INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Three years later, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert owned up to a monumental mistake.
He's trying to correct it.
Mike Brown gave him a second chance.
Conceding publicly for the first time that he should have never fired Brown as Cleveland's coach during the turbulent summer of 2010, 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 he guided to its greatest success and the owner who fired him after Cleveland was eliminated from the 2010 playoffs — not long before LeBron James decided to bolt as a free agent.
"Yeah, it was a mistake. Sure it was a mistake," Gilbert said of his choice to sack Brown. "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 re-introduced by the Cavs at their training facility following a lightning-fast second courtship with the Cavs he described as "surreal." Flanked by Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant, Brown was accompanied by his wife, Carolyn, and their teenage sons — just as he was in 2005 when Gilbert took a shot on a then-relatively unknown assistant from Indiana for the first time.
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 coaching again 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 feel the commitment from a guy like Dan Gilbert and if it happens, you feel like one of the luckiest guys on the planet.
"Things work in a mysterious way and I'm excited to have the opportunity again."
Gilbert opened the news conference by saying, "Welcome to Mike Brown 2.0. We certainly enjoyed 1.0." Gilbert later joked that he "didn't want to do a George Steinbrenner imitation or anything," referring to the late New York Yankees owner's penchant for hiring and firing manager Billy Martin.
Less than a week after firing Byron Scott, the Cavs signed Brown to a guaranteed four-year contract with the club holding an option for the fifth year. The deal is worth approximately $20 million. It's not immediately known how much of Brown's owed salary from the Lakers is being absorbed by the Cavs.
Brown went 272-138 in his five seasons with Cleveland and, obviously helped by James, got the team beyond the first round of the playoffs each year. He was named the league's top coach in 2009, led the Cavs to consecutive 60-win seasons and his .652 winning percentage is sixth highest in league history for coaches with at least 400 games.
He was the best coach available — by far— to the Cavs, who gauged Phil Jackson's interest before moving forward. They re-hired Brown quickly before anyone else had a shot.
The Phoenix Suns are believed to have contacted Brown, who replaced Scott, the man who replaced him in 2010.
"I chose to come here," Brown said. "I probably could have waited. I had another team that had talked to me about possibly taking over. I just didn't feel it fit. So when I had this opportunity come across my table, initially it was a shocker but I got back to what I thought was the foundation of what these two guys have done and what they believe. Once that happened for me it was easy."
Of course, Brown's return raises more speculation about what impact it 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 a second stint in Cleveland.
On Wednesday night, James said he was "very happy" Brown was back with the Cavs and called him a "really good coach, very defensive-minded coach. "
Gilbert sidestepped any speculation about James.
"We honestly talk about today, this year," Gilbert said. "All that stuff in the media, we can't control that. We understand why it's there. We're focused on this year. You can't even speculate in the next 12 months on what's going to happen and where we're going to be or where anybody else is going to be. You focus on right now."
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 because he felt he wasn't seeing enough progress and was most disappointed by the Cavs' defense.
While defense is Brown's forte, his offensive system was constantly criticized in Cleveland. Still, Gilbert said he's just what the team desired.
"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."
Months before Scott was fired, Brown was planning to move back to Cleveland. He was previously here long enough to understand the city's hunger for sports, and the area's longing for a championship.
He's returning to a young squad with a star in guard Kyrie Irving and other interesting parts. He's back with a team with loads of salary-cap space, two first-round picks in this year's draft and an owner who says the playoffs are next year's goal.
Brown has some unfinished business — winning a title.
"When we were here, you feel the people," he said. "You walk around town and you feel the passion of the people. So yes, to a certain degree you want to bring them that (title) so that they can tell their grandkids and their grandkids can tell their grandkids and so forth.
"What a special treat that would be just to be a part of."