Two things are for certain about new Lakers head coach Mike Brown: the man isn't afraid of a challenge and defense is his forte.
In his first stint as a head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brown was faced with the daunting task of coaching and managing one of the game's greatest talents and biggest egos in LeBron James. All things considered, Brown more than held his own and had a fairly good run in Cleveland with James.
In five seasons with the Cavs, Brown compiled a 272-138 record, made a brief appearance in the 2007 NBA Finals, took home the 2009 Coach of the Year award, and was responsible for turning the Cavs into one of the best defensive teams in the league while he was there.
Now all he has to do out in Hollywood is replace a guy in Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles, and gain the trust of Kobe Bryant. In others words, Brown is up against a wall from the get-go. This is far from a match made in heaven.
For starters, it didn't help that the Lakers brass failed to at least consult with Bryant during the selection process which led to Brown. This was a careless error by the Lakers front office which didn't exactly allow the Brown-era in L.A. to get off on the right foot.
It's perfectly understandable that Bryant feels slighted by the process which led to Brown's hiring; not only because of his pedigree and the five rings he's won while in L.A., but also because of the fact that any and all future title aspirations for the Lakers still rests upon No. 24's shoulders. Therefore, it's imperative for Brown to quickly gain the respect and trust of The Mamba. If he fails to do so, things will get ugly in Lakersland without a doubt.
Unfortunately for Brown, it's not just the soon-to-be 33-year-old Bryant he must win over. Brown faces the challenge of winning over an entire Lakers roster that is both supremely talented and—to put it nicely—aging.Derek Fisher is about to turn 37 in August, Pau Gasol is 31 and both Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom will be 32 before the turn of the year. Even Andrew Bynum, who will turn 24 in October, already has six seasons under his belt, not to mention the knees of a 40-year-old.
These guys have all been there and done that, which presents a challenge to Brown since the combination of talent and experience has a tendency to lead to deaf ears and guys who are set in their ways. Given Brown's tireless work ethic and business-like approach, I doubt the Lakers will tune him out, but an aging roster certainly presents an obstacle for Brown that he must overcome.
It will also be interesting to see just how much of an impression Brown is able to make on the defensive side of the ball for the Lakers, given his reputation as a defensive guru and the pieces he has to work with out in L.A.
Now, make no mistake about it: Brown is a terrific defensive coach and probably one of the best in the league. What he did for the Cavs' defense during his tenure in Cleveland was truly impressive. Over five seasons, his Cavs' squads held opponents to an average of 94.4 points a game on 44.6 percent shooting, highlighted by the 2008-09 season in which they finished first and second respectively in those categories (91.4 and 43.1 percent). As impressive as all that is, it really wouldn't surprise me if Brown has a more difficult time making his mark on the Lakers defense.
As much as it pains me to say this, the biggest reason Brown's Cavs' teams were so good defensively had to do with LeBron James. Brown, to his credit, got James to buy into his defensive philosophy and commit to consistently playing hard on defense, which had a direct and positive effect on the defensive effort and intensity given by the rest of his teammates. Unlike pretty much every single NBA team ever, those Cavalier teams played hard on defense pretty much every game during their 66- and 61-win regular seasons of 2008-09 and 2009-10.
That type of thing is just not going to happen next year in L.A., primarily because Bryant and the rest of his veteran teammates realize that championships are won during the months of May and June and not during the monotonous regular season months of January, February and March.
Still, the Lakers roster is far superior and more talented than any of the rosters Brown had to work with while in Cleveland, and it's not like he's inheriting a terrible defensive team—at least not from a statistical standpoint. Last season, the Lakers ranked eight in points allowed per game (95.4), fifth in opponents' field-goal percentage (43.7 percent) and third in opponents' three-point percentage (33.5 percent).
All in all, Brown doesn't have to reinvent the wheel out in L.A. He already has a solid base and pieces to work with and I'm confident his presence will have a positive effect on the Lakers defense next season. It's just not going to be anywhere close to the type of defensive transformation we saw take place in Cleveland while he was there.
However, offense is a completely different story and a major, major question mark when it comes to the union of Brown and the Lakers. If I were a Lakers fan, I'd be more than worried about the future of the Lakers offense now that the Triangle is a thing of the past and Brown is running the show.
While in Cleveland, Brown's offenses and play-calling, particularly down the stretch in close games, were a constant source of frustration and anger for many a Cavs' fan, myself included. Now, some of that can be attributed to the presence of LeBron James, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that Brown is basically simplistic and unimaginative on the offensive side of the ball. He might be a defensive guru but, if we're calling a spade a spade, let's just say that he's offensively deficient. I'd be worried.
Aside from offense, I'd also be very concerned about Brown's use of his rotation, his ability to make in-game adjustments and—when the time comes—adjustments between games in a playoff series. If you don't believe me, I suggest you get a copy of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals between Brown's Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic. The Magic were a better team, but Brown thoroughly got out-coached by Stan Van Gundy and made some of the most illogical coaching decisions in the history of coaching. Just thinking about that series makes me sick, so I'll spare you the details.
Regardless, no matter who the Lakers' front office hired as their coach this offseason, that guy was going to find himself in a tough, tricky situation. The weather might be nice out in L.A. and the Lakers are certainly talented, but it's just not easy to replace a guy who won 11 NBA titles or coach an aging roster of guys who have won multiple championships.
Mike Brown was a solid hire in the sense that he's a tireless worker who will most likely gain the respect of this Lakers roster, but he's probably better suited as a defensive coordinator/head assistant in the NBA. I like and respect Brown, but I just think he's the kind of head coach who can only take a team so far. I'm not sure he'll ever get any team over the hump and win a championship, much less next season's elderly Lakers.