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Cleveland Cavaliers

Rosen | The best coaches in Cavaliers history

Atlanta Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens holds the game ball and waves to the crowd after his team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 74-68 for his 1000th career win as an NBA coach Friday March 1, 1996 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
AP Photo/John Bazemore

The Cleveland Cavaliers franchise has been in existence for 47 years, during which time the team has employed 20 coaches. Here are the best of these.

1. LENNY WILKENS — From 1986 to 1993, Wilkens’ Cavs compiled a record of 316-258 for a winning percentage of .551. Plus, his teams were 18-23 in playoff competition. If he was generally mistrustful of young players, all of Wilkens’ players were renowned for their perpetual hustle, and total unselfishness. Plus, the optimal spacing of the offense was universally considered to be among the most admirable in the league.

2. TYRONN LUE — During the past two seasons, Lue’s charges have made two Finals appearances and won a championship. Thus far, his record is 78-45, a winning percentage of .634. Even more remarkable is Lue’s 29-10 mark in the playoffs. It remains to be seen, however, if his achievements can continue especially if/when LeBron takes his talents elsewhere in 2018.

3. DAVID BLATT — His record of 83-40 gives him the best winning percentage (.675) of any coach in the team’s history. Blatt led the Cavs to the Eastern Conference championship and into the Finals in 2015. Despite the absence of the injured of Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving only able to play in Game 1, the Cavs extended the series to six games before bowing to the Golden State Warriors. Even so, Blatt was fired simply because he had been hired before LBJ returned to Cleveland, and the two constantly butted heads and didn’t get along. 

4. MIKE BROWN — He coached the Cavs to a record of 272-138 from 2005-2010, a sterling success rate of 66.3 percent. Brown’s game plan was to put the ball in LeBron’s hands and let his star do whatever he wished. No surprise, then, that LBJ averaged 29.0 points under Brown, the highest scoring total under any coach thus far in his career. Brown’s inability to make any kind of adjustments at either end of the game was likewise characteristic of his game plan. Still, he was named Coach of the Year in 2009 — all of this simply, and only due to LeBron’s transcendent greatness. Brown also coached the Cavs in 2013-14 when the team stumbled to a 33-49 record before LeBron returned. 

5. MIKE FRATELLO — From 1993 to 1999, the Cavs were 248-212 (.539). However, Fratello’s constant chirping criticisms of his players created an unhappy vibe on his teams. Indeed, by the end of each season, most of his players had simply tuned him out. Which is one reason why Fratello’s teams were only 2-12 in postseason competition.

Editor’s Note: Charley has offered a retraction to his analysis of Fratello — “I wrote that Mike Fratello had routinely become alienated from his players — information that was told to me by several disgruntled players. However, on further investigation (which I should have done before writing the column), I realized that Fratello, in fact, did a very good job with the Cavs. The team’s poor playoff record was mostly due to injuries and having to play against MJ’s Bulls and other top-flight competition.

In addition, during his time at the helm of the Atlanta Hawks, Fratello likewise did a good job. If it wasn’t for the poor leadership of his players, Fratello’s Hawks might have seriously challenged for a championship.

So, mea culpa. And my profound apology to Fratello.”

6. BILL FITCH — The longest-tenured coach in the team’s history, Fitch coached the sad-sack expansion 1970-71 Cavs and then helped them transform into a playoff-caliber team by the middle of the decade. Named the Coach of the Year in 1976, from 1970 to 1979, Fitch’s record was 304-434 (.412). He later proved his true abilities when he led the Boston Celtics to the championship in 1981.

7. PAUL SILAS — A no-nonsense guy, Silas had the task of introducing LeBron to the NBA. His record from 2003 to 2005 was 69-77 (.473), but he should be remembered with all due respect for being LBJ’s first mentor.

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