Looking at how Lakers' roles might be affected under Mike Brown
Whether you believe the Lakers made a mistake in hiring Mike Brown or believe he's exactly the fresh voice the team needs there are going to be some changes. We've all given our two cents on whether that might be change for the better or change for the worse, but we're all going on our analysis consisting of interviews, research and Brown's history. Regardless of what the evidence may suggest, no one will truly know how this will play out on the basketball court.
One of those areas entail how the Lakers' roster might change compared with when Phil Jackson was in charge. That in itself remains unclear because Lakers owner Jerry Buss shared his belief that the team needed to make tweaks without losing its core roster. After the jump, thoughts on how the Lakers' starting lineup might be affected by Brown's arrival.
Kobe Bryant: This of course is the most important variable in how successful Brown's tenure with the Lakers will be. The Lakers have already put Bryant on rocky footing with Brown, as mentioned in an earlier post, for their failure to give him a heads-up about the hire. In turn, Bryant declined to comment to Turner, which reported that people close to Bryant say he was confused about the hire, making it understandable that his conversation with Brown was limited to text messaging.
The degree to which Brown is willing to stand up to Bryant when he breaks out of the offense and goes into isolation mode will be critical. Jackson always tried to provide a balance between giving Bryant freedom and constructively criticizing, yet that still proved to be challenging for a coach with 11 championship rings.
Given Brown's less glittering pedigree and the perception that he let LeBron James walk over him, Bryant will surely test Brown at some point. It's critical that the new coach stand up for himself and establish a clear understanding with Bryant so their relationship can flourish.
Pau Gasol: Gasol surely won't miss Jackson's constant barbs. He'll also enter the 2011-12 season with plenty of motivation after a disappointing campaign. Outside of his sudden disappearing act in the postseason, Gasol has always had a consistent mid-range jumper and series of effective hooks, post-ups and fadeaways. But look for Brown to demand more out of Gasol defensively. He often cut corners on defense, ranging from taking his time getting back on transition, moving slowly to help and failing to box out. After Andrew Bynum took large ownership of the team's defensive scheme last year, Gasol almost felt compelled to not try to box the glass, feeling as if that responsibility solely went to Bynum.
Andrew Bynum: Speaking of Bynum, he'll enter next season in plenty of good spirits. He's fully healthy for once. He's coming off an impressive postseason where he posted averages of 14.4 points on 54.3% shooting and 9.6 rebounds. And, according to Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, Lakers executive Jim Buss considers Bynum "untouchable in trade talks." But there's going to be instant push-and-pull based on Bynum stating his preference during his exit interview that he wanted to have a larger role in the offense and Bryant pushing back, saying Bynum needs to "fall in line." It will be interesting to see how Brown handles the offensive dynamic, whether he tells Bryant this is one area where the team needs to recognize its size advantage or whether Brown defers to Bryant. This whole debate never has a concrete answer because the offensive dynamic should be dictated by how the players are playing in the course of the game. But the issue certainly affects the players' attitude toward how the offense should be run.
Defensively, Bynum's role will probably be enhanced even more and could be used as leverage to persuade him to have patience in not having as big an offensive role as he might want. He also took large ownership of the team's defensive scheme last season that emphasized funneling drivers to the lane, averaging two blocks a game and intimidating players with his length and size, a huge reason the Lakers went 17-1 after the All-Star break. Building on that performance will help sharpen the Lakers' rotations.
Ron Artest: He won the 2003-04 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award under Brown's system when he was an assistant at Indiana. Given Artest's preference for focusing on defense it's not going to take much for him to buy into a defensive concept. It's also probably going to be easier for Artest to grasp whatever new offense Brown going to put in place. But the most pressing concern involves his actual ability. Artest, 32, showed last season that he doesn't have the same agility he once had and he acknowledged that he sometimes had trouble balancing between training and staying fresh. For example, Artest slimmed down in the offseason to 250 pounds so he'd be more mobile to defend quicker players, but the Lakers coaching staff soon became worried that his extra workouts raised his fatigue level.
Though Brown will be a good fit for Artest because he won't embarrass him in public and both will be eager to learn and teach, I'm curious how much Brown will be able to reign him in when he gets distracted in his focus and side projects. For whatever it's worth, Artest coyly avoided answering questions from fans on Twitter about Brown's hiring.
Derek Fisher: With the triangle probably diminished at least to some degree, Fisher won't have the same role on offense that he did during Jackson's era. That will probably spur the Lakers to try to find speed in the backcourt, a quality they often avoided considering that didn't exactly fall into the triangle's philosophy anyway. Fisher will have an important role for Brown in keeping Bryant in check. He largely assumed this responsibility anyway, but he could always lean on Jackson to confront Bryant when necessary. It remains to be seen whether Brown will be able to develop that clout and whether Bryant will truly listen to him. But regardless of Fisher's ability, he still has the credibility and relationship to challenge Bryant.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: (from left) Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum at their 2011 exit interviews. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times