Friday, November 9, 2012

Firing Mike Brown Might Actually Solve The Lakers' Problems

Mediocre shepherd of otherworldly talent, Mike Brown, has been fired by the Lakers after starting the season 1-4, with the sole win coming over the lowly Pistons. Taking over for the legendary Phil Jackson was never going to be easy, but Brown has failed pretty spectacularly given the talent on this team. The Lakers have looked terrible on both ends of the floor, with no signs of getting better, and so the coach, as usual, was the fall guy. Much as it pains me, and despite seeming comically early in the season, I think the Lakers made the right decision.

Mike Brown needs an aspirin.

This firing isn't a referendum on the abilities of this Laker team to win basketball games, and their starting five is too good for them to struggle for too much longer, but Brown was wholly unsuited to coach this team. Why a team with an aging superstar/control freak like Kobe Bryant would hire a coach such as Brown baffles me; he's never shown himself to be anything but a pushover. Kobe often warred with Jackson, whose dismissiveness clearly irked him, but Jackson motivated Kobe to play for the good of the team. Brown, on the other hand, was content to let Kobe design the offense and defense and essentially run the team. Mike Brown may be a good tactical coach (or maybe not), but he can't handle superstars, and the Lakers should have known what they were getting.

Brown pretty publicly coddled LeBron when coaching him in Cleveland, and the team suffered for it. In his first seven years in the league, LeBron never developed a post game; since going to the Heat, he's developed into a punishing post player. Now I know this is counterfactual and totally impossible to prove, but either Brown wasn't pushing for LeBron to develop his game so as to be completely unstoppable or LeBron was tuning him out. Either way, he failed to get the most physically gifted player I've ever seen to maximize his gifts, and Erik Spoelstra was able to do that in two seasons. Maybe the fault ultimately lies with LeBron, but Brown is at least complicit. It's not like Brown could claim that he hadn't thought of putting LeBron down low; just about every single sportswriter in the country was practically crying for LeBron to learn to play in the post.

Kobe, of course, is not wired the same way as LeBron. Where LeBron wants to hang with teammates and be a global icon, the narrative goes, Kobe just wants to win. (Of course, LeBron wants to win and Kobe wants to be loved, too, although Kobe might not want to hang with his teammates.) LeBron walked all over Brown to the detriment of the Cleveland team - some of the lingering images are LeBron checking out in the Boston series or running a practice full of half-court shots while awaiting an Orlando team that would ultimately beat them in the playoffs - but many thought Kobe would work with Brown to win. I don't think that ultimately happened.

After the Lakers hired Brown, we heard about Bryant and Brown staying up late in Brown's office to watch tape and design sets for the team. Normally this would be a good thing, coach and star working together, but Kobe was so openly comparing Brown to the taciturn and withdrawn Jackson that it became apparent that Brown was just appeasing Kobe. Bryant no longer wants to run the triangle? Go for it! This offseason, he wants to implement the Princeton offense? Go for it, too! Phil Jackson smoothed egos, but he also got what he wanted out of players. Mike Brown, at least from this perspective, looks like he was just smoothing egos, and he didn't have the cachet a coach like Jackson did to stand up to Kobe.

Offensively, the Lakers looked out of sync shifting to the Princeton offense with new additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but defensively they were vastly worse. In Orlando, Dwight Howard was able to cover for some truly terrible defenders - Hedo Turkgolu, JJ Reddick, Ryan Anderson - blowing up pick and rolls all over the court and challenging everything at the rim, but thus far a less-than-100% Howard has not been the same guy. These problems would have corrected themselves, and the Lakers' team-wide lack of shooting would have resolved itself somewhat with Nash healthy, but Mike Brown has a track record of not maximizing the skills of super-talented players.

Whomever comes in to replace Brown, and PLEASE LET IT BE STAN VAN GUNDY, won't necessarily fix all the Lakers' problems. Brown was certainly the fall guy for bigger underlying issues, but he was also a part of the problem that had to be fixed. Brown's a scapegoat, but also not a championship-level coach.

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