LAS VEGAS — Mike Brown was wearing a black coach’s polo shirt with the Cleveland Cavaliers logo, the “C” with the sword through it on the left breast, and it didn’t feel all that weird anymore.
“It was weird for a while,” Brown said Saturday after watching the Cavs’ Summer League team lose to Miami 82-76. “But it was a seamless transition for myself and my family. It almost, to a certain degree after we got over the initial shock of it, it almost felt like we never really left. It was almost like we went on vacation for a little bit.”
That’s certainly a pleasant way for Brown to describe his short tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers that ended after one full season and five games into last season. That’s when he was unceremoniously dumped by the Lakers following a 1-4 start. The basketball world expected Phil Jackson to come down from the mountaintop to replace him, but instead L.A. chose Mike D’Antoni. Everybody knows the roller-coaster season that followed, the infighting, the injuries, the criticism, the first-round sweep.
Then came the ultimate insult in the first week of July when Dwight Howard announced he was joining the Houston Rockets.
Brown said he paid little attention to the Lakers soap opera once he left, finding a way to separate his emotions from the job he had just lost coaching Kobe Bryant, just three years after being fired by the Cavs as the franchise panicked awaiting a decision, The Decision, from LeBron James.
“I watched Mater Dei High School basketball and I enjoyed it,” Brown said. “I appreciated the opportunity the Buss family gave me and [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak. I enjoyed being around all the players and working with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and those guys. But when they made the decision I was all-in with my family.”
And so Brown really can go home again, to the city he says he and family loves, where his youngest son wanted to return and graduate from high school with his old pals, to the place the Brown family was returning before he ever received a phone call. Then his phone rang.
The rest is a Q&A with new Cavaliers coach Mike Brown:
Q: Who made the first call leading to your return to the Cavs?
A: Chris Grant (Cavaliers general manager) did. He caught me off-guard a little bit, you know, but it was a business call more than anything else.
Q: Did it take some time to process his reason for calling?
A: No, it was just the first step because it was new to me and I’m sure it was probably fairly new to them, so it was a thing that was a process. But again, we were on our way back to the area regardless because we love the area. My youngest boy wanted to graduate from high school there with his friends and my oldest boy had signed with Butler University which was about a 4 ½ drive, so it was a nice fit. When the call happened it was just a thing to process more than anything else.
Q: Were you convinced there were no bridges burned on either end after your firing in 2010?
A: I never forget, one of the guys that I hired, Bernie Bickerstaff, that was one of the first things that he taught me. … He told me, ‘Young buck, don’t ever burn any bridges in this business or in life.’ It was an easy piece of advice for me to follow because that’s how I’m built. You appreciate any opportunity you are given in life and try to make the most of it. When I was here last time I had a fantastic ride, I thoroughly enjoyed everything I was involved with.
Q: Your team has an intriguing roster led by young All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the front office made several moves to add depth. How complete do you believe this team to be?
A: We’ll see. First of all, this organization is one of the best, if not the best, top to bottom because it starts with your owner and our owner Dan Gilbert has a done a lot to make sure that we’re heading in the right direction toward a championship. And you go from him to Chris Grant and you look at the job that he’s done with little or no credit, in terms of the draft picks and the trades that he’s made in the past couple of years and you feel like with the roster and the staff that we put together, and having guys like Kyrie and Dion [Waiters] and Andrew [Bynum] and Andy [Verajao], so on and so forth, Jarrett Jack, that you feel like you have put a competitive team together and we should be able to go compete for a championship, which is my goal every year.
Q: Since returning to Cleveland, how have you found the emotional state of the fans three years after The Decision?
A: Pre-LeBron, post-LeBron, the Cleveland fans have always been terrific. Even the year that I was out [of coaching] and I was in Cleveland, we really enjoyed that area and walking around, whether it was downtown or out in Westlake where we live, and coming across fans in general because they’re very passionate. Not only about the Cavaliers, they’re passionate about the Browns, they’re passionate about the Indians and about their city, so they’re in a good mindset right now.”
Q: Do you sense the fans have renewed hope for the franchise or that a buzz has returned about the team?
A: Yeah, you feel that, and again you credit Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant for putting this thing together and trying to get us in the right direction before the actual season starts off. The buzz that is out there is a nice one right now, and hopefully it will be able to continue to stay like that through the course of the year and just progress.”