Report: Cavaliers retain assistants

Updated: May 26, 2010, 12:54 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Coach Mike Brown is out in Cleveland but, for now, his assistants remain, according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

It is more of a formality given the Cavaliers assistants' strong reputations and relationships with key players, including LeBron James, sources told the newspaper.

The Cavaliers did not let Mike Malone, Melvin Hunt and Chris Jent go in the hopes of retaining some stability over what could be a long process in establishing a new staff.

Brown was the most successful coach in franchise history. In five seasons, he led the Cavs to the playoffs every year, to the 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 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.

According to the Plain Dealer, Malone, Hunt and Jent were the men on the bench during games and the men with the heavy responsibilities. They may also still have a legitimate future with the organization.

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.

Now, by firing Brown, who won more than 66 percent of his games, the Cavs have again demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the norm to make James happy. While the All-Star forward did not call for Brown's head, it was clear during the Boston series that James and his coach were not on the same page.

Jent, who has some limited head coaching experience after an interim stint with the Orlando Magic in 2005, has developed a very good reputation as James' personal shooting coach. If James re-signs with the Cavs, there is good chance Jent would remain.

Over the past three summers, James and Jent have traveled together so that James could continue to work on shooting.

Malone has captained the Cavs' playoff opponent preparation for five years and earned the trust of the veterans including James, who, according to the newspaper, told people he appreciated the "voice" Malone had with the team.

Hunt was the Cavs' defensive coordinator this season.

James will likely keep his options open until free agency begins, and without an agreement from him, it will be almost impossible for the team to land a high-profile coach since any prospective coach can't be assured he'll have James.

Beyond that, general manager Danny Ferry's contract expires next month and there's no guarantee he wants to stay around.

If Ferry isn't re-signed, the Cavs face the prospect of preparing for the NBA draft and free agency without a coach or GM -- hardly the position they thought they'd be in after winning 61 regular-season games and dispatching Chicago in the first playoff round.

It gets even trickier. Gilbert will undoubtedly try to make a big splash to convince James to stay, but to do so he'll likely have to land a high-profile coach. There's no indication Gilbert has reached out to anyone yet but the top-tier 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.

Jackson's contract with the Lakers expires after this season. The 10-time champion has talked about retirement and recently said he can't imagine himself coaching anywhere else, but that may not stop Gilbert from making him a strong pitch -- especially if James is part of the package.

Krzyzewski and James formed a strong bond in three seasons together on the U.S. Olympic team, winning a gold medal in Beijing two years ago. Krzyzewski came close to leaving Duke for the Lakers in 2004, and if he's ever going to test his mettle in the pro game, the opportunity to coach James could be enough to pry him from campus.

Also, assuming he stays, Ferry is close with Krzyzewski, whom he played for in college and still calls "coach."

Duke promptly struck down rumors that 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 on Monday. "If anything changes, we will let everyone know."

Gilbert has always been impressed with Izzo, who fits the tough-minded defensive profile the owner was looking for when he hired Brown in 2005. Also, Gilbert is a Michigan State graduate. Izzo has turned down previous NBA overtures, but maybe none as big as what Gilbert might offer.

And then there's Calipari, who has insisted he'll stay at Kentucky. But that's not likely to stop the Cavs from reaching out to Calipari to gauge his interest in coming to Cleveland, a move that could keep James home.

Brown, meanwhile, did everything in his five seasons with the Cavs -- everything but win a title. In the end, that meant Gilbert had little choice but to let him go.

The Cavs owner can't let James walk away as easily.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE