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John Schuhmann

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David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Step-by-step approach has earned Cavs' Brown Coach of Year

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Apr 20 2009 2:04PM

CLEVELAND -- One day, one practice, one shootaround, one game, one possession at a time. If you've spent any time around Mike Brown, you've heard those words often. Like almost every time he talks.

A game against a good team is not a big game. It's just the next game. Don't bother asking him about Saturday's opponent before Friday's game. He's not going to answer you. And don't try to talk about the Playoffs before the regular season is over. He's not going to budge.

Coach of Year voting
Coach (Team) Votes: 1st place 2nd place 3rd place Points
Mike Brown (Cavaliers) 55 21 17 355
Rick Adelman (Rockets) 13 24 14 151
Stan Van Gundy (Magic) 13 20 25 150
Nate McMillan (Trail Blazers) 15 14 10 127
George Karl (Nuggets) 11 16 14 117
Jerry Sloan (Jazz) 9 9 6 78
Erik Spoelstra (Heat) 2 8 19 53
Mike Woodson (Hawks) 1 3 3 17
Phil Jackson (Lakers) 1 3 3 17
Doc Rivers (Celtics) 1 2 4 15
Vinny Del Negro (Bulls) 1 1 1 9
Larry Brown (Bobcats) - 1 3 6
Scott Skiles (Bucks) - - 1 1
Tony DiLeo (Sixers) - - 1 1
Rick Carlisle (Mavericks) - - 1 1

The man just does not look ahead. Or at least, he doesn't admit to looking ahead. You have to wonder how Brown packs for road trips. Can he pick out a second suit before he's worn the first one? Can he make reservations for dinner before he's eaten lunch?

For much of the season, Brown's Cavs were in a tight race with the Celtics and Lakers for the best record in the NBA. But not once did Brown use that as motivation for his team. He never mentioned the words "home-court advantage" before or after a game. He offered the Cavs no carrots.

One day, one practice, one shootaround, one game, one possession at a time.

That's a big reason that the Cavaliers are where they are -- best record in the league, favored by many to win the NBA tile -- and a major reason that Brown on Monday was named the NBA's Coach of the Year for 2008-09.

"I don't feel like I'm a motivator," Brown said recently. "I don't feel like I have to give a rah-rah speech or anything like that to my guys."

Brown, 39, compiled a record of 145-101 (.589) in his first three seasons on the bench in Cleveland and led the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals. But he was maligned for not being very inventive. The Cavs were an excellent defensive team, but were a one-trick pony on the other end. It was give the ball to LeBron James and wait for him to create something.

"Offensively, the last three years, we weren't good mainly because of me," Brown admitted after Game 1 against the Pistons on Saturday. "I wanted to establish an identity here, and that was on the defensive end of the floor."

Having been an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Brown is a firm believer that defense wins championships. "On the road you win that way," he said. "In the Playoffs, you win that way. So while establishing that, in practice, everything was defensive-oriented. We didn't practice much offense."

Brown was hired by the Cavs after two years as the associate head coach in Indiana under Rick Carlisle, who gave Brown control of the Pacers' defense. In Brown's first year there, the Pacers jumped from the 24th best defense in the league to third.

"So I was already a head coach defensively for two years before getting [to Cleveland]," he said. "And now all of a sudden, I've got to do the defense and the offense. So it took a little bit of time for me to learn and grow on that end of the floor."

Brown and his staff spent every summer learning from other coaches, both around the NBA and around the world. One man who influenced him offensively was Ettore Messina, the Italian who coaches CSKA Moscow in the Russian League.

"We've tried to get better, just like we ask our players to do," Brown said. "And it's starting to evolve and it's starting to show, the work that we as a staff have put in the summertime."

One day, one practice, one shootaround, one game, one possession at a time.

The Cavs made a huge leap offensively this season. They went from the 20th-most efficient offense to the fourth-most efficient. Part of that was due to the addition of point guard Mo Williams, but the willingness of Brown and his staff to find a new direction was critical.

Still, no matter how good their offense has become, the Cavs' success begins on the defensive end of the floor.

Brown's defensive principles are simple. There are no gimmicks. And they don't change their defensive game plan much depending on their opponent. They protect the paint, try to keep the ball on one side of the floor, hedge hard on screens and help each other at all times.

The Cavs are five guys on a string. They defend so well because every guy on the roster has bought in completely to what Brown has been selling. Other than winning a championship, Brown's only goal for his team back in October was to develop the chemistry needed to win that championship.

"Chemistry means trust," Brown told his team at the annual dinner to open the season.

Trusting your players can be a difficult task for a coach, especially one with such a strong belief in how to win. But in addition to the improvements he's made with the Xs and Os, Brown believes he's matured enough in his four seasons with the Cavs to trust that things are going well.

In other words, the 2005 Mike Brown might not have allowed his team to put on their "family photo" routine before tipoff of every game. But as long as the players are following the game plan on the floor, Brown is happy to let that stuff pass.

"I don't put as much pressure on myself to do certain things a certain way," he said. "I'm more relaxed. I listen better. I react better."

Now with one of the league's stingiest defenses and one of its most efficient offenses, and that home-court advantage that Brown never mentioned, the Cavs are dealing with expectations for the franchise's first championship. Brown's expectations are no different from any other year he's been in Cleveland.

"I've felt the past three years that we've had a legitimate chance of winning," he said.

One day, one practice, one shootaround, one game, one possession at a time.

Brown, clearly, has grown along with his team. The Cavs are still LeBron's team. But when we speak of a star's supporting cast, the first place you have to look in Cleveland is at Brown, the NBA's Coach of the Year.

NBA.com's John Schuhmann will be covering the first round series between the Cavs and Pistons. If you have a question or comment for him, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

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