In a move that will go down in NBA annals, Mike Brown is returning to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers less than three years after he was fired from the same job.
It created two questions among fans and executives in the league:
1. Why would Brown, whose services are in demand, choose Cleveland and an ownership that unceremoniously showed him the door after back-to-back 60-win seasons?
2. What does it mean for the Cavs' thinly veiled hopes at appealing for a LeBron James return in 2014?
The answer to the first question is: Brown had eyes only for Cleveland. He and his family lived there from 2006-11 and enjoyed it. Shortly after Brown was fired -- just five games into the season by the Los Angeles Lakers -- his family decided they were moving back to Ohio after his two sons completed the school year. His basketball-star son, Elijah, reopened his recruitment and decided to sign in the Midwest at Butler instead of a West Coast school after Brown was fired by the Lakers.
The answer to the second question is this: The coach of the Cavs or any prospective bidder won't matter to James as much as the players on the roster, a source close to James said on Tuesday.
"I'm happy for him, very happy for him," James said Tuesday. "I think he's a really good coach, very defensive-minded coach. It'll be good for the young guys that they have."
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert fired Brown in 2010 ahead of James' free agency because the team believed Brown would not be an asset in the recruitment. Then general manager Danny Ferry, a close confidant of Brown's, resigned shortly thereafter.
James chose to sign in Miami in 2010 because the Heat had Dwyane Wade and were able to acquire Chris Bosh. James, who has the option to become a free agent at the conclusion of next season, is likely to make the talent on the roster a major factor when he decides what to do about his next contract. That is why, at the moment, the Heat remain the favorite to keep James long-term.
As he did Tuesday, James has spoken positively about Brown over the past several years. Privately, James was sometimes frustrated by Brown's offensive strategies and some game plans in the playoffs. He also gives Brown credit for helping him understand and value defense.
The Cavs have saved cap space for 2014, but they are not focusing on trying to land James. One of the mistakes they made from 2008-10 was focusing too much on the preferences of one player and they are determined to not let that happen again, especially when that player is on another team. That said, there is not a move the Cavs make in which they don't consider their team's position in July 2014, when they potentially would make a pitch to James.
After three years in the lottery with teams that have been very poor defensively, the Cavs were focused on landing a coach who is known for defense so that it can be emphasized to Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Brown had other offers. He rebuffed interest from the Phoenix Suns and would've been on the list for other franchises looking for a coach. Regardless of the nature of his exit from L.A., Brown has a career record of 313-159 and is 9-6 all-time in the postseason. He has coached six full seasons and his teams have always advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs.
There are currently open coaching jobs in Detroit, Philadelphia and Charlotte. The coaches in Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Phoenix are interim coaches. The coaches for Memphis, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Clippers are at the end of their contracts. There could be more than 10 coaching changes in the league before next season. Because of simple supply and demand, a coach with Brown's resume is valuable.
With a handful of promising young players, especially 21-year-old All-Star Irving, plus a lottery pick and cap space, the Cavs are a reasonably attractive job.
And while it may not fit a national stereotype, Cleveland was attractive to Brown.