Next In Line?

Darius Soriano —  May 25, 2011

UPDATE: There are no more questions. Mike Brown will be the next head coach of the Lakers. It’s being reported that the deal is for 4 years/18.25 million. The 4th year is a team option that will guarantee Brown 2.5 million even if he’s not retained.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), the 3 fully guaranteed years are the exact amount of time that remain on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol’s current contracts. Ron Artest’s player option (which can be excercised after the end of next season) also run through the next three seasons (if picked up) as does Steve Blake’s original 4 year deal.

Chris Broussard (who broke the story of the contract being done) also tweets that Kobe is on board with this hiring, though earlier reports stated that Kobe was surprised by Brown being the choice. I think our old pal Kurt nails it when he states that Kobe’s public reaction will have to back this move but that the proof of his support will come in training camp when he’ll need to buy into what Brown teaches and preaches on both sides of the ball.

—————————–

Over the past 12 hours, reports have surfaced that the Lakers will hire Mike Brown as the new head coach for the Lakers. While ink has not yet been put to paper and there still being room for the Lakers to go in another direction, this is looking more and more like a deal that will get done.

In looking at this move, the first reason that comes to mind is that Mike Brown can coach defense and that’s an area where the Lakers were not as strong this year. They may have finished the year 6th in defensive efficiency but actually hovered between 10th and 12th for most of the year. Dallas dissected the Lakers D with surgical precision and addressing how to get better execution on that side of the ball is a must.

And what fans can’t question about Brown is his ability to coach defense. He consistently got his teams to perform on that side of the ball despite not having a lot of top shelf defensive talent to work with. Coming from strong defensive coaching stock (being a Popovich disciple) has helped him develop schemes that can account for giving major minutes to players like Big Z or Mo Williams. Surely the Lakers are looking for similar results with much better defensive talent (as a whole) at his disposal.

All that said, the gut response from Laker fans has been quick and mostly derisive of this (potential) move. They remember Brown as the man that’s flamed out of the playoffs and failed to meet the championship expectations as head man in Cleveland. As the man that couldn’t diagram an offensive set and often allowed LeBron James to dictate how the offense would work. And while those concerns have some merit, Phillip raised some good points on Brown as an offensive coach:

The Cavaliers had the sixth best offensive rating in the 09-10 season (111.2) and the fourth best in the 08-09 season (112.4); not to mention that he didn’t exactly have the cream of the crop in terms of offensive fire power outside of LeBron James. Last season, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West (Antwan Jamison, too when healthy) all played at least 25 minutes per game, and Brown was still able to lead the Cavaliers team to 61 wins…

…While I cannot say that Brown will be much improved on the offensive side of the floor with a greater collection of talent, I can say that it won’t hurt. The Lakers, as they currently stand, have a collection of highly skilled ball players with very high basketball IQs, so incorporating more complicated sets to his scheme may be a bit easier knowing you have more than one guy who can go out and get you 20+ on any given night.

Also understand that when the Cavs were eliminated in the playoffs and Brown’s offensive creativity (or lack there of) was questioned most, the opponent was the Celtics. Those same Celtics that dissected the Triangle in 2008 and gave the Lakers all they could handle in 2010. Those same Celtics that know how to limit a key offensive weapon and force other players into positions where they need to make plays to loosen up the defense. If you’re going to measure Mike Brown on his ability to diagram offense that’s great enough to topple those defenses you’ve raised the bar pretty high. This isn’t to absolve Brown, but I think perspective is needed if judging his offense solely on the results from those series.

I think it’s also worth noting that Brown’s lack of creativity on offense were criticisms that Erik Spoelstra suffered through most of this year as Heat coach. The common thread here is LeBron James. It may just be that utilizing a talent like James and catering to his skill set may lead to the P&R and isolation heavy sets we’ve seen from both coaches. Still though, the fact is that perception can quickly become reality and many still feel that Brown can’t coach offense. I’ve been one that’s questioned his ability to diagram sets and wonder how creative he can be on that side of the ball even if he is blessed with greater talent.

My other main concern is whether or not he’s built for the spotlight, pressure, and media barrage he’ll face as coach of the Lakers. He lacks gravitas and doesn’t have the skins on the wall to deflect media criticism the way that Phil Jackson did. When the media questions his rotations or strategy or a specific play call, how will Brown handle it? The expectations, with this group, are to get to and win in the Finals. That’s a big burden to carry in any city but to face that in Los Angeles is to increase it ten fold. If he’s not ready to deal with the inherent drama of coaching this team, the egos of the players that he’s tasked at leading, or the inquiries from a press corps that will not take prisoners we will know rather quickly. There’s no place to hide when you coach the Lakers.

In the end, though, I’m not nearly as down on this move as many seem to be. Brown, for all his warts has won a lot of games in this league and maxed out the talent he had at his disposal. In the 2008-09 season his team won 66 games. The following year his team won 61. He was able to rally his team and consistently get them on the same page to be successful as a group. Understand that getting a team lead by a single star with multiple role players to all go 100% without there being dissention is also a strong act of leadership. This leads me to believe that a roster of experienced veterans that understand the stakes of championship basketball will also come together under his stewardship. Maybe I’m naïve, but the core of this team has been through all the battles before and after this past years failure will be hungry to get back to the mountain top. Mike Brown is a coach that should also have that same hunger to succeed after falling short in his final two seasons in Cleveland. To me, both the coach and the players are already starting from the same common ground.

I understand the questions and concerns. This isn’t a move that screams big splash and certainly lacks cache. The fact that this is the Lakers and they’ve hired Mike Brown, seems like the team is settling. Even for me, he wasn’t my first choice as the man to step into Phil Jackson’s shoes. That said, I see the merits of giving him this job and it’s an idea I can get behind. In the end, though, the proof will be in the results. And for those, we all must wait and watch together.

Darius Soriano

Posts Twitter Facebook