If the Lakers fizzle out as they have for two consecutive seasons, there will be plenty of finger-pointing to go around. But you can rest assured, players like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have pretty airtight job security. It's Brown who is truly on the hot seat.
The expectations for this Lakers team to succeed are as high as any in recent memory. Ask Jim and Jerry Buss, and they'd probably tell you they wouldn't want it any other way.
Brown is coaching one of the most iconic franchises in NBA history with four future Hall of Fame starters that any team in the league would love to have. Yet, he must also sense the far-reaching pressure from the spoiled fans who expect nothing less than a trip to the Finals.
If someone had told Brown in late May that he'd be starting his second season at the helm with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard under contract, he probably would have laughed and asked what you were smoking. It's still rather surreal to realize that Nash, Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant all play on the same team.
Brown was harshly criticized in many circles after last season's second-round playoff debacle against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke suggested that he might not have the "right stuff" to be coach of the Lakers.
"Kinda. Sorta. Not really. Not yet. If you had to evaluate Brown's first Lakers season, those six words work about as well as any. He touched on inspiration, flirted with resonance, but never quite found a grip that the Lakers will insist grow tighter next season — or else."
Well, next season is upon us, and that grip is as tight as a vise. The rumblings, ever-present as the Lakers dropped their sixth straight preseason game Sunday, will only get louder if the team gets off to a slow start with its early-season home-friendly schedule. And you can bet it will be Mike Brown under the spotlight.
Last season, Brown started late with his new team, as the collective-bargaining talks stalled the opening of the season until late December. He was basically given a passing grade, though his critics were quick to point out he was no Phil Jackson. But then, who is?
Brown was sharply criticized for lackluster offensive schemes and weak rotations that relied much too heavily on the veteran Bryant (almost 39 minutes per game) and were reminiscent of his use of LeBron James in Cleveland. There were a number of moments that had fans wondering if the franchise was fizzling under the weight of a coach who often seemed out of synch with both his offense and his players.
Can we ever forget Andrew Bynum taking three-point shots, sulking on the bench and proclaiming his intent to "keep on shooting" despite pleas by his coach? Or what about the times we saw an injured Kobe in street clothes mapping out plays for his teammates during timeouts? Where was Brown?
The Lakers finished last season with one of the worst bench units in the NBA. Management jumped into action in the offseason and brought in several proven scorers, who should help bolster a group that last year was beyond anemic.
Matt Barnes, at 7.8 ppg, was the leading bench scorer in 2011-12, with Steve Blake (5.2 on 38 percent shooting), Devin Ebanks (4.0), Troy Murphy (3.2) and Josh McRoberts (2.8) all contributing very little.
This year, the team has added Antawn Jamison (19.5 ppg career) and Jodie Meeks (8.4 in 25 mpg with the Sixers last year) with the hope that they will energize the second unit on offense and defense. Thus far, the new group of Jamison, Meeks, Ebanks, Blake, Andrew Goudelock and rookie center Robert Sacre has looked pretty much like last year's group. In other words, it's still a major concern.
Jamison is the key to the success of the Lakers bench. Up until now, he's been downright miserable as a shooter (28 percent from the floor). Meeks, the other big offseason signing, is shooting a rather meek 27 percent during the preseason. The hope is that both are just getting their basketball legs—as opposed to reverting to their statistics of last season, when both were below their career averages at about 40 percent from the field.
There are two more exhibition games before the regular season starts on October 30 with a TNT nationally televised game against the Dallas Mavericks from Staples Center. We must assume Mike Brown knows what he is doing and the Lakers will start to jell when the games count.
All the elements are in place for this to be an incredible year for the Lakers. The starting five is as good as any in the NBA. The second unit looks stronger on paper—let's see how they perform.
Mike Brown has proven himself to be a winner in this league, but he has yet to prove himself as the Lakers head coach. If the team performs and makes a serious run at a championship, then Brown's job will be secure. But, if players don't live up to the hype and the Lakers self-destruct, you can be sure Mike Brown will be held to the fire.
Whether he deserves it or not.
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