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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cavs' playoff failures, LeBron's future factor into Brown's dismissal

CLEVELAND (AP) Of the many reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers had for firing coach Mike Brown after five seasons without an NBA title, one mattered most.

They can't lose LeBron James.

Less than two weeks after their stunning, second-round loss to Boston in the playoffs, the Cavaliers fired Brown on Monday, an expected move that perhaps indicates the team believes it can re-sign James, the two-time MVP and free agent-in-waiting.

Brown was the most successful coach in franchise history. In five seasons, he led the Cavs to the playoffs every year, to the NBA Finals in 2007 and to 127 wins in the past two seasons. But Brown failed to win a championship, and after Cleveland's second straight early exodus from the postseason — a collapse that included two blowout losses at home and dissension in the Cavs' locker room — and with James about to explore free agency, owner Dan Gilbert decided to make a change.

The Cavs did not hold a news conference to explain their decision to relieve Brown, who went 314-177 and was the league's coach of the year in 2009.

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."

The Cavaliers were under a deadline to dismiss Brown. If they had waited beyond 10 days after the season, they would have had to pay the 40-year-old coach his salary for next season. Cleveland's assistant coaches remain under contract for 2010-11.

The team now faces an even more pressing deadline. James can become a free agent on July 1, when he'll head a free-agent class unlike any other in league history. He will hit the market with fellow superstars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, and while the expected bidding wars are weeks away, the speculation and suspense are hanging over the NBA playoffs.

James has said winning will be the most important factor in choosing a team. In building around him, the Cavs have already shown their commitment to giving the 25-year-old James the tools he needs to win multiple titles.

There's no indication Gilbert has reached out to anyone yet but the top-tier coaching candidate list would include people like Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State's Tom Izzo or Kentucky's John Calipari, a close friend of James, whose seat near Cleveland's bench added awkward drama to the Cavs' loss in Game 5 to the Celtics.

Hornets update

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A person familiar with the process says Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau is the leading candidate to fill the New Orleans Hornets' coaching vacancy and the team could offer him the job this week.

After interviewing eight candidates, the Hornets began working on a contract for Thibodeau, the person told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the offer has not yet been made.

The Hornets also interviewed Portland assistant Monty Williams, former Dallas coach Avery Johnson, Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey, former NBA coach Mike Fratello, former New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank, ex-NBA player Mark Jackson and Utah assistant Tyrone Corbin.

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