For Brown, L.A. may be the place
Mike Brown never really felt like the right fit in Cleveland.
He was a first-time head coach with a defensive-minded approach, taking over a team that seemed better suited to win by scoring the ball.
He possessed a young superstar in LeBron James, whose willingness to go for the kill was sometimes in question (and yes, still is). James himself admitted he’d never be able to outright detest opponents the way Lakers great Kobe Bryant did.
Brown, James and the Cavs never won a title. They compiled the NBA’s best record twice, becoming the first franchise to assemble back-to-back seasons of 60 or more victories (2008-10). But they only reached the Finals once. That was 2007, when they were manhandled and swept by the Spurs.
In the seasons that followed, Brown’s decisions related to substitution patterns and strategy were occasionally questioned by James, publicly and otherwise. Brown always responded diplomatically, aiming to keep his star happy and his team unified.
But most of the time, when it mattered most, it seemed something just wasn’t quite right. Then suddenly, everything went horribly wrong.
James and the Cavs were bounced by Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, a series in which Brown was accused of being badly out-coached by the Magic’s Stan Van Gundy and his European-style offense.
Things would get better before they got worse the following year, with the Cavs landing Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison, then winning a league-best 61 games.
Again, they were the favorites.
Again, they collapsed in the conference finals.
Somehow, they managed to turn it into an even bigger embarrassment than the year before -- as James led his team straight into pro basketball’s gutter, the Cavs caving in the worst way imaginable by getting blown out by Boston twice at home.
The fallout was immediate, and is still felt in Cleveland today.
Brown got fired. GM Danny Ferry, the man who hired Brown, resigned. James left for Miami. And much like LeBron’s jersey after his nationally televised decision, Cavs basketball went up in flames.
While James nabbed the label of Cleveland‘s biggest villain, Brown wasn’t far behind. It was Brown, many Cavs fans felt, who failed more than anyone.
New day in L.A.
Things are different for Brown now.
After a year off as an analyst, he was hired to save the Lakers from themselves. They needed a new voice, a new approach -- a new attitude that deviated from the sometimes-pompous ways of legendary coach Phil Jackson..
Brown couldn’t be more different than his predecessor. Brown is Mr. Everyman, a conservative and traditional coach who relies solely on X’s and O’s. Unlike Jackson and his Zen-like teachings, the only book Brown will ever give his team is the one with the plays in it.
He is hardly the prototypical Hollywood guy.
But just as he did with Ferry and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, Brown blew away the Lakers brass in his job interview. He sold them on the idea that, even with Bryant, their years as an overpowering offensive force were behind them. They needed defense, rebounding, and as Cavs fans always seemed to hate hearing him say, a knack for coming up with “50-50 balls.”
Brown may have had his shortcomings, but there was no denying his Cavs teams were always strong in those areas.
Only now, Brown came armed with the fact he had already managed some of the games brightest stars and biggest personalities in James and O’Neal. So he could certainly administer Bryant, who was always willing to do absolutely anything to win another championship, regardless of who’s playing alongside him or his coach’s philosophy.
Following a rocky start, Brown and the Lakers seem to be putting it all together -- or at least coming considerably closer to looking like real contenders again.
The Lakers seem more physical. They seem more willing to pound the ball until they get the best shot. They seem not to mind simply stepping aside and letting Bryant have his way. They suddenly seem renovated, refined, revived.
Brown deserves some credit, clearly having learned from his experiences in Cleveland.
He’s no longer a first-year man learning to handle a superstar and the circus that comes with it. He no longer has to worry about if he can handle damage control when the need arises. And he no longer is the front man for a team that has a reputation for falling apart when it means the most.
This band of Lakers has been there and done that.
And believe it or not, Mike Brown just may be the right man to lead them back.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO