INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is hoping he can make up for a major mistake.
Conceding for the first time publicly that he should have never fired Mike Brown as Cleveland's coach three years ago, Gilbert said Wednesday he's thrilled to be able to re-hire the most successful coach in franchise history.
Brown, who led the Cavs to the NBA playoffs in each of his five seasons with the club, has reunited with a team and owner who fired him after Cleveland was eliminated from the 2010 playoffs — not long before LeBron James bolted from Cleveland as a free agent.
"Yeah, it was a mistake. Sure it was a mistake," Gilbert said of his decision to fire Brown, who along with James took the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007. "We have the benefit of hindsight right now, and in hindsight it was a mistake. That summer we went through three years ago was a unique time for us as a franchise and the uncertainty on a lot of levels. We are very happy that we get to rectify any position we took back then.
"Maybe he's meant to be here."
Brown was joined at his re-introductory news conference by his wife and two sons — just as he was in 2005 when Gilbert hired a then-relatively unknown assistant from Indiana for the first time. Brown described the new setting as "surreal."
Brown, who was fired just five games into this season by the Los Angeles Lakers, said he has no reservations about returning to work for Gilbert or coach in Cleveland.
"It's funny how life works out," he said. "But the one thing that I do I know is from afar, Cleveland has always been special in my heart and in my family's heart. You look at the job that (general manager) Chris Grant and his staff have done, and you feel the commitment from a guy like Dan Gilbert and if it happens, you feel like one of the luckiest guys on the planet.
"It's not something I thought about on a daily basis, but things work in a mysterious way and I'm excited to have the opportunity again."
Brown's return prompted a mixed reaction from Cleveland fans, some wondering why Gilbert would bring back a coach who couldn't win it all with James.
Shortly after Brown's reunion with the Cavs was made official, Gilbert went on Twitter to defend his decision. He pointed out that Brown and Phil Jackson are the only coaches with more than five years of experience to never miss the playoffs in their careers. Gilbert also noted that at 43, Brown "is not even near his peak as an NBA coach."
"Not 'selling' boys and girls," the billionaire owner wrote. "Just providing facts. You decide. Let's see how things roll next year and beyond. How many days until opening tip?"
Of course, Brown's return raises more speculation about what impact that could have on the possibility of James one day playing for the Cavs again. James can opt out of his contract with Miami as early as the summer of 2014 and the three-time league MVP has said he could imagine playing for Cleveland again.
On Wednesday night, James said he was pleased Brown was back with the Cavs.
"I'm happy for him," James said before the Heat took a 2-0 lead over Milwaukee in their playoff series. "Very happy for him. I think he's a really good coach, very defensive-minded coach. It'll be good for those young guys that they have."
Gilbert sidestepped a few questions about James.
"We're focused on this year," he said. "You can't get too far ahead of yourself."
Brown replaces Byron Scott, the man who replaced him three years ago. Scott was fired last week by Gilbert following his third straight losing season, one of injuries, blown leads and long losing streaks. The Cavs dropped 16 of their last 18 under Scott and Gilbert made the move, saying he was not seeing enough progress and he was most disappointed by the Cavs' defense.
Defense is Brown's forte and the Cavs ranked among the league's stingiest defensive teams during his tenure.
Gilbert and Grant, a close friend of Brown's since college, met in Detroit on Sunday and the talks accelerated. The Cavs acted quickly to secure Brown, who was approached by a few other teams with vacancies.
"To me, it just fits perfect like a puzzle," Gilbert said. "It all comes together, Mike Brown what he brings is exactly what this franchise needs right now. We need an authentic, hard-working grinder who is a defensive-first coach who is engaged at all levels at all times.
Even before Scott was fired, Brown was planning to move his family back to Cleveland. Brown's wife, Carolyn, and the couple's teenage sons enjoyed their time here and wanted to come back.
With James emerging as a superstar, the Cavs made the finals six years ago and won more than 60 games in 2008-09 (66-16) and 2009-10 (61-21). However, they failed to win the franchise's first NBA title and Brown paid the price after the Cavs were beaten by Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Brown is getting a second chance to take the next step.