comfortable for him to leave.
But at the same time, rumors persist. We hear James' family isn't happy in South Florida. We hear James wants to be able to live in his native Ohio more popularly. We speculate that with his first title(s) out of the way, James would be freer to try to relieve Cleveland of its championship drought.
The Cavs' salary cap structure easily makes James' return to Cleveland a financial possibility, a fact not lost on Cavs fans, which made Brown's rehiring even more puzzling to some. James not only left the opportunity to play for the organization with Brown in 2010; many reported that a falling out between the two led to Brown's dismissal in the first place.
But this is hidden value in second chances. Reprising a role we once left does not doom us to repeat its outcome. Brown and the Cavs have the advantage of skipping the slow slog of the introductory phase of their relationship. The coach knows the area, the facility, and the parts of the organization that remain from his first stint. With that chaff already separated, Brown can get to work on harvesting better results from the young seeds collected in the past three years.
In truth, second chances can never really be repeats of the past. The time in between allows for growth and improvement. Since his firing, Brown spent a season and change with the Lakers and some time analyzing the game on TV. These three years should have been very fertile ground for the growth of a young coach.
In acting as decisively as they did in hiring Brown, the Cavs clearly believe the coach they hired last week is better than the one they fired in 2010. If he is not, then the pain of the next few years will be a just return for both.
As for James, those who mocked Brown's hiring by asking why the league's best player would want to recreate his failed early years are mistaken. Next summer, the Cleveland that will court him will have a much different pitch than the one that could not retain him in 2010. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson are probably as promising as any young player James played with in his first seven years. The Cavs are flush with salary cap room to add veteran role players to surround James. And the familiar coach he presumably would be playing for should have a few new tricks this time around.
Just don't call it a second chance.