Mike Brown stands on the precipice.
His team, now 0-3, is underperforming not just relative to some of the more optimistic projections but even to those that warned this would take time; that patience would be needed for a team going through the process of implementing a complex offensive system while integrating high profile players.
This can’t be stressed enough — it’s not necessarily the record that matters here, it’s how they’ve looked in the process of racking up the losses.
The disorganization on offense can be excused to a certain extent but the defensive issues are tough to swallow. Even when accounting for the fact that Howard is clearly not yet his three time DPOY self and the fact that any struggles on offense will often fuel poor defense, the team is proving to be substandard on that end of the floor. And for a defensive coach like Brown, that has to be eating him up inside.
So, over the ledge he peers, acknowledging his team’s desperate need for a win. It’s been a while since the Lakers — these Lakers and not some summer outfit in Las Vegas — have felt that feeling. Players this good never forget how to perform the act, but they can certainly be in a position where they have to relearn it. This is where they are now.
The players and coaches will continue to talk in the tones of men that believe they are on the right path. This is the only way for them to be. Believe in yourself and what you’re doing or fall apart from doubt. It’s really that simple and is exemplified by this Kobe quote from last night (h/t to Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk):
“(Being patient) is particularly hard for me because I’m not the most patient individual in the world, but you have to be. You have to stay persistent, you have to stay committed to what you’re doing and just keep on trucking.”
On a variety of levels I agree with Kobe. But what’s becoming more and more clear as the Lakers slog through these games is that moving forward and progressing the way the team needs to will depend on the scale in which the team is trying to move forward. As I wrote in my season preview, there are no shortcuts in the process. But it’s a matter of degrees in how they try to inch their way forward.
I’m not of the mind the Lakers should abandon their offense. I’m not of the mind that Mike Brown should be fired (at least I’m not there right now). But I am of the mind that the Lakers need to simplify what they’re doing on both sides of the ball in order to maximize their results in the short term.
What this would translate to is open to interpretation.
Personally, regarding the offense, I’d take a page from what Chris Webber was talking about on TNT Thursday night. Webber spoke of his Kings teams looking to run out on every possession. That pushing the ball, establishing the post in early offense, and trying to get easy baskets was their philosophy on O. That the Princeton was an important part of their success but was also their fall back plan should their primary goal (running for easy baskets) not work. The Lakers could take a similar approach by reemphasizing rim runs from their big men and running more pick and rolls when in the half court.
On defense, the Lakers would also do well to simplify their schemes. On nearly every possession we’re seeing Lakers’ guards over helping by collapsing the paint, especially from the weak side. The Laker big men also seem hesitant on who should be helping whom when the ball is penetrated, especially in the P&R. I’m not in the coaching meetings and don’t break down the film with the team but they have to be seeing some of these same issues. Of course these aren’t the Lakers’ only problems on D but they are some of them.
I won’t pretend to know more than the head coach of this team. But from the outside looking in, this team looks to be a bit overwhelmed from what it means to be this team, in this moment, trying to do what they’re trying to do. It’s like a combination of expectations + information overload + the pressure of not winning games = a team that is no longer on the floor playing basketball but rather in a larger battle that is sapping them of their ability to perform up to standards well below where they should be at this stage, much less where they want to go.
Call it scaling back. Call it a simpler way. Call it anything you want. But for the Lakers to be successful, right now, it seems that they need to figure out a way to keep their big picture, long term goals in tact while reevaluating their short term goals to get better results. Mike Brown is seen by many as the problem but he can also be part of the solution. But it will take a reassessment of how much can be done now in order to preserve the future. We’ll see if he has it in him.