INDEPENDENCE — Not long after he was introduced — again — as Cavaliers head coach, Mike Brown started talking about defense.
It’s his favorite subject and he’s got a lot of teaching to do, as he will inherit a team that finished last in the league in field goal percentage allowed.
“Everybody wants to win,” Brown said Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “In this league, you have to defend to win. You can’t be mediocre in that area.”
Mediocre would be a huge upgrade for the Cavs. That’s especially true of 21-year-old point guard Kyrie Irving, who displayed very little interest in that aspect of the game over his first two NBA seasons.
Asked how important it was for his young All-Star to improve in that department, Brown said, “It’s the entire team. It’s going to be a process. At first, they may hear language they’ve never heard before.”
The clean-cut Brown did not mean curse words, but rather very specific terminology that will be used to explain his defensive principles.
“I’m definitely excited about rolling my sleeves up and getting after it with this young team,” he said. “To me, this is more exciting, because I like to teach. These guys seem eager and willing to learn.”
Cavs general manager Chris Grant said no team has won an NBA title that didn’t rank in the top 12 in defensive field goal percentage, which made Brown an easy coaching hire.
“We did our due diligence,” Grant said. “Our staff, we tend to turn over every stone and pound things, sometimes too much, but we did our due diligence. It was pretty clear, pretty quickly (that Brown was the right choice).”
Elephant in room
A reporter used the phrase “elephant in the room” to ask Cavs owner Dan Gilbert about LeBron James, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent as early as July 2014.
“We honestly talk about today, this year,” Gilbert said. “All that stuff in the media you’re talking about, we can’t control that.”
Gilbert, who can’t specifically discuss James’ possible return to Cleveland because it would probably be considering tampering, said it’s virtually impossible to predict what will happen in the NBA down the road.
“You can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” he said. “You don’t control everything.”
Asked if Brown’s hiring had anything to do with increasing the chances of James returning, Gilbert said no because Brown “was the absolute best fit.”
Brown led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 41-25 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, but was fired when the team got off to a 1-4 start this season.
“I enjoyed my time with the Lakers,” he said. “Jim Buss (who took over when his father Jerry died), the Buss family, (GM) Mitch Kupchak chose to go in the direction they wanted to go. There’s no animosity. I enjoyed the opportunity.”
Brown praised superstar Kobe Brant and raved about the veteran’s competitiveness and desire to win.
“He is a unique individual,” Brown said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody like him.”
The only Cavs player to attend Brown’s introductory press conference was center Anderson Varejao, who also figures to be the only player at training camp who played for Brown during his first stint in Cleveland.
“The last time I was here, Andy was a young guy,” Brown said. “Now he’s the old guy. He is ‘Z’ (Zydrunas Ilgauskas).”
Ilgauskas, who played center for Brown and now works in the Cavs front office, was also on hand. When Brown mentioned the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian, Grant drew laughs by telling the coach, “He’s your boss.”
The Cavs, who will have the No. 3 pick in the draft if the May 21 lottery goes according to form and the No. 19 pick, own the first and third choices in the second round (31 and 33 overall).
They also have substantial salary cap space and appear ready to make a few veteran additions, which could allow them to contend for a playoff spot as early as next season.
“It’s too soon (to say),” Brown said when asked if the Cavs could make the playoffs. “This is going to be a process. Are we shooting for that? Yes, but we’ve got a lot of work in front of us.”
At the very least, the Cavs figure to have an improved record after going 19-63, 21-45 and 24-58 over the last three seasons.
“The last three years have been extremely painful and difficult,” Gilbert said. “We all knew we had to go through it.”
RealGM.com reported the Cavs have an interest in Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who averaged 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in his seventh year in the league.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pounder is under contract for $14.1 million next season and $15.2 million in 2014-15. Exactly what the Cavs have to offer Portland in return for the 27-year-old is unclear.
- Brown said he hasn’t contacted anyone about serving on his coaching staff, including John Kuester, who is available and was credited for helping the Cavaliers offense improve in Brown’s first stint.
- Brown and Phil Jackson are the only men who have coached at least five seasons and never missed the playoffs when they’ve lasted an entire season. Brown is 6-for-6 and Jackson is 20-for-20 with 11 titles. Brown is the only person in NBA history who has coached at least five years and won at least one playoff series in each of his full seasons.
- Cameron Brown, who will be a high school junior in the fall, will attend Westlake and hopes to go on to medical school. Elijah Brown, who will be a freshman basketball player at Butler University in the fall, attended St. Edward when Brown previously coached the Cavs.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.