Winners and Losers from Los Angeles Lakers' Firing of Mike Brown
Ladies and gentlemen, the Mike Brown Era is officially over.
The move—sudden, but not entirely unexpected—leaves the Lakers searching for answers (and coaches) and scrambling to right the ship. Six new players, a brand-new staff of assistants and a new offensive system yielded early results far short of the astronomical expectations set for a team featuring Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
(Even though Howard still isn't 100 percent and Nash has been out since the second game with a fractured fibula, but I digress.)
So where do the Lakers go from here? Who benefits from Brown's ouster and who comes out on the short end of it all?
Loser: Mike Brown
The biggest loser in this whole thing has to be Mike Brown. Like millions of Americans, Brown now finds himself out of a job, albeit one that proved too pressure-packed for him to handle.
Or, better yet, for which he probably wasn't well-suited in the first place.
Stan Van Gundy would probably tell you that Brown is relieved to be done in L.A. He'd been waiting for the blade to drop on the guillotine ever since Jim Buss brought him in to replace Phil Jackson and had since seen his family attacked on Twitter for his own poor performance on the sidelines.
Gone are the ridiculously high expectations that likely weighed Brown down, but so, too, is the solidity of a once-strong reputation as a head coach. Once upon a time, Mike Brown was a Coach of the Year, a brilliant defensive mind who rode LeBron James to title contention despite the Cleveland Cavaliers' decision to carry what amounted to a bare-bones roster. He was but a victim of circumstance.
And may well still be, even after spending time at the helm of a star-studded squad. For now, though, his employment options may be limited to assistant duties.
Winner: Phil Jackson
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Then, the day of Brown's departure, he shows up at the Lakers' practice facility to visit his girlfriend, team vice president Jeannie Buss.
Coincidence? Probably, but the guy just looks better all the time, doesn't he?
Loser: Jim Buss
Twice, the Buss boys—father Jerry and son Jim—have shoved the Zen Master out the door, wary of the coach's influence within the organization and dissatisfied with his slow-it-down Triangle offense.
And twice it's blown up in their faces, first with Rudy Tomjanovich's flameout in 2004-05 and now with Mike Brown lasting all of 71 regular-season games.
The blame for this latest failure, though, falls squarely on Jim's shoulders. Hiring Phil Jackson's replacement was to be Jimmy B's golden opportunity to put his stamp on the organization. He'd had a hand in selecting Andrew Bynum in the 2005 NBA draft, but never had he been charged to chart the direction of the organization in such a public manner.
In that spot, Buss opted for Brown in a move that was widely panned and now appears to be his latest (and biggest) blunder. Rather than staying in-house by promoting well-respected assistant Brian Shaw or handing the reins over to noted miracle-worker Rick Adelman, Buss chose the guy who'd essentially been scapegoated by the Cleveland Cavaliers for LeBron James' "Decision."
As bad as that was, Buss only compounded the stupidity by dumping Brown just five games into the regular season and doing so without having a contingency in place.
Usually, when an executive screws up this bad in such an important spot, he's kicked to the curb. But Jim's job is guaranteed, since he shares blood with the guy writing the checks.
And if you weren't sure about his basketball acumen (or lack thereof), just look at what he told Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com on Thursday, when speaking about Brown's job security:
I have no problems with Mike Brown at all. He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening.
So either the system is flawed or something's going on. Or, like the Triangle, it's very hard to pick up and understand. I'm not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient.
Sorry, Lakers fans. Unless Jerry decides to sell the team, you're stuck with the "Blunder Buss" for the foreseeable future.
Winner: Mitch Kupchak
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As bad as Jim Buss looks for ****ing the proverbial bed, Mitch Kupchak looks that much better for, well, being Mitch Kupchak.
Kupchak originally lobbied for Rick Adelman, a coach inching toward a thousand career wins who's coached title contenders before—the Portland Trail Blazers of the early 1990s and the Sacramento Kings of the early aughts.
Not that Mitch needs any help looking like a front-office savant. Jim Buss may have had final say on the trades that brought Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to L.A. this summer, but it was Mitch who did the dirty work to engineer two coups in the span of six weeks.
Maybe, just maybe, this situation will spawn enough dissatisfaction in the heart and mind of Dr. Jerry for the Buss family patriarch to wrest control of basketball decisions from his son and further empower Magnificent Mitch.
Loser: Kobe Bryant
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Whomever the Lakers hire to serve as a sideline steward, the team on the court will still be Kobe Bryant's.
Not that he'll necessarily be better off, even if the team opts for Phil Jackson and Mike D'Antoni, both of whom have his full admiration.
The Black Mamba has backed Mike Brown, an obsessive basketball junkie like himself, all along, even though he wasn't originally consulted before Jim Buss closed the deal prior to last year's lockout. Kobe even went so far as to show his support for Brown with a screed on his Facebook page:
Tough day. I've seen coaches as well as friends come and go. No matter how many years I've been playing, it's still hard to deal with. I had a good relationship with Mike and I will continue to have one. I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I spoke with him today and thanked him for all of his hard work and sacrifice.
Keep in mind, much of that "hard work and sacrifice" resulted in what's been a transcendent performance for the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer to this point. Kobe had little trouble finding favorable shots in Brown's read-and-react, Princeton-ish offense.
The numbers back it up—27.2 points on career highs from the field (.560), from three (.429) and from the charity stripe (.917). Whatever you'd care to call Brown's system, it clearly was working for Kobe.
And if he truly was a Brown backer behind closed doors and the players weren't involved in this decision, as Kupchak suggested at Friday's press conference, then Kobe comes off as having far less sway over the franchise's fortunes than he once did.
Winner: Pau Gasol
Whether or not Pau Gasol was at all involved with the proceedings, he'll probably wind up pleased to see Mike Brown go when the final history of this fiasco is written.
Gasol's current decline coincided with Brown's arrival in 2011. Brown bumped Pau from Kobe's second fiddle to the team's third banana behind Andrew Bynum last season, and seemed to have done the same with the skilled Spaniard this time around.
As a result, Gasol came off as out of sorts, left to seek out offensive opportunities by crashing the boards, spotting up for mid-range jumpers and tossing up the occasional lob pass from the high post. Through five games, Pau's posted career lows in scoring (13.6 points) and field-goal percentage (.418) and has been nearly a non-factor defensively, particularly against the pick-and-roll.
To be sure, Brown isn't totally to blame for Gasol's failings. Pau was noticeably distraught after the Lakers attempted to trade him prior to last season and continued to sulk until the trade deadline officially came and went. This time around, he's looked slow and tired after willing Spain to the gold-medal game at the London Olympics this past summer in the wake of a taxing 66-game season.
Let's not forget, either, that Pau's poor play might simply be the byproduct of a decline that comes with being 32 and embarking on a 12th NBA season.
In any case, Gasol can only hope that the next guy up will carve out a more prominent role for him in the offense.
Winner: Steve Nash
While all of this is going on, Steve Nash is probably going through dribbling and shooting drills, testing the strength of his fractured fibula throughout.
Even when he was healthy, Nash hardly looked comfortable running whatever it was Mike Brown and Eddie Jordan had concocted as an offense. It was all too easy to ignore Nash's lackluster numbers in the preseason...until those struggles carried over into the little meaningful action in which he participated prior to knocking knees with Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard.
Chances are, Brown's replacement will have a much better grasp on how to make the most of a Hall of Fame point guard of Nash's caliber. If Jerry Sloan gets the nod, he'll put Nash's pick-and-roll prowess to proper use, just as he did with John Stockton and Deron Williams.
And if it's Mike D'Antoni...well, it's safe to say Steve would be more than comfortable running the show for a coach with whom he had so much success with the Phoenix Suns.
Loser: The Lakers
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Mike Brown is gone, Jim Buss is still making decisions, so naturally, the Lakers organization comes out of all of this as a big loser.
Rarely has the NBA's most storied franchise ever seemed so discombobulated as it does right now. What's more amazing is that this disarray comes on the heels of one of the most successful summers an NBA team has ever enjoyed.
It wasn't so long ago that the future of the Purple and Gold seemed as bright as ever. Kobe, Pau and Nash lent the Lakers a sense of urgency and veteran leadership to win now, and Dwight Howard appeared a perfect fit as the team's foundation for the future.
Now, the Lakers look old, thin and directionless. And if they don't turn this situation around soon, they may well see Howard wander off to more promising confines come July.