INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP)—Like his first year in Cleveland, [Only registered and activated users can see links. ]’ second NBA season ended without a trip to the playoffs. The miss was inexcusable to Cavaliers rookie owner Dan Gilbert, who set out an immediate coaching search so it wouldn’t happen again. Gilbert plucked a highly regarded assistant off Indiana’s staff, a likable guy who vowed to instill a defense-first identity in Cleveland.
The hiring wasn’t well received.
“Who the heck is Mike Brown?” Cavs general manager Danny Ferry recalled as the overriding sentiment back then.
Four years later, here’s an updated answer: coach of the year.
Brown, who has taken Cleveland to the postseason in each of his four seasons, was honored Monday as the league’s top coach after leading the Cavaliers to 66 wins, a Central Division title and the No. 1 overall playoff seed following the greatest regular season in club history.
With James and the other Cavaliers standing behind him and his coaching staff seated a few feet away, Brown humbly accepted the Red Auerbach trophy.
“If they did not want me to coach them, I wouldn’t be able to coach them,” he said. “I look at this as a partnership. Yes, my name is on this, but this is the ultimate team award from a coaching standpoint. I haven’t put on a uniform or done anything out on the floor. The players have done it all. The coaching staff has done a lot and when you win an award like this, you can’t do it by yourself.
“You have some great people around you.”
None greater than James, the likely league MVP, who feels Brown has been overlooked mostly because he has a superstar at his disposal.
“That was the main reason,” James said. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we still have to go out there and play for him and abide by his system. There are a lot of teams with great talent, but that doesn’t automatically qualify you as a good coach or give you wins.
“It just showed this year how good of a coach he is.”
Brown joins Bill Fitch in 1976 as the only Cleveland coaches to win the award.
Expected to be a close vote, Brown won in a landslide. He received 55 first-place votes and earned 355 total points from a panel of 122 sports writers and broadcasters, who awarded five points for first, three points for second and one point for third.
Houston’s Rick Adelman was second with 151 points, one ahead of Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy. Both got 13 first-place votes. Portland’s Nate McMillan was first on 15 ballots and finished fourth with 127 points.
New Orleans coach Byron Scott won the award last year.
Preaching the importance of trust to his players since training camp, Brown has created a tightly knit team fronted by James, who led the applause for his coach during the news conference at Cleveland’s training facility. The 38-year-old Brown also has given more authority to his assistants, a sign of both his maturity as a coach and confidence as a leader.
“This is our fourth year together,” Brown said. “The biggest thing this year was finding that elusive word chemistry among a group of individuals to try and reach one goal. Our goal has not changed, but the thing that we felt would help define chemistry is trust. They have shown tremendous trust in one and other. We’ve tried as a staff to show trust in them and in order to help that I had to show trust in my assistants.”
As he complimented his assistants, James, [Only registered and activated users can see links. ] and other players reached over and began patting assistants Mike Malone, John Kuester, Hank Egan, Melvin Hunt and Chris Jent on their backs.
“I had to show our players that I trust those guys,” Brown said. “We can talk about something and I can turn my back to it and we know the job is going to get done.”
Ferry praised Brown for an unmatched work ethic. Brown’s attention to detail has endeared him to his players and staff, but like any successful coach, the long hours have taken away time from the father of two’s family. Brown’s wife, Carolyn, was on hand to see him get the award.
“Mike sets the tone with how hard he works,” Ferry said. “He pushes all of us. The guy watches a lot of film. He’s obsessed with it. That’s Carolyn’s Saturday night movies, watching game tape.”
Brown was asked what his coaching mentors, Bernie Bickerstaff and Gregg Popovich, might be thinking about him winning the award.
“Get back to work,” said Brown, whose team has a 1-0 lead over Detroit heading into Game 2 on Tuesday.
At the heart of Cleveland’s success is Brown’s relationship with James.
When he joined the Cavaliers, Brown, who worked with All-Star [Only registered and activated users can see links. ] in San Antonio, warned James there would be times they wouldn’t agree.
“I told him, ‘Remember we’re both trying to fight toward the same goal, so don’t take it personal,”’ Brown said. “Their may be a time when I go off on you and I may say the wrong thing in front of a group or go after you personally and hopefully you don’t take it personal. We may need a night, and the next day we’ll be back on the same page and continue moving forward.”’
They have done just that.
Brown said James’ willingness to accept criticism has strengthened their relationship.
“He allows me to coach him,” Brown said. “You have to have great players in this league in order to have success. I’m lucky and blessed to work with a guy like that. Without a guy like LeBron, none of this stuff would be possible.”
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