Mike Brown’s tenure with the
new-look, uber-hyped Los Angeles Lakers lasted just five regular-season games.
On Friday, after a 1-4 start,
the Lakers fired their embattled head coach. The news, which was first reported
by USA Today Sports, should come as a wave of real relief for Lakers fans.
Forget the notion it was too
soon. Ignore the voices saying this was the product of a knee-jerk society
that’s lost its patience for process. Don’t believe Brown would ever have been
anything other than the wrong person for the job.
From the beginning, there
were questions about his ability to handle and bring out the best of a team
made up at its core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Brown had neither the offensive chops nor the well-studied degree in managing
massive egos needed to make such a talented but disjointed grouping work.
What happened Friday was
simply the Lakers understanding that Brown was not up to the task and using his
inexcusable 1-4 start as a cover to make the right call.
A knee-jerk overreaction?
Hardly. This was a cold-blooded move aimed at correcting a key mistake as soon
as possible. That’s true even though Nash played in only one full game,
true even though Dwight hasn’t quite gotten his rhythm, and true because at
times Pau has played like he’s 60 years old.
Even before this season started in disarray, Brown did not fit. It was a mystery when the Lakers hired him to
replace Phil Jackson before last season; it became a foregone conclusion that he would
not last when LA added Dwight and Nash this offseason.
While coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brown’s
inability to manage a future Hall of Fame player’s
ego – not to mention his growth and skill – was painfully evident. LeBron James
ran that team as much or more as Brown did, a fact that thwarted LeBron’s
maturation process and, in the long run, undercut Cleveland’s hopes of bringing
back its star.
In the NBA, there are two
very difficult things at which a head coach must excel: Coaching, and managing the
rarified sub-class of superstars. Brown excelled at neither.
And that’s before accounting
for this cast of characters in Los Angeles. Kobe is another thing altogether –
a fusion of anger and resentment and talent and drive, who like a powerful but
volatile weapon must be handled with perfect care. Dwight has his own
LeBron-like tendencies. Pau needs a different kind of hand-holding. The issues
of managing Metta World Peace are long and varied. Nash is a pick-and-roll
master who was told, in effect, not to be.
In many ways, Brown signed
his own termination papers when he instituted a version of the Princeton
offense. That decision, an Xs-and-Os blunder that had even his biggest
defenders shaking their heads, turned the most exciting starting lineup the NBA
has seen in a generation into a foundering, doddering mistake. It underscored
in perfect clarity how out of his element Brown was with this team.
Then, after losing to a
hapless Utah team Wednesday night, Dwight told reporters something that at the
time screamed fireable offense: “The intensity was
low. We didn’t play as hard as we should’ve played.”
Like LeBron two
years ago, Dwight had been too candid, but what he said was telling. Brown had
lost the team. The head coach sold as a defensive guy couldn’t get his players to
muster the energy to try against a Utah team in a game they desperately needed
to win despite the harsh spotlight bearing down on them?
unacceptable, even a few games in. Mike Brown had to go.
Now that he’s gone, the
burden gets placed atop the shoulders of Lakers
general manager Mitch Kupchak. The Lakers attract talent in their own right, and
so a general manager blessed with that brand will be largely judged on the
coach he brings in to manage the stars flocking to Showtime and, to a lesser
degree, the draft.
there are advantages.
This is perhaps
the best job in the game, one tailor-made for the again-retired Phil Jackson. Kupchak
or someone else in the organization needs to start by climbing whatever
mountain Phil is currently meditating on and see if he’s been waiting this
whole time to come back. They probably already have.
If not, there
will be a list of top-tier candidates clamoring for a gig that features four
future Hall of Famers. Jerry Sloan would be my choice. But there’s also Mike
D’Antoni, Brian Shaw, Nate McMillan and others. Making the right call could
well be the difference between a championship this season or not. The Lakers
are that capable.
But only because Mike Brown
is no longer the head coach.
You can follow Bill Reiter
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