INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert looked back and admitted a mistake, but Mike Brown only looked forward.
“Welcome to Mike Brown 2.0, everybody,” Gilbert said Wednesday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts, where the 43-year-old Brown, who led the team from 2005-10, was once again introduced as coach. “We certainly enjoyed 1.0.”
Brown led the Cavs to a franchise-record 66 regular-season wins in 2008-09 and 61 in 2009-10, but was fired after Cleveland lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The major reason for that firing was the organization’s belief that a coaching change represented the best chance of re-signing free agent LeBron James, who ended up going to Miami after Byron Scott was hired as Brown’s successor.
“Yeah, it was a mistake. Clearly, it was a mistake,” Gilbert said of firing Brown. “You get the benefit of hindsight right now, and in hindsight it was a mistake.”
Gilbert added the Cavs were very happy they got to “rectify any position” they took in 2010, but the extremely positive and optimistic Brown didn’t hold any grudges three years ago, so he certainly doesn’t hold any now.
“That’s just my nature,” Brown said. “You appreciate opportunities people give you along your own personal journey through life. At least for me, I’m able to move on.
“It doesn’t do any good for myself or anybody else to dwell on the past,” he added. “I’m a guy who prefers to stay in the present.”
Brown, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 but was fired just five games into 2012-13, was attending an AAU event in L.A. on Saturday with oldest son Elijah, who will be a freshman guard at Butler University next season.
That’s when he first heard from Cavs general manager Chris Grant, his college teammate at the University of San Diego. By Sunday evening, Brown was in Detroit having what was supposed to be a 90-minute dinner with Grant and Gilbert. It turned into six hours.
“This guy lives, sleeps and breathes basketball,” Gilbert marveled while recalling that dinner.
By Tuesday afternoon, just five days after they had fired Scott, who went 64-166 in his three seasons, the Cavs and Brown had reached agreement on a contract that will pay their newest coach more than $20 million over five seasons.
By Tuesday night, Brown’s family members — wife Carolyn, Elijah and youngest son Cameron, who will attend Westlake — were on a red-eye flight from L.A. to Cleveland.
By Wednesday afternoon, all were at a press conference announcing Brown’s hiring as the 19th coach in Cavs history.
“The passion here is unbelievable,” Brown said. “I just feel fortunate, my family feels fortunate, to have an opportunity to come back.”
The team Brown will take over this time will be much different than the one he inherited in 2005. With James about to enter his third season, the Cavs were primed to win eight years ago. They had regular-season victory totals of 50, 50, 47, 66 and 61 in his five years, for an overall record of 272-138 (.663).
Cleveland also made the playoffs all five years Brown coached and won at least one series each time, including advancing to the NBA Finals in 2007.
“I’m not looking for credit,” said Brown, the winningest coach in franchise history. “I just want to win. I want to win a championship, especially for this city.
“We had a solid run,” he added. “We didn’t attain our goal, which was to win a championship. I’m looking forward to getting after it again and hopefully attaining it.”
Brown is taking over a Cavs team that is coming off 19-63, 21-45 and 24-58 seasons, with the latter featuring a horrible defensive unit that finished last in the league in field-goal percentage allowed.
But in veteran center Anderson Varejao, who will likely be the only player at training camp who played for Brown in his first stint, and young building blocks Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, the Cavs, who will also have two first-round draft picks and substantial salary cap space, are in position to make a substantial move forward.
“Our mantra this year is going to be, ‘Commitment to the Journey,’” Brown said. “What that means is we are going to have players around us who are selfless, who are accountable and who have a blind trust in the group.
“Once we establish that culture, once we establish that foundation in our group, from ownership on down, then we will be able to start crafting our identity.”
That identity, Brown said, will feature a tough, defense-first mentality that will demand smart decision-making and hard work.
“Our guys will feel it, they will breathe it, they will touch it and they will see it from myself and my staff on a daily basis,” Brown said. “I say daily because this is a process. I can’t wait to get started.”
With that, Mike Brown 2.0 was under way. There was no time to look back at what happened in Cleveland the first time around or Brown’s most recent coaching stint with the Lakers.
With Brown, it will be all about the present — and the future.
“This whole thing happened so quickly, I don’t even think about what happened in L.A.,” he said. “I don’t think about what happened in the past here. I’m just looking forward to getting started here with these guys.”