So, before I put on the pith helmet and run for cover, I thought I would take a few moments to explain why I think the Los Angeles Lakers' choice of Mike Brown as their new head coach is not such a bad one. In fact, it may just be the smartest move Jim Buss has made as Lakers “Owner In Training.”
The contract is apparently in place and ready for signing. I hope Brown doesn’t get cold feet and hop on the next plane bound for Cleveland. I also hope he’s immune to the intense criticism and scrutiny he’s received in the past 24 hours, this before he’s coached even one game for his new employers.
Believe me, he’ll be getting a lot more between now and whenever the league decides to settle its legal matters and start the regular season.
Let’s examine the facts and see why Mike Brown as Lakers head coach is as good a choice, if not better, than Brian Shaw, Rick Adelman, Jeff Van Gundy or Mike Dunleavy, who were the other front-runners for what is considered one of the premier coaching jobs in all of professional sports.
This is what the Lakers are getting in the 41-year-old Mike Brown, who was unceremoniously fired in 2010 by the Cavaliers after his team led by LeBron James lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals:
• Mike Brown had a record of 272-138 in five seasons with Cleveland, a winning percentage of .663. He won 127 regular season games in his last two years there, an average of 63 per season.
Who is the best choice to coach the Lakers?
• Brown led the Cavaliers to the postseason in all five years as a coach, including a Finals appearance against the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. It was a first for Cleveland, although they were swept out of the Finals by the Spurs.
• Brown was an assistant coach at two other winning organizations prior to his stint as the head man in Cleveland—three with the Spurs and two with Indiana. He was on the bench as an assistant coach when the Spurs won a world championship in 2003.
• Brown coached LeBron James, arguably the world’s greatest basketball player without a championship ring. James speaks highly of Brown, despite those teams never winning a championship in Cleveland.
What does this all mean for the Lakers moving forward? Well, for one thing, the players can expect someone who is all about team play and known throughout the NBA as a defensive-minded coach. He is not afraid to criticize even the superstars on his teams—James credits Brown with helping him become a more complete defensive player.
Kobe Bryant should expect a straight shooter in Brown. It is not Brown’s fault that Kobe was not consulted before this hiring—right or wrong, it was the decision of the Buss family to leave all players out of the process. Let’s hope Kobe cuts Brown some slack and gives him more than enough rope to start with.
Mo Williams, the small point guard who played alongside James and under Brown, had nothing but praise for his former coach. In a Los Angeles Times story on Thursday, Williams talked about Brown taking the heat and standing up for his players when need be.
“Oh man, he’ll take it,” laughed Williams, “and without a bullet proof vest on.”
Van Gundy, who would have been my choice to take over the team, said all the right things when asked by Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times to comment on Brown and his abilities: “"I thought he used LeBron great. They didn't have a lot of great weapons offensively. It was LeBron, Mo Williams and the shooting of [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas. It wasn't like a high-powered team, but I thought they executed well. Everybody talks about style. With Mike, I know this—they'll play a winning style. They're going to win and win big."
The most glaring deficiency down the stretch of this postseason for the Lakers was their porous defense, which seemed to give up for big stretches of a game and allowed small, pesky point guards to move at will inside the paint.
Brown takes great pride in his team’s defensive play and is sounding that as his mantra for next season. Lakers owner Jerry Buss has not been a huge fan of the triangle offense employed by Phil Jackson, though he didn’t complain when Jackson led the team to five world titles. Now, under Brown, the team will probably move away from the triangle and on to whatever system Brown brings with him.
The offensive scheme is one area where Brown has question marks.
One thing is clear: Mike Brown can coach at the NBA level. He’s a proven winner and was NBA Coach of the Year in 2008-09 when he led the Cavs to a 66-16 record during the regular season. He also was an assistant head coach at Indiana when Ron Artest won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.
For those who bring up the fact that Cleveland got swept in its only NBA Finals under Brown, my response is: Not one of the other candidates for the top job has won an NBA title as a head coach. Not Brian Shaw, who has no head coaching experience; not Van Gundy, who took the No. 8 seed Knicks to the Finals in 1999 only to get slapped silly by the Spurs in five games; not Adelman, who lost two NBA Finals to Detroit and Chicago; and not Dunleavy, who went to the Finals as head coach of the Lakers in 1991 and lost in five to the Bulls.
So why not give Mike Brown a chance to take the Lakers all the way to a title? I actually think Jim and Jerry Buss, along with general manager Mitch Kupchak, are taking a risk with this pick. They know it and are willing to think outside the box on this one.
They could have taken the safer route and picked Dunleavy, a decent coach who wins more games than he loses, or Adelman, whose high-powered offenses might have been a better attraction for those who yearn for a return to the Showtime era.
But what the Lakers need more than anything is to shake it up a little. We all witnessed their complacency during the playoffs, barely getting by a mediocre, beat-up Hornets team and then being trashed by the more passionate Mavericks.
Taking the safe road just won’t cut it for a team that still has, man for man, the top talent in the league. So, Mike Brown is no Phil Jackson when it comes to media savvy and intellectual sparring. But, then, who is?
Brown is said to be a nice, family guy who loves the game of basketball, works hard, demands a lot from his players and will do whatever it takes to bring another championship to Los Angeles.
That is what Lakers fans can expect next season and isn’t that exactly what you want, after all?