Strength In Numbers

Darius Soriano —  May 26, 2011

It’s a cliché, but teams win championships, not individuals. Most often, this phrase is regurgitated when arguing the merits or judging the effectiveness of great players (Kobe never won a title without a big man!). However, this statement is just as true in terms of head coaches and the staffs that they surround themselves with.

Phil Jackson long credited Tex Winter for the success of his Bulls and early Laker teams. More recently, assistant coaches Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw, and Chuck Person have been crucial contributors in helping the Lakers win championships (not to mention long time assistants Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen). Looking beyond the Lakers, Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson were a true partnership on the Jazz; Doc Rivers and Jeff Van Gundy would certainly sing the praises of Tom Thibodeau when he was an assistant for the Celtics and Rockets respectively.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Nearly every team has one or more key assistant that helps contribute to any success achieved.

This brings me to current coach Mike Brown and the importance of filling out his staff with bright coaches that contribute to a culture of winning. One name that has surfaced is Ettore Messina, one of the top coaches in Europe. Eric Pinucus reports:

On the heels of his agreement to join the Los Angeles Lakers staff as head coach (still unofficial, technically), Mike Brown may bring in Italian coach Ettore Messina as an assistant…Messina is a tough coach with a strong personality. He likes to call his team’s plays and has a successful history developing players, especially in the post.

Our friends over at TrueHoop Network affiliate BallinEurope have a report on Messina, including a brief breakdown of his accomplishments:

For those not necessarily in know on European basketball, here’s the Twitterish-length bio on Messina: Two Euroleague titles each with Virtus Bologna (1998, 2001) and CSKA Moscow (2006, 2008); head coach since 1989, also leading Benetton Treviso and Madrid in his career.

By all accounts, Messina is one of the best coaches not in the NBA. He’s stated that he’d like to coach in the NBA one day but understands the value of learning more about the NBA as an assistant before taking on as a lead man. An addition of this caliber would be a great building block to a Laker staff that could certainly use as many great coaches as they could bring in.

Especially since the consensus seems to be that Mike Brown will need capable assistants, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In speaking with the Kamentzky Brothers at Land O’ Lakers, former Cleveland Cavalier beat reporter (and current contributor to the Heat Index) Brian Windhorst sums up Brown’s approach to offense thusly:

As far as offensively, I know that’s what everyone wants to know about, because the triangle is so embedded and [Andrew] Bynum and Pau [Gasol] fit in. I just don’t think that will be a focus of Mike Brown at all. The Mike Brown I know will not worry about the offense at all. He will say, ‘You know, in that [Western Conference semifinals] against the Mavericks, we absolutely, positively could not get stops. And you’re giving up all these 100 point games. We’re not going to play that way. We’re going to be a great defensive team that wins with our defense.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a coach that emphasizes defense, but the offensive side of the ball will need ample attention as well. If it’s not Brown that’s doing the teaching or instructing on an every day basis, that’s fine with me as long as someone is. Don’t forget, it wasn’t more than a couple of seasons ago that Phil Jackson handed over the reigns of the entire defense to Kurt Rambis, so this isn’t a formula that can’t work.

In the end, just as I mentioned on twitter only a little while after the news broke that Brown was going to be hired, I’m quite interested in who fills out his staff. Every head coach needs capable assistants and Brown will be no different. Whether it’s Messina or some other talented coach there will need to be other voices leading this team besides Brown’s. With any luck, they’ll be the type of men that make a difference between winning and losing. Just as Phil, Riley, Popovich, and Rivers have surrounded themselves with when they collected all their championships.

Darius Soriano

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  1. According to Woj’s twitter, Brown has also reached out to Tim Grgurich, who is currently a Mavs assistant and was once the highest paid assistant in the league if I remember correctly. Great defensive coach, lauded for being an excellent teacher of the game.


  2. Well, that is a welcoming news something different from previous Laker coaching. His hiring will bring Lakers to euro shooting repertoire just like watching those pros in 60’s and 70’s with accurate shooting while MB will dictate the defense structure. Another advantage of Messina in the coaching circle, Kobe is given an outlet wherein he can curse his head coach or the referees in italian, only Messina and Gasol will understand what’s being uttered.


  3. “The Mike Brown I know will not worry about the offense at all.”

    That is a very bad sign. The Lakers offense was stagnant and unable to score in rythym at the end of the year and in the postseason.

    The Mavericks series this year was no different of a mismatch than the Phoenix series the year before. And it wasn’t defense that won that series. It was Kobe’s SuperNova jumpshooting that kept the Lakers in the series, with an all time Ron Artest tip in at the end of the game.

    Against a team like Dallas, whose specialty is not defense, outscoring them on the offensive end proved to be a really good way of wearing them down (look how the Thunder played against them). But the Lakers neither played good offense or good defense against the Mavs.

    And here is the reason: For the first postseason ever, the Lakers started relying on Andrew Bynum, which caused the other bigs in the rotation to be out of their comfort zone.

    Combine that with the fact that the Lakers had absolutely zero shooters this postseason who were consistently good from deep, and no other player than Kobe who could at any point create some dribble penetration consistently in any given game.

    Let’s hope Brown just doesn’t ignore the offensive end – as Windhorst thinks he will. Because the Lakers need to have an ability to score easy baskets.


  4. As others have noted, I think a bigger concern than Brown specifically is the Jim Buss era generally. Since the end of Game 4:

    Magic said it was time to blow it up
    Kareem said the org was dissing him
    Phil said he had no real relationship with Jim Buss
    West signed with Golden State
    Ronnie Lester and several scouts have apparently been/are going to be let go

    Now, there are many things we don’t know, and we certainly cannot put all of this on Jim Buss. But I do not like the pattern I am seeing right now.

    Yes, the lockout is coming–but so is the Time Warner deal.

    As Chick used to say: it’s nervous time.


  5. Not sure if we are allowed to provide a link to youtube here, but this is all I remember about Mike Brown as Cavs coach.

    It was during a press time after a game against Boston in which Mo Williams dunked on a fast break. When the reporter asked him what his thoughts were about Mo being able to dunk, his response was a combination of “uhh” and “huhhuh.”

    He might work but my initial reaction still is skeptical. Not to mention I feel that Lakers is way overpaying for his service.


  6. Though he’s “unofficially” with the Mavericks, Mike Brown is trying to recruit Tim Grgurich as well.


  7. It is only 24 hrs since Mike Brown was hired and we already have the club being totally decimated and sold off like the Dodger franchise.

    If fans ran the world there would be no world.

    H**l, if fans were leaders, the human race would have killed itself off thousands of years ago.

    Relax – this too will pass.


  8. and so the “McCourt” era of Lakers basketball begins…


  9. Anyone watching this Bulls game? The officials are trying to “keep the game close” because the Bulls were on the verge to be up 15 or 18. Just sad to see the protection Miami gets when they go to the rack.

    I feel bad for Rose, dude gets hacked a ton and never gets to the line.


  10. Wow, I can’t even believe what I’m seeing in this bulls game. What a meltdown.


  11. kehntangibles May 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    terrible, terrible execution. felt like I was watching the Lakers against Dallas 🙁


  12. I think we’ve certainly seen the shortcomings of 2 teams with young “leaders” in the Conference Finals. You would think that next year both Chicago and OKC will be better equipped mentally for the Playoffs. But Chicago might rue not getting it done this season if Miami can build something around what they bought this last offseason.

    Sad as it is to say, let the cheering for Dallas begin!


  13. The Dude Abides May 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    If this last game was any indication, it looks like the Mavs are in serious trouble in the Finals. If you thought 2006 was bad…


  14. Yah, Mavs will be swept. Miami got touch fouls IN CHICAGO while the Chicago players didn’t.


  15. But lets not forget – huge huge huge missed free throw by Rose at the end, which would have at least had the chance for the bulls to send to OT.

    Too many times the bulls turned down the open shot for the contested one.

    Thats what happens when you dont have shooters on your team.

    And the Wade 4 point play – you just cant call that. Knew the game was Miami’s when I saw that.

    The headlines will be Lebron leads Heat, but it should be, Wade starts trying and takes over game. Just ridiculous.


  16. If the refs keep call it even. Mavs have a good chance if they continue their hot shooting. Dirk won’t step to the line two games in a row with the game on the line and choke like rose. But what’s up with Thib’s decision making. I can’t believe he doesn’t go with his best players to close the game. Despite how good the bench players play and bad the good players play, you put your best players on the floor to close the game. This should be a good finals.


  17. With all the calls that will go Miami’s way, the only way Dallas can win is for their shooting to be on fire for the next 2 1/2 weeks.

    Good luck to Dallas. They’ll need it.


  18. Lebron played awesome D on Rose. Rose was too predictable on offense and turned the ball over too much late.

    Chicago needs a shooting guard. Boozer looked horrible in 4/5 games.

    Although Wade closed well in games 4&5, his play would give me pause if I were a Heat fan. And can Bosh play as well in the finals series as he did in this one; let’s just say that he isn’t the most consistent guy game-to-game and series-to-series.


  19. The Bulls need Kevin Martin next to Derrick Rose. Or else, Horford next to Noah. Either one of those moves would take them to the next level. (I speak theoretically; not that either of those scenarios is realistic).

    I like the idea of Brown recruiting hard to fill out his coaching staff. I’d like to see Ron Adams on our sideline, but as Thibodeau just brought him on, I doubt he leaves Chicago.

    Interestingly, I feel like the uproar on both sides will fall short. I have a feeling the Lakers will be better offensively than expected, and not quite the amazing lockdown defensive team that’s expected with Brown’s hiring.

    What concerns me is Krolik’s take that the personnel doesn’t fit Brown’s style at all. To be honest, we don’t have many cutters or shooters – that doesn’t lend itself well to most offensive styles. It’ll be interesting to see what our staff can come up with.


  20. Here’s one thing that intrigues me: Krolik and Windhorst are two highly intelligent Brown authorities. But they seem to be giving some conflicting information:

    -Krolik defends Brown on offense and makes a very, very strong case that Brown’s poor offensive teams were the result of personnel and not coaching (a must-read:

    -Windhorst knows Brown very well and he claims that Mike Brown will hardly emphasize offense at all. His first, second, third, and fourth priorities will be defense.

    So how to reconcile this information? If Windhorst’s information is true, then while we can’t blame Brown for the poor offense of the early Cavs teams, can we really give him credit for the more efficient later Cavs teams? I’m curious as to what people think.


  21. Counting this year, the only regular season MVP whose team even made the finals in the last eight seasons was Kobe in ’08.

    Pretty strange stat.


  22. Call it “The Curse of the MVP”

    Because if you are playing like the MVP in the regular season, your team must be very reliant on you (perhaps overly reliant).


  23. Finals prediction:Lebron and Dwyane will outscore entire Dallas team only by free throws.Stern Abbott Dwyer will be extremely happy with ”advanced” statistics.

    4-0 Miami wins.


  24. Dioes anybody, just anybody, think that we just hit a very hot Maverick team that nobody’s gonna stop? Mavericks will win this because they are on a mission. It is clear. By the way, Lakers were up 16 in the first game. We were the only team that a had a chance of beating the Mavs. Don’t blow the Lakes up. The Mavs are overdue and this is their year. The swagger on Nowitski has the look of a champion.


  25. I would love to see Shaw retained as offensive coordinator, since keeping some continuity would be great, especially if the defense will be completely rewamped!


  26. i’m a bit more receptive to brown today. it’s not his days in cleveland that pique my interest, but his start in san antonio. he ought to have a good understanding of how to best utilize our twin towers defensively, having studied the spurs and their scheme.

    i’m hoping messina does come on board, but at the same time i hate to see the trusty triangle go.


  27. Trading Sasha for Joe Smith what I called “penny penching” is going to haunt us in the draft too. Two players that they Lakers could have drafted are Marshon Brooks and Tyler Honeycutt. Let’s see where these guys go because we had the 27th pick. Brooks is a young Kobe. With Kobe grooming him, we would have Kobe’s eventual replacement. The kid has that type of shooting skill. Look at his highlights. Honeycutt is another defensive standout that could match with Ebanks. You can’t have too many players that d-up 3 positions (1 to 3). Instead we will end up with DeAndre Liggins or Jimmy Butler both who play defense but not good enough to make names for themselves.


  28. 23) Cdog – good point. And a good coach can tweak a scheme to minimize the effect of one great player.


  29. Renato Afonso May 27, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Since I’m european and all, I ask all my fellow european commenters to help me with this possible Ettore Messina hire.

    First, let me tell you that I am all for an european approach in the NBA: no (or almost none) superstar calls, no pattern substitutions, mixed defenses during the course of a game, more minute spread, etc.

    However, I don’t think that such an approach would work in the NBA. Granted that Messina would be an assistant but I wonder how would he deal with the superstar system and abundant ISO’s we have today in the NBA. How would he react if Kobe broke his offensive system to go ISO play after play? In Europe, Kobe would be benched immediatly. In the NBA? I really don’t know.

    Regarding his previous tenures as head coach, I think he did a wonderful job as coach at Kinder Bologna using a young Nesterovic in his first Euroleague title. However, I do think he simply had the best team/roster in Europe the following years he won. Just compare the two rosters from 97-98 and from 00-01:

    It doesn’t mean he isn’t a good coach, because obviously he is. And even though he failed as a coach of Real Madrid, one must consider the amount of pressure you get when coaching such a club. Clubs here are not like the ones in the US and the fan base is far more demanding (even borderline insane) than what you expect. Hiring Messina would be awesome if the players fell in line with his ideas. Sharing the ball. Passing to the open man, not complaining about less minutes in certain games (since it would be all about matchups)… But if they don’t buy into his approach, then hiring Messina could be the worst thing it could happen.

    2. Edwin,

    I don’t think that Pau actually speaks italian. Trust me on this, I am a latin and I do speak spanish and french as well as my mother tongue portuguese. I do not speak italian as it is not that similar as one might think.


  30. Rusty Shackleford May 27, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Who here thinks the Lakers are making a movement to “Spurify” themselves? They know they are getting older so they are going to start trying to win games 87-82.


  31. The hiring of a great defensive coach should thrill fans but this Laker roster’s problem is not on the defensive end but on the offensive end. In the playoffs how many times did the lakers scored 100 points or more and how many times did they held an opponent below 100 points. The offensive side is equally important with the defensive side of the ball. The offensive scheme of the offensive coach must be compatible both to the defensive scheme of the team and the age and skills of the players. We cannot run an offense that would not allow our players to get back to defemse amd run their defensive scheme properly. The offensive scheme must be set in such a way that the offensive player can easily run back on defense and play his defensive position. Again I am bit suspicious on the early hiring of a new coach when we have an approximately 6-9 months till the next season starts. Right now I am a bit disappointed with the choice of Brown. We should have selected somebody that could get the players respect even before they start practice. I was hoping for a guy like Jerry Sloan and then add assistant coaches who are defensive minded. I always admire Jerry Sloan coached teams, they never quit and plays hard notwithstanding the personnel that they have.


  32. Conspiracy theory or not:

    My Lakers season ticket renewal packet just arrived. Am I wrong in at least considering the possibility that the Lakers needed to hire a coach FAST before these went out?


  33. The Bulls demonstrated that it takes more than defense to win a championship. In the final minutes of those losses against Miami, the Bulls looked A LOT like Mike Brown’s Cleveland teams!

    All the defense in the world won’t win you games if you can’t put balls in the basket! Defensive improvement would be nice next season, but Brown’s defense-only fetish is miopic.


  34. Personally I thought the Lakers problem this year was not defense but a lack of offensive cohesion and execution, especially late in games.

    Having said that I think the Lakers need a better defense for the P & R but besides that the only real question I have for the Lakers defense is, “Can Mike Brown get Andrew Bynum to play the type of defense he played after the all-star break for the whole year”.

    If the answer is yes, then our defensive problems are solved.


  35. 36,
    You’re a hundred percent right. The Lakers problem was more offense in the post season. It’s very important to have your number one option create easy opportunities for his teammates by attracting extra defenders thus stimulating ball and player movement. At this point in Kobe’s career he no longer can attack the basket collapsing the defense and he rarley gets double teamed on the perimeter. This is the reason the Lakers best offesnive basketball against Dallas was then Bynum was the primary offensive option as he was the only Laker being double teamed with regularity. For all the talk of Mike Brown helping or hurting the Lakers title chances the main deciding factors as always remain on the floor.


  36. #31

    Thanks Renato for clarification on Gasol and also those links. If Senor Ettore could just beef the perimeter shooting, improve free throw percentages that will be progress. Secondly, I’m sure he could suggest some players who could play the point, a 3pt marksman and/or a versatile speedy pick and roll Berea type of player, that will also be progress. In my opinion, Kobe is willing to share the ball provided the recipient could assure productivity than sloppy ball turnover. There is only one motivation for Kobe that he wants to win. From ’05-’07, he tried to convince a bunch of scrubs to advance in the playoffs. In 2011 despite nagging pains and injuries, he continued playing with the team which turned out to be more disadvantageous because he could not execute the usual flair and mastery of the court. Unfortunately his teammates did not respond with the 80% Kobe.

    Having said that, as die-hard fans we are uneasy with the hiring of an unknown peg. What we fear most is not Kobe not embracing teamwork under the new Coach or pouting being benched but more on the micromanaging reign of Jim Buss and his two Yes-Men. We also see the imaginary TNT clock ticking on Kobe. I hope I’m wrong but it will be a good bet in Las Vegas on who goes first in saying ” I quit (no mas, no mas)” by end of season ’12, will it be Kobe or Mike B? On the other picture, I hope Mike Brown is the manna from heaven via Cleveland sent by late Chick, Wilt and Mikan to rescue the Lakers.


  37. First the lakers had problems on both sides of the ball. But the offensive side off the ball was due to the lack of trust, ball and player movement (execution) that was caused by a complete collapse of Pau and lack of shooting.

    Except for that 17-1 stint after the All Star break the lakers were really bad for stretches throughout the season on the defensive side of the ball. One game in particular that comes to mind was a home versus Memphis. The lakers were down double digits in the third. Kobe caught fire and brought them within two and they still lost by nearly 20 because they couldn’t stop anyone. Or their one point loss to pacers when Kobe hit a buck to put the lakers up but do to a complete defensive breakdown they gave up an lay-up and lost the game.

    Then in the playoffs, the lakers just looked confused on the defensive end. They are normally slow or don’t make the right rotations. They still don’t know how to defend the P&R. The Lakers to often would make the same defensive mistakes over and over again. Everyone except Artest and Bynum, does not know how to contest/close out on shooters.

    The offense, no matter what offense they implement, can be executed with the offensive weapons the lakers have if they regain their trust, confidence and focus. The Lakers just didn’t know what to do in certain situations on the defensive end last year. It’s going to take a lot more than just Andrew Bynum to fix their defensive problems. The Mavs completely negated Bynum’s defensive abilities because the entire lakers just looked confused. Even when Bynum did step up to make to defend the P&R he often saw the lob go right over head to Chandler because the lakers didn’t know how to help the helper. The lakers were a bad defensive team with a few talented defenders that were able to mask their struggles from time to time.


  38. Sparky (35), you are right.
    Being great on defense doesn’t mean a team will win championships. The offense has to be great too. They have to be able to score or the defense is a lost cause. It takes a balance.
    Focusing on being great at just one of those things will not work. It takes both.