NBA: Lakers Made a Mistake by Firing Mike Brown
Even though many people believe recently fired Lakers head coach Mike Brown was mediocre at best in both Los Angeles and Cleveland, giving him the ax five games into the 2012 season was such a panic move, it makes Thunder GM Sam Presti look like Axl Rose.
Consider another team in recent history that had a busy offseason and championship expectations the subsequent season: the 2010 Miami Heat.
Remember the Heat's slow start that season (9-8 through their first 17 games)? Remember the LeBron bump? Remember in 2011 when people said trading LeBron for Dwight Howard might be a good move for Miami? Remember just this past June when the Heat lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and almost everyone assumed their season was over?
Through all of those hard times, head coach Eric Spoelstra faced the brunt of the criticism, especially after LeBron bumped him in 2010 and after Game 5 against Boston last postseason. If the Heat didn't win the title last year, Spoelstra would not be their head coach right now.
But the Heat did win the title and Spoelstra is now widely regarded as a good coach who can say he's been to two straight Finals, winning one of them. (He'll also receive the bulk of the credit if the Heat can win with a "small ball" style of play.)
I'm not suggesting that Brown's situation with the Lakers was identical to Spoelstra's with the Heat, but it is interesting how the narrative around Spoelstra almost entirely flipped over the course of just seven playoff games. It seems absurd in retrospect to think about the possibility of Spoelstra being fired if Miami started 1-4 last season.
Now, we don't fully know how much Kobe Bryant or the other Lakers players had to do with this firing. Bryant publicly backed Brown, but who knows how genuine his support actually was. If Brown was losing his players (especially Bryant), it would be understandable if Lakers owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak felt that continuing with Brown was a no-win situation (hopefully not in terms of actual Laker wins and losses).
That being said, if you're Jerry Buss and players are complaining to you about Coach Brown, there is only one thing you need to say to them: "We've played FIVE games!" (That's less than 1/16th of the season for all you math nerds out there. Watch your back, Nate Silver.)
If Brown got in fist-fights with his players, skipped important team events, ate fried chicken and drank beer in the locker room (just kidding), or committed some other obviously fire-able offense, then of course he should be gone. But if this is just a reaction to LA's early-season struggles or some player complaints, it's a mistake.
Several championship-winning coaches were regarded as bad coaches before they eventually won a ring. Spoelstra, as I mentioned, was one of them, as was Doc Rivers before 2008.
Rivers might have been fired in 2008 if the Celtics went on to have another disappointing season, but Boston made a couple of trades that landed an aging, sharpshooting guard and a All-Star big man who was one of the league's best defenders.
They eventually won the title and Rivers is currently regarded as a great coach.
Should the Lakers have fired Mike Brown?
The Lakers also made trades for a star guard (Steve Nash) and a superstar big man (Howard) this past offseason. They instantly became a championship contender once they acquired those two, and they still are, despite these awful first five games.
When you have the talent to win a title, you don't tinker with your team so early in a season, especially when two of your biggest pieces are new, and one of them (Nash) hasn't even played in most of the games.
This firing would have made more sense if the Lakers were still struggling at the All-Star break, but they easily could have turned their season around.
Maybe Brown would have made some adjustments, settled any beefs his players had with him (if, in fact, there were any), and the Lakers would have gone on to win the title. Maybe not. Maybe Buss and Kupchak are smarter than the rest of us and the Lakers will win the title this year under Mike D'Antoni, Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw or whoever ends up replacing Brown.
But history shows us that firing a coach during a season is not the course of action to take if you want to win a title the same year. As Spoelstra and Rivers proved, winning can ultimately determine whether you are a good or bad coach.
Mike Brown has had regular and postseason success before. With the talent on this Lakers team and a little bit of luck, he easily could have been the coach hugging the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the season and he would definitely be viewed in a much kinder light.
Instead, he'll be watching the Finals on his TV, all because his previous employer panicked. History suggests that his previous employer will not be one of the two teams on his screen.
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