Thoughts on Mike Brown and the Lakers
I'm somewhat amazed that there's been so much backlash and even vitriol in the reaction to L.A.'s hiring of Mike Brown, as I think the guy's a heckuva coach. Though I guess I'm not surprised, considering he was an easy scapegoat for the Cleveland Cavaliers falling short of a championship in the LeBron era.
But I credit Brown for helping the Cavs become as good as they were, for developing LeBron as a defensive player, and for creating outstanding defensive teams out of decent personnel overall. The jury's still out on his offensive acumen, though it'll be interesting to see Cleveland's perceived offensive shortcomings were a function of LeBron hijacking offensive sets at all (though LeBron was of course primarily responsible for Cleveland's offensive numbers being as good as they were, and the Lakers have a guy who might be prone to doing same once or twice). I'm also intrigued by the rumors that Brown is considering bringing exceptional European coach Ettore Messina, a longtime Painted Area favorite, over to serve as an assistant.
In many ways, I think that Brown accepting this job might be even more of a dice roll than the Lakers hiring him. There's one big X-factor, and that's if L.A. acquires Dwight Howard, in which case, I think it'll be a perfect fit for both Brown and the Lakers.
If not, I think this'll be a poor fit for both parties. Brown is inheriting a roster in decline. As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Lakers' big problem is that they have only four good players, and only three of those players can realistically be on the floor at the same time (and three of them are 30+, to boot). Beyond that, the Lakers have no players that anyone wants, and they're capped out and locked into multi-year deals with declining players.
Without Howard, this is a team in decline, and frankly, I think that the Golden State job would have had more upside for Brown's career, largely because of the vast difference in expectations.
In L.A., Brown is inheriting an aging roster, replacing Phil Jackson, and working for an unproven new owner (Jim Buss) who may be a big downgrade from the previous one (Jerry Buss). Yet, the bar for success will remain astronomically high - championship or bust - and if they fall short, as they will without an overhaul, I can pretty much guarantee Brown will be a scapegoat no matter how he performs, simply for not being Phil Jackson, in the same way Mitch Kupchak was initially scorned, largely for not being Jerry West.
In G.S., Brown would have inherited a young roster, with tons of room for growth following the defensive void of the Nellie/Smart era, plus a new ownership group (Lacob/Guber now plus Jerry West to add cachet) which may be a big upgrade from the previous one (Chris Cohan). And the expectations are obviously much lower in the Bay Area, given what those fans have suffered through for a generation. I believe Brown could have easily delivered a 10-15 game improvement and a playoff berth immediately, and been widely lauded and appreciated for it.
So, in many ways, I respect Mike Brown for accepting the *risk* of the Lakers job. Certainly, there's far greater chance he can win a championship with the Lakers, considering that they are a legitimate player in the Howard sweepstakes. But, in L.A., there's also a far greater chance that the perception that he's incompetent because he falls short of a championship could be perpetuated and magnified.
Back to the idea of the Lakers standing pat for a second. It's simply not a viable option if this team wants to win another championship. This group is done as a title-winner, locked into too many weak and declining supporting players. After their exit interviews, many Lakers players and personnel said they believed they could come back and contend with the same group, which is what I'd expect they'd say.
I saw a couple comparisons to 1985-86, when the Lakers were bounced in five games by the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers - who had been to the Finals from '82-85 and won it all in '85 - kept their group together and won back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988.
A couple key notes... First, here were the ages of their players in 1985-86:
Magic 26Here are the ages of their players in 2010-11:
Kobe 32As presently constructed, this Lakers team is getting worse, not better, whereas 25 years ago, they were still a team on the rise.
And let's remember one major thing that happened between 1985-86 and 1986-87: the keys to the team were handed over from Kareem to Magic.
In 1985-86, Kareem's usage rate was 26.6, Magic's was 21.6.
In 1986-87, Kareem's usage rate was 22.3, Magic's was 26.1.
To a lesser extent, that's what needs to happen now for the Lakers: they need to start to transition this team, ever so gently, from Kobe Bryant to Andrew Bynum. Obviously, Andrew Bynum is no circa 1986 Magic Johnson, so I'm not suggesting such a sharp change in focus. But they definitely need move in that direction.
In 2010-11, Kobe had a somewhat ridiculous usage rate of 35.1, while Bynum's was 17.6. Those numbers need to start to get closer.
Yet these comments by Kobe following his exit interview show just how delicate this situation will be:
- "Ultimately, [Bynum will] have to fall in line because I’m gonna shoot the ball – we all know that. Pau is going to get his touches; he’s No. 2. And then [Andrew] will have to fall in line."
I think there's a good chance this will lead to an exacerbation in relations between Bryant and Brown, and again, the easy contrast for media and fans alike will be how well Kobe and Phil worked together in their second go-round.
Should be some fascinating times, as they usually are, in Laker Land.
One last Kobe note.... In Game 3 vs. Dallas, cameras caught Kobe mouthing the words "Get in the %$@ post! Post his ass up!" to Lamar Odom.
In fact, I think it's time for Kobe to be directing those remarks fully at himself. Bryant can't get to the basket with any consistency anymore. It's time for him to make the low post a primary weapon in his arsenal, a la MJ circa '96-98. I have no doubt he has the skills and strength for it.
Kobe should be inspired by how Dirk Nowitzki has brought even more of a low post game into his arsenal, and hunker down with some film of the '96-98 Bulls over the summer. It's time to head down to the low blocks as a primary option.