Friday, May 27, 2011

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   26
    Kareem 38
    Worthy 24
    Scott 24
    Cooper 29
    Green 22
    Rambis 27
Here are the ages of their players in 2010-11:
    Kobe    32
    Pau 30
    Odom 31
    Bynum 23
    Artest 31
    Fisher 36
    Blake 30
    Brown 25
As 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."
This is why I think Mike Brown might not be a good fit for the Lakers, and why I thought Brian Shaw was the only man for the Lakers if they decide to largely stand pat. Shaw, in my opinion, is the only guy who has a chance to successfully transition the Lakers from Kobe to Bynum over the next couple years, and again, I don't think there's anything more important for this group, as presently structured.

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.


At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Mike McCarthy said...

Just what I've been telling folks - Kobe has to realize the Lakers must be Bynum's team. and Kobe cannot do this. It's impossible.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous With Malice said...

Really Mike? Entrust the franchise to the hands of a guy who's not yet 24?
I do disagree with Kobe's order of things - there WILL be nights where the foodchain will start with #17, but to state that it should be "Bynum's team" is folly.

And on Brian Shaw. Really? Stay with the status quo?
Maintaining the system in place when the players had really stopped actually *listening* to Phil Jackson would be in error.
LA needed a change, and I'd hoped it would be Adelman, but if they can land Messina and maybe Tim Grgurich, then I'll be satisfied with Brown.

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous With Malice said...

Oh... but in general - good piece man!

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At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Hollis said...

The problem is the triangle offense, its too easy to defend. It was new and fresh in the 90s, but that was two decades ago. The mavericks beat that zone offense with a zone defense. Kobe was and ous the only laker that could improvise and create his own shot.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a bad're correct in saying that the Warriors has a much lower expectation level. But while the Lakers have almost exclusively been hiring established coaches with some playoff success and/or championships since 1994, the Golden State Warriors aren't a smarter choice. They have had only one coach in the last 10 years to take another job afterwards (Eric Musselman), and that second job only lasted one year, in another small market that was in upheaval.

I would guess that Mike Brown, whether successful or not in his time in LA, will get job offers afterwards. Not necessarily (and quite unlikely, according to recent history) if he chooses Golden State.

At 3:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without disagreeing with your analysis of the lakers decline, Mike Brown would be crazy to take the warriors job. It is the warriors and there is no guarantee that they will break the cycle of 35 crummy years just because they have new owners who have no experience. They are the Warriors. Overturning all that futility is highly unlikely.

It very well may be that Pau has decided that he has two rings and $100M and hates Kobe's guts...and that he doesn't really need to try very hard anymore. Ditto Lamar and RonRon. And Kobe likely will continue to prefer losing his way to winning another way. But to Mike Brown, it is still the Lakers ...Los Angeles ..$18M. He MATTERS.

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