I felt resentful of Mike Brown from the beginning. It didn’t have that much to do with him really. It was more about the way the season had ended, the way the players had given up on Phil Jackson during his well-publicized last run. It had to do with the way management cleaned house and the way Brian Shaw was treated like a pariah. It felt toxic. And the new boss came along, smiling and affable and filled with reasonable plans. And the summer became a bitter lockout.
He had been to the finals, had been a coach of the year. He had dealt with an outsized ego in LeBron James. He preached defense. I for one, made fun - he wasn’t my choice. As if I had a right. And the lockout-shortened season began and he was thrown into it with a blockbuster trade that was vetoed and a jerry-rigged amalgamation of aging stars and average journeymen. The season didn’t go so well and we weren’t that surprised.
Coach Brown seemed like a nice guy. He had an easy laugh and a love of work. He held long practices and his players seemed to accept it because the intentions seemed good and sincere. And he seemed reasoned when he explained his cockeyed rotations and pedestrian offense. Because they were figuring this thing out, y’know? It took time. And the season ended with another second round exit and there was the usual talk about what he was and what he wasn’t and another summer rolled along and then the lid blew off in the form of Steve Nash & Dwight Howard. Rock Stars! Salvation! Bring on the rings, encrusted with jewels, for surely they are ours to lose.
There was a small matter - the team needed direction and a system. And low and behold the Princeton Offense was brought forth and this seemed good because there were familiar principles involved. It had a lofty name and it was about ball movement and off-ball movement and wasn’t it kind of like the triangle, kind of? And a new crop of assistant coaches were summoned and a smattering of new role players and the table was set. Signed, sealed, delivered.
There were a few minor wrinkles. Dwight Howard was coming off back surgery. The team was somewhat geriatric. This danged Princeton thing seemed awful tough to figure out. Kobe hurt his foot and Nash fractured a shin and Jordan Hill did the same thing to his back that Dwight Howard had done but that was okay because he’d just rest it a little and besides, Dwight himself was coming back after many months of inactivity. No worries.
It was easy to blame Mike Brown and yet it was also reasonable to blame injuries and unfamiliarity and a host of other events on the ground. And Mike still had his smile and his work ethic and his screwy rotations. The team lost three in a row to start the season and finally beat the lowly Detroit Pistons and with five minutes left in the game and a 25-point lead, Mike Brown stood on the sidelines with his hands on his hips, shouting out directions as Kobe and Dwight and Pau huffed and puffed down the floor.
And yes, there was something about this that didn’t quite seem right. Just like there was something lost in translation when Brown explained why he played Pau for such heavy minutes during the preseason. He said he knew Gasol had played a ton of ball during the course of the previous year so he would play him more now because it would be uncomfortable in the moment but wouldn’t seem uncomfortable later.
And then came the fateful fifth game of this almighty season and the Lakers were blown out in Utah. And the needle swiped across the vinyl with an ugly squawk and everything stopped. And Mike Brown talked his talk and the players said it would take some time and Jim Buss said he had every confidence in his guy. And pulled the trigger.
It was a surprise but it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Jim Buss is a numbers guy. He looks at percentages, at returns, at stats and data. And he has no aversion to dropping the hammer. He has been handed the keys to a kingdom that’s about winning, about major media market deals and signing superstars and great expectations. There's also talk that the grand patriarch himself wanted Brown gone. To be honest, it's remarkable that he lasted as long as he did.
Mitch Kupchak gave a presser and spoke thoughtfully and pragmatically. They’ll make some calls and sort through the candidates. They’ll probably talk to their superstar veterans about it, he said. Not for validation but just for information – who they know and that kind of thing. The team will take many things into careful consideration and won’t be rushed. I don’t buy it. I think Buss has been running the numbers for weeks. And the winner is.....
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
(*update: I wrote the above hours after Mike Brown was let go. I felt as so many did, that Phil Jackson would return for one more go-round. It was a wonderfully sweet and toxic 48hr ride until management took a sharp and sudden turn. Mike D'Antoni is nothing like the old boss but he should be just as entertaining.)