Lakers Q&A: Trey Johnson discusses Mike Brown's hire with the Lakers
Below is a conversation with Lakers guard Trey Johnson, whom the Lakers recalled April 13 from the Bakersfield Jam. Johnson also had a short stint in 2009 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed him to two 10-day contracts. Although his role was limited, Johnson has particular insight in playing for both Phil Jackson and Mike Brown, who coached Cleveland for five seasons and recently was chosen as the Lakers' head coach.
You've been on both sides of the coin, playing under Mike with Cleveland and last season under Phil. How would you compare the two experiences as far as what they brought?
Definitely different guys, but at the same time, they're similar in how they run their practices. Everybody's accountable from a standpoint that you have to hold yourself accountable. I don't think the atmosphere will change much in the sense of it being a professional mindset and you get your work in. But they're different. Phil is definitely a cerebral guy. The way he prepares for a game is a lot different than the way Mike prepares for a game. But you still get the same ending results in the fact we're winning games. Of course Mike hasn't won a championship as a head coach, but he was [an assistant] under Gregg Popovich and he has a great future. It was great. I saw two different sides of the spectrum, but they were both great guys and were winning guys. Both had great personalities. It's going to be interesting. Hopefully I'm part of it again.
What did Mike Brown bring to the Cavaliers?
He's definitely a leader. I liked the way he did it. He's not going to be that much different from Phil in ... that he allows players to be professionals and treats everybody in a respectful manner. It's not a dictatorship or anything like that. It's a great working atmosphere. That stood out to me from a professional standpoint. He really is a defensive coach. He focuses and stresses defense, but he creates the atmosphere where you want to get your extra work in. It's not an atmosphere where you feel like, "Ugh, I have to get these shots up" or "Ugh, I have to do extra work." It's a very fun, working atmosphere. It makes you want to work and get better.
What's his defensive philosophy?
We always had a saying that was interesting to me in Cleveland: "Contest a shot. Nobody shoots a wide open jump shot." He'd say, "I don't care if you're so late and you feel like you can't even get to it. You have to at least run out there and try. You have to go to the shooter and at least contest the shot." That was big. We were always contesting shots. No one was shooting open shots. He's a grinder. He wants to make this game as tough as possible for our opponent. Let's pack it in and fight over screens and let's be animals on defense. His biggest thing was contesting shots.
How did he get everyone to buy into what he wanted on defense?
That started with LeBron. He developed a relationship with LeBron and he went to LeBron from the beginning before I got there where he said, "Offensively, you're extremely gifted, but we need you defensively. You can be just as good defensively as you are offensively." LeBron bought into that. When your best player buys into that, it's real easy for the rest of the team. That won't be a problem with the Lakers. Kobe is one of the best defenders in the league and he enjoys that end of the floor. It will be interesting for those two to work together.
How do you think that dynamic will work?
I think it can work. Mike Brown is a respected coach in my eyes in the sense of what he's done in the short time he's been a head coach. I think he's been tremendous. Of course, Kobe is a Hall of Famer. Both of them are basketball guys and their basketball IQs are extremely high. That's where they're going to connect in the sense of game-planning and what's expected in what kind of team he wants to establish as a Mike Brown Lakers team. I think it's going to be very good to see.
Going back to LeBron, what stood out with his interactions with Mike and how they worked together?
It was a very open relationship. Mike is open. Mike doesn't say, "This is the way it has to be done and this is the only way." He's very understanding of the game and players and their personalities. That's the biggest thing at a professional level, managing personalities. He understood how to interact and deal with LeBron. LeBron was very respectful of Mike in return. It wasn't like him being a superstar player and he makes all this money and the coach can't say anything. It wasn't that way. LeBron had a lot of respect for Mike Brown and it showed in their relationship.
So it was more of a give-and-take between both of them? Of course. You got to be that way, especially when you have someone like LeBron, how young he was when Mike first coached him. You have to be open. You can't be one way.
What was Mike's philosophy on offense? He liked getting up and down. But it wasn't what he stressed. He liked to push the ball because of the athletes we had and the type of team we had at the time. It was a basic offense. We did a lot of things to get the ball to LeBron, of course. So I imagine there will be a lot of things to get Kobe the ball. That'll probably be a little different because John Kuester was an assistant when I was there. He was the offensive guy. Somebody asked me if he's going to run the triangle and I was like, "I don't think he's going to run the triangle."
What was your reaction that you heard he was going to be the Lakers coach?
I was excited. I'm happy for him. I not only think he's a great coach, he's a great guy. He is a truly great guy and professional. Maybe it works out for me in the end. But I think it's a good move by Mitch Kupchak and Jerry and Jim Buss. That's a great move. Of course, playing for [Brian] Shaw, I didn't know what was going to happen. I thought he was next in line. But you can't go wrong on either end. The first time I knew Mike Brown was being auditioned for the job was when he got it. But when it happened, I thought it was a great move. I thought he or B Shaw would be a great move. I don't think you can go wrong with either one of them, but I think the Lakers did a great job with finding someone who will get the job done. He will do a great job.
Have you talked to anyone on the team since the announcement was made?
I haven't spoken to anyone since the announcement was made, so I'm not sure of everyone's feelings about it. I can only imagine they're excited about it. They're professionals. This is our coach.
There's a lot of concerns about Mike's hire from the media, including myself, and the fans, namely with how he's going to handle all the pressure with replacing Phil, the extra distractions that go on in L.A., managing egos and how he would run the offense. How would you address those concerns?
Anybody they would have brought in, there would have been legitimate concerns strictly because it is L.A. It is the Lakers. Those are big shoes to fill. You're coming behind Phil Jackson, who is the greatest coach of all time, and the Lakers organization is one of the top franchises in NBA history. Anybody that you'd bring in would bring legitimate concerns from a fan standpoint. The fans are the people that come out and pay for a certain product to be put on the floor. They have the right to ask those questions. But I just say, give him a fair chance. It's OK to ask those questions, but this is a guy who has proven himself. He has dealt with one of the highest-profile players to ever come through the league with LeBron. To come in and deal with Kobe and other guys and the L.A. atmosphere, I know it's going to be different. But I think Mike can handle that job.
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Photo: Kings guard Beno Udrih dives on a loose ball in front of Lakers guard Trey Johnson in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire / April 13, 2011