Cavs fire Brown before $4.5M deadline

CLEVELAND -- Mike Brown won everything in five years coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everything, that is, except an NBA title.

Brown, the most successful coach in franchise history, was fired after failing to win a championship with superstar -- and soon-to-be free agent -- LeBron James.

The Cavaliers had a midnight deadline Sunday night to fire the head coach or pay him his full $4.5 million salary for next season.

Cleveland was ousted from the playoffs two weeks ago by the Boston Celtics, who upset the NBA's top regular-season team in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert made the decision to fire Brown after an organizational review that began following the Cavs' exit from the playoffs.

Cleveland's next move will be an interesting one. Because of James' uncertain future, it's possible the Cavs would want his input into their next coaching hire, assuming the two-time MVP is still considering re-signing with Cleveland when free agency opens after midnight on July 1. The Cavs will have to search for a new coach not knowing if James will be back and would have to go into the draft and free agency without a coach.

James is eligible to opt out of his contract this summer, a move that would make the two-time MVP -- and zero-time NBA champion -- a free agent and set off a scramble for his services from New York to Miami to Los Angeles and, of course, back in Cleveland.

Cleveland, which had the best record in the NBA the past two seasons, had a 2-1 series lead over the Celtics before losing three straight, including the final two at home by a combined 50 points.

"After a long and deep analysis of all of the factors that led to the disappointing early ends to our playoff runs over the past two seasons, we concluded that it was time for the Cavaliers to move in a different direction," Gilbert said Monday in a statement released by the team. "The expectations of this organization are very high and, although change always carries an element of risk, there are times when that risk must be taken in an attempt to break through to new, higher levels of accomplishment.

"This is one of those times."

Brown was not immediately available for comment, according to The Associated Press. No one answered the door at his home in Westlake, Ohio.

The James' family publicist said the All-Star forward was out of town on vacation and not available to comment on Brown's dismissal.

Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas tried to deflect the blame off Brown.

"Obviously, we didn't achieve what we set out to achieve, which is to win a championship," Ilgauskas said, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. "But if you're going to lay all the blame on coach Brown and think that's going to solve everything, you've got another thing coming.

"I think we're all at fault -- the players, everybody. You have to, at some point, accept some of the responsibility. We all have to do that. A coach only can take you so far. At some point you have to do it yourself and we didn't do it. I think coach Brown will be fine. He'll be coaching again, and I'm very sure he'll have success.''

Cavs guard Mo Williams agreed with Ilgauskas' stance, according to the Cleveland newspaper.

"Do I think he deserved it? No,'' Williams said. "My question is: Who's out there that's better? He's not a bad coach. To fire him, that's making a big statement. After him, you have to get a Hall of Fame coach.

"I thought we prematurely acted on our emotions, as an organization. I think he did a good job. If anything, bring in a veteran assistant. I think we just could have gotten better instead of blowing it all up. Now we're starting over.

"I'm hurt, because I like him a lot," Williams added. "He'll be missed. We know how the business of basketball goes. He knows the nature of the business, also. His presence will be missed.''

Brown, who had one year left on his contract, could be quickly scooped up by one of the five other teams looking for head coaches. Brown guided the team to the postseason in each of his five seasons but failed to win an NBA championship. Cleveland's assistants also have one year remaining on their deals.

General manager Danny Ferry's contract expires next month and there's no guarantee he wants to stay around.

"I have truly enjoyed working with Mike Brown," Ferry said on Monday. "Mike has played a huge role in turning around the Cavs organization. Over the past five years, Mike established a work ethic, defensive identity and culture of winning that was not here previously."

Duke promptly struck down rumors that Mike Krzyzewski could leave the Blue Devils to coach James and the Cavaliers.

"It has been addressed repeatedly since the Lakers thing a few years ago," a Duke spokesman told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "If anything changes, we will let everyone know."

Brown was the league's coach of the year last season when the Cavs won 66 games. Cleveland lost to Orlando in the conference finals, however, and it was assumed Brown would have to get the team closer to a championship to keep his job.

Instead, the Cavs regressed. They were badly outplayed by the Celtics in the conference semifinals.

Boston's Doc Rivers and Orlando's Stan Van Gundy, the coaches who knocked Brown and the Cavs from the playoffs the past two years, expressed disappointment in Cleveland's decision.

"Obviously, I was not thrilled to see it," Rivers said before Game 4 in Boston. "I wonder what you have to do to keep your job -- back-to-back 60-win seasons. Our profession is tough."

Said Van Gundy: "Franchises have the right to make any decisions they want. You can't do a hell of a lot better. There's not a coach in the league that has done better than Mike Brown."

It wasn't all his fault, but the 40-year-old Brown, hired by Gilbert to change Cleveland's culture with a foundation based on defense, couldn't deliver a title this season despite having the game's most skilled player and a roster upgraded with the additions of All-Stars Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison.

The Cavs' defense, suffocating and relentless at times during the regular season, was atrocious in the series against Boston.

Cleveland allowed more than 100 points in six games and couldn't contain Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. When Brown and his staff finally figured out a way to contain Rondo, the Cavs had no answer for Kevin Garnett, who dominated Jamison.

Brown was outcoached by Rivers, who had his team better prepared and got more from his players. The Cavs were constantly beaten to loose balls and long rebounds, something Brown couldn't help but see as perhaps a sign that he had already lost his team.

Brown's rotations were a mess in the series, leading to the team's inability to get into any type of offensive rhythm. With James unable to dominate as he so often does, the Cavs' offense was stagnant and players didn't seem to have any sense of their roles.

It was constant scrambling.

There were whispers Brown was in trouble after the Cavs were dumped by Orlando in last year's Eastern Conference finals. It was thought that Brown would have to take his team at least as far this season to save his job, but he couldn't and paid the price.

During his tenure, Brown rarely -- if ever -- criticized James. The opposite wasn't true.

In past seasons, James complained about the team's lack of offensive imagination, saying the Cavs should run more. He and Brown worked through most differences and seemed to have a solid relationship, but it began to fade as this brief postseason unfolded.

Because of an injury to O'Neal, Brown was forced to integrate the center back into the offense during the playoffs, and the Cavs never got into a flow. Also, James and some of the team's other veterans questioned Brown's game plans in both the series against Chicago and Boston.

James publicly questioned why O'Neal played only 49 seconds in the fourth quarter of the Game 4 loss in Boston. In the opening round against the Bulls, James campaigned to get J.J. Hickson more playing time, creating an awkward standoff between the coach and superstar.

Adding to the drama in Cleveland's final home game was the sight of Kentucky coach John Calipari, a friend of James, sitting in a courtside seat -- next to James' agent -- adjacent to Cleveland's bench.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.