Mike Brown once changed the culture and the expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Maybe, LeBron James had a lot to do with that. Brown though transformed the Cavaliers into a top defensive team and a championship contender. Then again, LeBron James had a lot to do with that.
Brown returned to the Cavaliers this season and is trying to rebuild the team again. He has some great tools to use in Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, top overall pick Anthony Bennett and (eventually) Andrew Bynum.
Defense though will once again be his team's foundation.
"It starts culturally first," Mike Brown said last week before the game against Orlando. "We have to make sure our culture is right. And after you lay that foundation culturually, establish whatever you want culturally, then you've got to move on to the Xs and Os.
"For us, I believe, we would bode well if we are defensive-first oriented team. We have got to make sure we get that end of the floor covered and we appreciate that end of the floor so that, if all else fails, we're going to defend tonight. And then from there you start talking about offense. For us, that's the process that we used last time, that's the process we're goingt o use this time."
Under Brown, the Cavaliers ranked 13th, 2nd, 10th, 3rd and 7th in defensive rating. Brown helped the Cavaliers become a top defensive team while LeBron James was blossoming.
Doing that this time around will be much more difficult. Cleveland ranked 26th in the NBA in defensive rating giving up 109.4 points per 100 possessions. This is likely what kept Cleveland from really competing for a Playoff spot like their talent suggests they should.
It is why the focus in training camp has been so focused on defense. And Brown has kept his expectations high.
For instance, Dion Waiters is averaging 12.7 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent from the floor. He has been much more efficient with his shot selection and has shown an ability to take over games offensively (yes, it is preseason).
However, Brown told Bob Finnan of The Canton Morning Journal following Cleveland's preseason game against Washington he is continuing to challenge Waiters to improve his defensive game. He sees a lot of potential in the second-year shooting guard:
He can be a high-level defender. You’re better than this (Brown said to Waiters). To his credit, he tried harder. He has a lot of room to grow. It’s hard to play at a high level for every possession.
Waiters had 0.6 defensive win shares last year. But he and his entire team struggled on that end.
Defense is the foundation for what the Cavaliers want to be. It is likely how they will make that next step and get into the Playoffs if they are to make it this year. That is going to be a tall task and a long process throughout the season. Whether the Cavaliers do it, that will have to wait for the regular season to start.