Mike Brown must manage five things to succeed as Lakers coach
He instantly won over management during his job interview because of that infectious enthusiasm and his detailed plans on defense. With the Lakers coming off a four-game Western Conference semifinals sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, the players will surely enter the 2011-2012 season with motivation and an eagerness to embrace Brown's ideas. Regardless of any obstacle that Brown faces, he maintains that he'll simply outwork and out-prepare everyone else.
But hard work and love for the job can only take Brown so far, particularly when the expectations in Lakerland points to championship or bust. Below are five things Brown must manage to succeed as the Lakers' coach.
1. His relationship with Kobe Bryant.
The great Mark Heisler reported this summer that Brown won Bryant over during phone conversations, when they met in Orange County and at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo, as Brown shared in detail his offensive and defensive philosophy. Credit Brown for his persistence with Bryant after the front office's failure to consult the Laker guard gave him a hard set of cards to deal with right away. But that's just going to be the first of many big tests awaiting Brown.
The first moment involves when Bryant veers away from the offense or is caught sagging back on defense. It's a tight balancing act in managing Bryant, something even Phil Jackson sometimes struggled in doing. There may be contentious arguments along the way, but Bryant will respect Brown more if he's not afraid to stand up for himself. Yet Bryant is also going to want to be given the proper space and freedom most NBA superstars command.
2. Brown must hold players accountable.
Brown spent his introductory news conference laying out in exact detail that he'll immediately call timeout or bench a player if he's not following instructions. When asked specifically how he'll determine the offensive pecking order, Brown simply answered that it should work out naturally based on how players are performing on the floor. Those answers might sound good in theory, but how will it actually play out in reality?
There are plenty of areas that will test Brown. As I detailed here, there are already indications that Andrew Bynum wants a larger offensive role than Bryant will allow. Whose side will Brown take and how will he ensure his preference doesn't alienate the others? There are plenty of suggestions among the general public and even former Lakers that the team needs to upgrade at point guard. But how will Brown spur that change without losing Derek Fisher's support, a significant variable considering his locker-room standing and close relationship with Bryant. And how will he handle the numerous off-court distractions, most notably from Ron Artest? Brown must understand that Los Angeles presents a unique off-court profile and there are sideshows he simply has to tolerate. But he can't let everything slide so much that players feel like they can walk over him.
3. Brown must delegate duties to his assistant coaching staff. He has assembled a pretty qualified coaching staff in John Kuester, Chuck Person, Quin Snyder and Ettore Messina. It's critical that they're used properly. We'll have more details as the season starts on what exact role each will have, but we already know that Person will largely oversee the team's defensive scheme and Kuester will overlook the offense. It's critical that Brown gives his assistants autonomy to take ownership of their responsibilities because it'll make the feedback stronger and it'll free up Brown's work load.
But I already see one red flag on how Brown plans to manage his coaching staff. Person indicated in an extensive Q&A that Brown is requiring all the coaches to scout every NBA team for game preparations. That seems to be the equivalent of assigning too much homework and taking away the assistants' chance of really knowing a team comprehensively. It's frankly unrealistic to follow every NBA team in intense detail throughout the season to really put an educated scouting report on it. That's why Jackson's approach proved valuable where he assigned his assistants specific teams to monitor throughout the season.
4. Brown must be wary of information overload
As mentioned above about how Brown's assigning the scouting report, providing too many responsibilities might prove to be counter productive. The same logic applies to how much he teaches his new offensive and defensive concepts. The defense part shouldn't be an issue considering Person's revelation that the scheme will mostly be similar to last year's team. But changing from the triangle to Brown's faster-paced offense will require an adjustment period.
Brown's explanations on the offense were pretty specific. Brown wants his players bringing the ball past the timeline in the first three to four seconds of the shotclock. The offense will center on Bynum and Gasol receiving touches through screen-and-rolls. He also mentioned that the offense will feature a mix of Bryant working on and off the ball. But particularly in a possibly lockout shortened season, there's a danger in teaching too much, too fast. Brown's likely going to want to set a tone and provide an immediate first impression, but he should pace himself for doling out the information.
5. Brown must maintain his enthusiasm and confidence during adverse moments
It's going to be knee jerk and reactionary to equate the Lakers' likely early season success to anything Brown did. The Lakers have a home-heavy schedule to open the season. They'll be freshly motivated from a disappointing 2011 playoff run. And the possibility of a lockout-shortened season will give the veteran-laden roster plenty of time to catch up with the fatigue and injuries. What will truly define Brown as a coach will come when the first significant losing streak hits or the first off-court controversy emerges.
How Brown responds in handling that will dictate whether he'll truly have the players' respect. They'll naturally want to embrace him to give him a chance, but it's only human nature that the championship-laden team will soon question Brown when things don't work out. Brown must maintain his confidence and enthusiasm during these times because it'll show his initial giddiness is actually genuine. It will also indicate that he knows how to handles the ebbs-and-flows of the soap opera that is the Lakers' season.
-- Mark Medina
Email the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Two Photos: Lakers Coach Mike Brown has many of tasks he must master as Lakers head coach. Credit: Associated Press
Bottom Photo: Lakers Coach Mike Brown takes a break between interviews during his introductory news conference in El Segundo on Tuesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 31, 2011.