Five thoughts on Mike Brown becoming the Lakers' coach
1. The Lakers should've hired Brian Shaw. I'm not thrilled with the Lakers' decision ... scratch that ... Jim Buss' decision to hire Mike Brown as the new Lakers' coach because of all the "con" reasons I highlight in this item I posted earlier. It's clear that the Lakers wanted to move in a new direction away from Phil Jackson's leadership, but it's quite striking that an early playoff exit suddenly ruined Shaw's chances. Although the Lakers never had any formalized agreement of any sort, it had always been presumed that Shaw would have succeeded Jackson because of his long familiarity with the triangle and his strong relationship with the players. Instead, the Lakers suddenly are going in a completely different direction.
It's not always bad to start something new, and it's clear by the way things ended in the Lakers' 2011 Western Conference semifinals sweep to the Dallas Mavericks that Jackson had lost his effectiveness with the team. But that doesn't mean it's necessary to completely start from scratch. It'd be one thing if Shaw was passed up in favor of Rick Adelman because of Shaw's lack of head coaching experience; Adelman's corner offense bears some familiarity with the triangle. But I'm not convinced Brown will be able to squeeze championships out of this current roster because there's too much of an adjustment period. The Lakers have taken pride in having great success with taking risky decisions that work out in the end. I don't believe, however, that this is one of them.
2. How are the players going to respond to Brown? Brown has been credited with convincing LeBron James to become a strong-minded defensive player, skill James has shown consistently -- and most recently in his Game 4 effort with Miami against Chicago in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. But the Cavaliers' firing of Brown following the team's 2010 conference finals loss to Boston pointed to James eventually tuning him out and the organization's hopes that dumping Brown could convince James to choose Cleveland during free agency. That doesn't give me much confidence that Brown will have a solid working relationship with Kobe Bryant. Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick talked to a source who indicated Bryant was "surprised" to hear the Lakers favored Brown and that he was never consulted about it. The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner reported that Bryant offered no comment on Brown's hire and that people close to Bryant indicate he was confused by the hire. That's hardly the kind of reaction you'd want to hear from the team's star player.
Bryant, no doubt, will say all the right things and praise his new coach, as will any other Lakers' player. But that means absolutely nothing. The players will reveal their true feelings in how they actually respond to Brown's coaching, particularly if the Lakers go through any rough patches. There was already going to be inevitable transition period with any coach, because no one can really fully replace Jackson. Brown may argue that his experience coaching James will help give him insight on how to properly coach Bryant, but I'm convinced his reputation will ultimately be used against him. Bryant, who reportedly had wanted Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy or Shaw as the Lakers' coach, joined Derek Fisher and Luke Walton in publicly endorsing Shaw to be the next coach, in part because of his familiarity with their personnel. But there's a bigger reason, explained best by The Times' T.J. Simers: Shaw "has been around Bryant since Bryant was a kid, and by all accounts from those close to the Lakers, only Shaw and Fisher have what it takes to deal with Bryant's maniacal desire to win at all costs." I'm not convinced Brown will have a full grasp on how to handle that.
3. What will the Lakers' offense look like? Brown had often been criticized for lacking much offensive structure with Cleveland and allowing James to essentially do everything. It's hard to fault Brown, considering the low talent level that surrounded James, so it'll be an easier time working with actual talent. But it'd be way too presumptuous to think Brown will automatically have more success on the offensive end with the Lakers simply because of their talent. That's actually the main reason the Lakers' offense remained so inconsistent last year -- because everyone felt they didn't have to work as a unit to produce. Bryant believed at times he could still thrive in isolation sets. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum believed it should be automatic that the Lakers' backcourt feed them inside, regardless of how effective they were in establishing post positioning. And despite the Lakers shooting 28.9% from three-point range in the postseason, the team still stubbornly settled for treys and mid-range jumpers instead of finding higher-percentage shots.
The reason the triangle didn't work this past season was because the Lakers didn't run it properly. Even if the Lakers aren't going to run that system next year, they still need a structured setting so that everyone knows his role and there's a higher incentive to play as a team. Toward the end of the season, however, the Lakers played as if they were in a pickup game. With Brown lacking much of a reputation for having offensively strong teams, this issue remains unsettling.
4. The Lakers should thrive under Brown's defense. The Lakers appeared to hit their stride when they went 17-1 after the All-Star break, largely because of the team's embracing of a new defensive scheme that emphasized funneling drivers into the lane and avoiding switching so the Lakers wouldn't get mixed up in rotations. Despite that success, the Lakers lacked a solid foundation because of their inconsistent focus and eventual distrust in each other on helping. Particularly with the Lakers returning next season with fresh motivation from a disappointing playoff push, it's conceivable the Lakers will buy into Brown's defensive philosophy.
In his first year as Cleveland's coach, in the 2005-06 campaign, the Cavaliers ranked 10th in points allowed and 18th in field-goal percentage allowed. By his fourth year, Cleveland finished first in both categories and, in his final year, they were fifth in points allowed and third in percentage allowed. Even if Bynum wants a larger role in the offense, it's likely he'll embrace the defensive role he solidified last season. Since Ron Artest won the 2003-04 defensive player of the year award under Brown's defensive system in Indiana, it's also likely he'll flourish defensively even more than what he provided in the past two seasons with the Lakers.
5. How will Brown's hire affect the Lakers' roster? The most immediate decisions surrounding the Lakers' roster points to the player options for Shannon Brown ($2.37 million) and Matt Barnes ($1.91 million) and the team options to Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter (a combined $1.6 million). Neither Shannon Brown nor Barnes would reveal their intentions during their respective exit interviews, but The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported in they both have a general idea. Barnes, who's been on eight teams in his eight-year career, has often mentioned his desire for stability and told Bresnahan he is "comfortable" exercising his option to stay with the Lakers next season. Brown, who received what Bresnahan characterized as a "lukewarm response" during free agency last season, acknowledged to Bresnahan that testing free agency again would be the "best scenario" but made it clear he hadn't made a decision. Those are answers we'll surely find out soon.
Besides that, it's safe to say that both the roles for Derek Fisher and Luke Walton won't be the same. The Lakers didn't have a conventional point guard and used Fisher instead in the triangle because the offense centered around passing. Since the Lakers are moving away from the triangle, there's more of a need to get speed in their backcourt, as Jackson had suggested during their exit interview. That means it'd be more important for the Lakers to find a way to acquire either Chris Paul or Deron Williams through free agency in 2012 than Dwight Howard. Also, if Walton thought he didn't have much of a role last season, he's really going to be in for a huge disappointment next season, given that his biggest selling point was knowing the triangle well.
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Photos: Mike Brown. Credits: Associated Press