In case you haven’t heard, LeBron James can opt out of his Cleveland Cavaliers contract on July 1 and become an unrestricted free agent. James holds the future of several people in the Cavaliers organization, including head coach Mike Brown. But after the loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 that knocked Cleveland out of the 2010 playoffs, James didn’t exactly give Brown a ringing endorsement.
James did not mention Brown’s name once during his postgame news conference but, if you read between the lines, he hinted to Cavs management that he needs a better bench jockey to help him win an NBA title.
“It’s all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that. But, at the same, I have to give myself options to this point,” James said. “I think Boston, first of all, had a great game plan. Their coaching staff gave them a great game plan. They tried to keep us on the perimeter as much as possible. They have a lot of veteran players who’ve been in a lot of postseason games and they all just bought into their system, and it worked for them.
“We had opportunities to win the game, to win the series, but we didn’t execute for 48 minutes. You don’t do that against a very experienced team.”
When Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked LeBron about the Cavs’ game plan and how Brown handled the defensive matchups and the rotation, he made Windhorst repeat the question as if he wanted to gather his thoughts and carefully choose his words. Once the question was re-asked, James said: “Well, I think we had good game plans going into the game. I think sometimes we could have made some better adjustments throughout the course of the game. But for the most part, we had a game plan we try to go out and execute it. Did it always work? No. Did it work sometimes? Yes.”
“Tonight was a game where we fought hard. But when you turn the ball over as much as we did and give up 27 points off our turnovers, it is very difficult. I think tonight we left it on the court and we have nothing to hang our heads.”
The key statement that stood out was “we could have made some better adjustments throughout the course of the game.” That is a direct shot at Brown and his inability to make the proper adjustments during a game.
Eric Snow, James’ former teammate and current NBATV studio analyst, said he noticed a different LeBron James in the last three games of the series. “It looked like something was bothering him,” Snow said.
Brown’s decision to keep Antawn Jamison on Kevin Garnett is what ultimately killed the Cavaliers in the series. Doc Rivers pointed out that that was the matchup the Celtics focused on when the series began, and Brown wasn’t able to take away Boston’s No. 1 option. Garnett clearly had a huge advantage over Jamison, but for some reason Brown stayed with Jamison way too long and didn’t use Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson enough to combat Garnett in the post.
And to start Game 6, Brown’s big move was to put Shaquille O’Neal on Garnett, which totally backfired. The Celtics immediately put O’Neal in pick-and-pop situations and Garnett got open looks and hit his five first shots.
Brown also mishandled his rotations and changed his substitution pattern midway through the series. Windhorst wrote on his blog after Game 4 that the Cavalier players were unhappy with the way Brown has changed some of their roles and O’Neal was frustrated over not playing in the fourth quarter.
In Brown’s defense, he had the difficult task of reorganizing his roster for the playoffs with the return of O’Neal and expanding Jamison’s role, which meant someone was going to be left out. Zydrunas Ilgauskas barely played in the first round and got spot duty in the conference semifinals. Hickson, who started 73 games during the regular season, played a total of nine minutes in games 4, 5 and 6. Varejao was the backup power forward all season, but was moved to backup center for the playoffs because Brown felt compelled to keep Jamison on the court.
It’s tough to fire a head coach who has won 127 games the past two seasons, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. The Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA the past two years, but failed to make The Finals twice. The players, including James, appear to have lost faith in Brown, whose inability to make the proper adjustments against Boston ultimately will cost him his job.