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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