The reasons for Cleveland's struggles last season were many—which is usually the case with any team crummy enough to lose 58 games. More than their below-average offense and their softness on the glass, the Cavaliers suffered for their ineptitude on defense. Only three teams allowed more points per possession, as coach Byron Scott was unable to implement any defensive coherence on one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. Enter Mike Brown—fired unceremoniously in November 2012 by the Lakers after being dropped unceremoniously 30 months earlier by the Cavs. Brown's inability to take good teams over the top has drawn plenty of criticism, but he's well-suited for a long-term project like this one.
In coaching a team with lower expectations, Brown won't receive as much scrutiny for his micro-level moves. Instead, his top priority will be to build a defense from the ground up—and in that he should succeed. It took Brown just two seasons in Cleveland to turn an average D into a top five outfit, an evolution which pushed the 2007 Cavs into the NBA Finals ahead of schedule. That might be setting the bar high, but Brown can lean on the hyperactivity of a healthy Anderson Varejão and the versatility of the newly signed Earl Clark while he brings the younger prospects up to speed. At the least, Cleveland should be able to establish better defensive fundamentals and begin substantially improving.
COACH MIKE BROWN (6TH SEASON WITH CAVALIERS)
2012--13 RECORD 24--58 (5TH IN CENTRAL)
WHAT'S NEW Brown is back on the bench, three years after getting fired, to welcome oft-injured big man Andrew Bynum.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG KYRIE IRVING