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Cleveland Cavaliers coaching search: Where did Mike Brown go wrong on offense in Cleveland?

Rumors have circulated over the last few days that Mike Brown is the favorite to replace Byron Scott as the Cavaliers' head coach. So the question now becomes: where did Mike Brown go wrong as Cavaliers' head coach, and how can he be successful for the Cavs in the future if he is indeed hired?


Dan Gilbert wined and dined Mike Brown on Sunday night, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN. But re-hiring Brown isn't a universally endorsed notion among Cavalier fans. People are wondering what could possibly make Gilbert, general manager Chris Grant, and the rest of the Cavaliers' organization go back to something that failed the first time around in the playoffs (even though Brown is the all-time leader in winning percentage among Cavalier coaches).

So my goal is to go back and try to figure out where the Brown system went wrong the first time, and how it could be different this time around. This will be a multi-post series. First, I'm going to look at Brown's offensive results with the Cavaliers, and then more generally at his offensive thought processes.

The "Brown-out" on offense that wasn't in 2010

The most common complaint that I've seen about Brown is that his offensive schemes lack creativity. However, the problem with saying that is that it ignores the results that Brown's offense brought about. In 2009-10 -- Brown's final year with the Cavs -- the team finished 6th in offensive rating and 10th in points-per-game, despite a pace that was 25th in the NBA.

Indeed, if there was one logical complaint about Cavs' offense during the Brown era, it's that it didn't allow for transition buckets. Only getting out in transition on 11.6% of their offensive possessions, the Cavs in Brown's final season did not get easy buckets despite having the most effective and efficient transition player in the NBA in LeBron James. However, that takes away just how devastatingly efficient they were in the half-court. Finishing 2nd in points-per-possession at 0.99, the Cavaliers offense was actually better than their defense that finished 8th in points-per-possession and 7th in defensive rating.

Specifically, it seems a lot of the offensive credit for the Cavs during that era goes to John Kuester. If Brown is hired, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Kuester to return with him. Kuester is an advance scout for the Lakers right now, and was basically in charge of the offense for the Cavaliers during the 08-09 season, until he was hired by the Pistons as their head coach. He also was one of Brown's assistants in Los Angeles after flaming out miserably in Detroit. While the Cavaliers were mostly pretty bad early in the Brown era offensively, after Kuester arrived the team began to become more efficient offensively.

However, even if Kuester doesn't return, the Cavs' offense became even more efficient after Kuester left in 2009. Specifically, from 07-09 (the Kuester era) the Cavaliers were top-half of the league in attempted 16-23 footers, top-10 in three pointers attempted, and bottom 10 in shots at the rim attempted per game. In 2009-10, Brown's offense saw a decrease in 16-23 footers, a slight decrease in three pointers, and a large jump in shots at the rim, and a large increase in percentage of field goals assisted (from 55% to 59%). This can be attributed to a large increase in ball movement and a concerted effort to get easy buckets on cuts, which made up quite a bit of their offense that season.

What does Brown want to run with the Cavs this time?

No one knows.

Scott tried to run a version of the Princeton offense, especially when Anderson Varejao was around, that was based on taking advantage of Andy's vision at the top of the key. Assuming a lot of this year's pieces stay intact, that would at least be a half-court offense that they are comfortable within due to some experience with it. The biggest difference the Cavs will see is a decrease in pace. Throughout all three seasons of Scott's tenure, the Cavaliers ranked between 11th and 14th in pace. During Brown's tenure, it was 18th at its' highest point and 25th at its' lowest point -- both in 08-09 and 09-10. Brown likes to slow the pace of the game down, although it's fair to question whether or not he would attempt to bring the Princeton offense that he attempted to implement in Los Angeles (along with Eddie Jordan) with him.

There's really no telling what Brown will decide to do.

In that regard, Brown's thoughts on offense within the media have always been pretty rudimentary in nature. Whether he simply isn't an offensive guy -- and he's not, but as a head coach you kind of have to learn it -- or he just doesn't articulate himself well to the media, Brown has never been one to divulge major in-game material. In 2008, prior to giving Kuester most offensive control, he gave an interview to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer where he seemingly rambled on about a lot of different offensive ideals that he'd like to use:

The Lakers' Triangle Offense: "It's a terrific offense," Brown said. "So is the Princeton offense that Washington runs, with the ball moving, people moving. But you also need the right personnel to runs those offenses." He added: "At the end of the game, the Lakers gave the ball to Kobe [Bryant] and expected him to make a play. You don't see the triangle much in the final three minutes of the game, and it didn't help them much against Boston's defense."

The Cavs' offense: They need to "space the floor better," meaning have the players spread out to create shooting and passing angles. He wants them to push the ball more, to fast break when possible. He plans some revisions, but not major overhauls. "Look at Boston," Brown said. "There is nothing tricky about their offense. They give the ball to Kevin Garnett on the [inside] block, they give to it Paul [Pierce] on top of the key. They move the ball, and try to put their playmakers in position to make plays."

James getting the ball inside or cutting to the basket: "We do have plays for that, and we should use them more often," Brown said. "But LeBron is very effective when he gets the ball in the middle of the floor. So is Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Kobe and guys like that. It's hard to double-team them." But Brown admitted he may have used that 1-4 offense too much, that it can create stagnation, as teammates watch James dribble and create his own shot.

So basically what we see is that he's gone with a variety of different things over the years. From the 1-4 offense that led to stagnation early in his Cavs' career to the Princeton offense (pretty much polar opposites of each other in terms of off-ball movement by players and ball movement) while coaching the Lakers, Brown has been something of an offensive nomad. Even though the Cavs' offense was successful under him the first time around, it's worth mentioning that the Cavs don't have a 6'9" Manbearpig running around the floor like a crazed animal anymore. There's really no telling what Brown will decide to do.

The best way to assure that things are different this time around as far as a creative offense that isn't prone to stagnation is to bring in an assistant coach to help offensively. Brown just doesn't look comfortable on that end of the floor. Let's not forget, Brown was basically fired in Los Angeles because of his offense and his inability to adjust the Princeton system once it was obviously not working {Ed note: the Lakers were 10th in offensive efficiency in 2011-12 and were 7th in offensive efficiency for the 5 games before Brown was fired in 2012-13}. So whether or not it's Kuester or another guy, an coach with offensive prowess should be brought into help Brown.

However, therein lies the problem. In the past, Brown has been somewhat resistant to getting help on offense. So while Brown's defensive skill may suit what this team needs, he may not be the guy to develop a young offense. I'm all for this hire if Brown brings someone in. But if not, it's really tough to envision a scenario where we don't see a bogged down Princeton set in the inevitability of an Anderson Varejao injury because of a lack of passing acumen from the big men, or a stagnated 1-4 high stack where nobody moves and everyone just watches Kyrie Irving, hoping he creates a shot for himself.

And of course, Brown's offenses here always had a bevy of shooters, from Mo Williams to Delonte West even down to Boobie Gibson that won't be around anymore. It's absolutely impossible to say what Brown is planning on running, but I imagine that his biggest concern moving forward would be to work with Grant and find a way to garner shooters to space the floor. With only Irving and Dion Waiters returning who have shown any skill at all for shooting from distance (C.J. Miles and Wayne Ellington are also possibilities, but Miles' contract option has not been picked up yet and Ellington is a restricted free agent if the Cavs choose to qualify him), finding a way to space the floor will be an essential part of both this offseason and the beginning of the season if Mike Brown is indeed hired as coach.