Mike Brown Has More Pressure to Succeed with Kobe Bryant Than with LeBron James

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IOctober 10, 2011

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 31:  Mike Brown, the new head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, speaks during his introductory news conference at the team's training facility on May 31, 2011 in El Segundo, California. Brown replaced Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who retired at the end of this season.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Have you seen the latest addition to Staples Center in Los Angeles? It’s a microscope with a state-of-the-art lens strong enough to see the smallest of imperfections in an NBA head coach. It’s positioned high above the rafters and is pointed directly at the seat where new Lakers coach Mike Brown will eventually sit if and when the 2011-12 season begins.

All I can say is good luck, my friend. You’ll need it.

You’ve all heard the expression about “entering the lion’s den”? Mike Brown’s new “den” is filled with enough lions, tigers and bears to shock even the Wicked Witch of the West into submission. If he thought there was pressure in Cleveland when he coached LeBron James, he is about to find out what real pressure really is when he starts in with Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers.

Brown’s tenure in Cleveland was filled with pressure, but nothing compared to the glare of the Hollywood lights at Staples.

Coaching LeBron was not easy. At times, it appeared LeBron was the de facto coach, in that LeBron was a one-man offensive show.

After Cleveland lost in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals to Boston—a series in which LeBron seemed to “check out”—Brown was unceremoniously let go. It seemed LeBron had, after five seasons, given up on the team and lost the passion to play for his coach.

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Ownership felt that firing Brown might be a way to keep LeBron in Cleveland and sign a long-term contract after becoming a free agent. We know how that story ended.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t have the luxury of five seasons to get acquainted with the new coach. Brown will be under much more pressure to succeed with Bryant than he was with LeBron at Cleveland.

Bryant has not publicly endorsed the hiring of Brown. Sources close to the player say he was “surprised” by the choice and that he preferred Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman.

Kobe has never really publicly thrown his support behind the hire of Brown, choosing instead to be quiet. His silence speaks volumes.

It‘s widely known that Bryant supported the hiring of close friend and former teammate Brian Shaw, Lakers assistant coach under Phil Jackson for five seasons. Shaw intimately knew the triangle offense, and it was assumed by Bryant, Derek Fisher and the rest of the veteran club that the new coach would utilize some form of that.

Mike Brown is not a triangle guy, and if he employs the same sort of freestyle, playground approach that he had in Cleveland, the Lakers will implode. In Cleveland, it was LeBron James and four other guys standing around. We've been witness to that with Kobe, and though he is still the guy you want to close out a game, it's not the sort of offense you want to employ over the course of an entire game.

Where Brown will help the Lakers is with his defensive skills as a coach. With Cleveland, he was able to steer the team into becoming one of the league's stingiest. Under his tutelage, LeBron became a stronger defender. Brown also coached Ron Artest while both were in Indiana, and that was when he became one of the league’s top defensive players.

Good defense does win championships, but a listless offense can cost you a title as well. The Lakers still possess one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, but it’s one that often deteriorates into playground-style basketball.  

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04:  Kobe Bryant listens as Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association, speaks at a press conference after NBA labor negotiations at The Westin Times Square on October 4, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Kobe averaged 25.3 points per game last year on 45 percent shooting, both of which replicated his career numbers. At 33 years of age, he is still one of the league’s premier players and approaches this season with the same intense desire and fire.

But Mike Brown was not Kobe's choice to be the Lakers skipper. In fact, Brown was no one’s choice, except for the Lakers' Jim Buss, who obviously wanted the team to leave the Phil Jackson era and segue to the Jim Buss era.  We’ll know pretty quickly if that was a wise decision.

When asked about how he might approach coaching Kobe Bryant, Brown was quick to defer to the legendary superstar. To me, it sounded eerily familiar to when Brown was leading the charge at Cleveland.

"This is still his team," Brown told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times.

"Kobe is Kobe. He has five titles. He's one of the greatest ever. His role will not change. We'll make sure he'll have the ball in the sweet spots he likes to have them in. A lot of this stuff is what we went over or I went over with Kobe. He has a great understanding of my vision and he's on board."

Or maybe Brown should have said “and I’m on board.” Not exactly the most reassuring stuff.

Soon, it will be put up or shut up time for Lakers coach Mike Brown. It’s up to this veteran club to buy into his philosophy. If it does, we could see a passionate, exciting Lakers team this season. If it doesn’t, we could be in for a long, turbulent campaign. 

With no real winners.