It was Nov. 9, 2012 when the news broke: Mike Brown had been fired as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers just five games into the season.

The Cavaliers were at their shootaround in Phoenix, the fourth game of a six-game trip. General Manager Chris Grant, a close friend of Brown's since their playing days on the University of San Diego basketball team, took the news in stride.

"He'll be all right," Grant said of the former Cavaliers coach.

Neither one could have known that they'd be reunited in Cleveland less than six months later.

The word "surreal" was thrown around often during Brown's re-introductory news conference on Wednesday at the team's practice facility, almost exactly three years after he was fired. But in some ways, he never left.. Like a high school sweetheart, the two sides really never stopped thinking about each other.

Brown and Grant, of course, remained in contact throughout the three-year separation. Brown and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert did not, but the more Gilbert watched the Cavs struggle defensively the past three years, the more he had to think about the one who got away. Gilbert, after all, grew up a Detroit Pistons fan and later became one of the team's business partners. If there was anything that defined the Pistons' success, it was defense and toughness, two things the Cavs sorely lacked.

So frustrated did the Cavs owner become that after the Cavs 113-103 loss to visiting Denver on Feb. 9, Gilbert tweeted, "We have made good progress recently but when the Cleveland Cavaliers arrive back to the top tier of the NBA we will be a DEFENSIVE 1st team."

This came during the team's best month of the season. Kyrie Irving was named an All-Star and the Cavs went 7-5 in February, the only winning month in Byron Scott's tenure. But the Cavs took a nosedive from that point, going 4-20 in the last two months and turning in one listless performance after another. Scott was criticized for his in-game decisions about everything from substitutions to timeouts.

"As we were getting toward the end of the season, we needed a holistic change, a change of philosophy and a change of identity," Gilbert said.

The fatal flaw in the Cavs under Scott was their appalling lack of defense. They were last in the league all season in opponent field-goal percentage. That's why they lost leads of 27, 26, 22 and 20 points during the season -- they simply could not stop opponents.

Is it any wonder thoughts would turn to Brown, whose commitment to defense was complete? Yes there were, and are, questions about his offense, although it improved considerably throughout his time in Cleveland. In addition, not all the offensive problems were coach-generated. Former Cav LeBron James often broke off plays, pounding, pounding, pounding the ball at the top of the key while waiting to go one-on-one with his defender.