As it became clear within the Cleveland Cavaliers organization that David Griffin was going to keep his job as general manager, the concern then shifted to how well Griffin and Mike Brown could coexist in a general manager/head coach relationship.
The answer was delivered on Monday in one stunning announcement: Griffin is staying, but the coach is gone. Again.
Brown's second reign in Cleveland lasted 384 days. Owner Dan Gilbert hired him back prior to last season and admitted he made a mistake in firing him the first time -- only to fire him again after one season. Gilbert will swallow the remaining four years on the deal and the balance of the $20 million contract Brown signed just last summer, a staggering amount of guaranteed money to pay a fired coach, particularly since Gilbert paid two coaches last season while finishing the final year on Byron Scott's deal.
Now the Cavs will begin next season with their third coach in as many years, while Gilbert has now parted ways with three general managers and four head coaches since purchasing the team nine years ago.
Brown went 33-49 last season and the Cavs missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. Gilbert brought Brown back to fix the Cavs' defense, which was worst in the league during the 2012-13 season.
Brown improved the Cavs' defense from 30th to 12th in opponents' field-goal percentage and improved the club by nine wins over Scott's final season, but it wasn't good enough in part because the Cavs failed to make the playoffs in a dreary Eastern Conference.
"This is a very tough business. It pains all of us here that we needed to make the difficult decision of releasing Mike Brown," Gilbert said in a prepared statement. "Mike worked hard over this last season to move our team in the right direction. Although there was some progress from our finish over the few prior seasons, we believe we need to head in a different direction."
Griffin and Gilbert will now embark on finding a new coach; there is no shortage of impressive candidates.
The Cavs have yet to start compiling a list of names, one league source said, but names to keep in mind are Alvin Gentry, Vinny Del Negro, Fred Hoiberg, Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson, among others.
Kerr has obvious ties to the Cavs after spending parts of four seasons playing here, plus he worked with Griffin in Phoenix. But the general belief is Kerr is too far down the path with the New York Knicks to turn back now.
One name omitted from the list of candidates is Mike D'Antoni, who spent five seasons in charge of the Suns while Griffin worked in the front office. D'Antoni, however, is not considered a strong candidate in this coaching search.
Gentry's name will begin perhaps a rung higher on the list than others. Griffin remains fond of him after their time together in Phoenix. Gentry is now an assistant coach under Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Cavs will look hard at former players as coaches, but one source said playing experience won't be considered a prerequisite for the position (Gentry is not a former player).
The Cavs started slowly under Brown, stumbling to a 10-21 start. The locker room turned toxic at times and seemed to tune out Brown, similar to the way this same collection of players tuned out Scott during the final weeks of his tenure.
Brown departs 305-187 in six seasons as Cavs coach over two terms and 347-216 overall. He had strong roots to previous GM Chris Grant (they've been close friends since college), but one source within the organization insisted Monday his ties to Grant had no impact on the firing.
"Our ownership's commitment to this franchise and the fans of Cleveland is absolute," Griffin said in a statement announcing the moves. "I feel that commitment, not only by the resources they make available but also with their tireless passion for delivering a championship-caliber team. Our entire organization reflects that passion and commitment."
Griffin was also brought to Cleveland by Grant prior to the 2010-11 season. He came to Cleveland after spending 17 seasons with the Suns, starting as an intern and working his way up to vice president of basketball operations.
He was a finalist for a handful of GM jobs in recent years, including in Denver and Utah, but now takes over the Cavs during a crucial summer.
Griffin will be officially introduced during a news conference Tuesday morning, then the front office will depart for Chicago and the NBA predraft camp this week. Griffin is also facing a number of roster decisions, beginning with contract extensions for Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson and extending to free agents such as Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles.
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