LOS ANGELES When Mike Brown was named head coach of the Lakers last year, many were wondering if he has what it takes to run the most high-profile team in the NBAmaybe in professional sports.
And could he deal with the mercurial temperament of Kobe Bryant, who clashed with Phil Jackson even as they won five championships together.
Comments by Shaquille O'Neal in his recent autobiographySHAQ UNCUT-MY STORYcould lead one to believe that Brown was timid when it came to dealing with a superstar player. O'Neal played for Brown in Cleveland during the 2009-10 season, and didn't paint a flattering picture of the head coach:
"Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy, but he had to live on edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.
"I remember one day in a film session LeBron didn't get back on defense after a missed shot. Mike Brown didn't say anything about it. He went to the next clip and it was Mo Williams not getting back and Mike was saying, 'Yo, Mo, we can't have that. You've got to hustle a little more.'
So Delonte West is sitting there and he's seen enough and he stands up and says, 'Hold up, now. You can't be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some of us. 'Mike Brown said, 'I know, Delonte. I know.' Mike knew Delonte was right.
"I'm not sure if Kobe is going to listen to Mike Brown. LeBron never really did. Here's what we do know: Kobe will definitely be in charge."
And in the first half of the season, it looked like Shaq was a prophet.
Brown deferred to Kobe in just about any situation that popped up, whether it was poor shot selection, taking too many shots or not passing the ball. Brown always seemed to back down when Kobe was involved.
Something changed, however, when Brown was criticized by Metta World Peace in an article that appeared on a national website.
World Peace told the writer that Brown was just a stats guy who didn't understand that contributions on the court don't always show up in the box score. Instead of turning the other cheek, Brown called World Peace on the carpet, and told him that if he were just a stats guy, Metta wouldn't even be playing, pointing out that he was the 192nd ranked defensive player in the NBA.
Since then, Brown has been anything but soft.
In Sunday night's loss to Memphis at STAPLES Center, Brown wasn't pleased with Bryant's effort on either end of the floor, and benched him with the outcome still undecided. By the time he put Kobe back in, the game was all but over, and Bryant was visibly unhappy to be glued to sidelines.A few weeks ago, Brown almost assuredly would have gone out of his way to soften the blow to Bryant's ego with his post- game comments. Nothing doing on Sunday night.
"I just wanted to make a sub," Brown said, adding that it was nothing in particular that led to him keep Kobe out of the game. "(I) tried to go back to (Kobe), but obviously it didn't work."
Bryant, for his part, handled the situation well, refusing to publicly criticize. "I've had his back all season," Kobe said, "so I can't do anything crazy now."
Andrew Bynum did speak out, though, saying the coaches obviously wanted to make some kind of point to Kobe.
Bynum had no way to know he'd be the next example of "Bench 'em All" Brown's new no-nonsense philosophy.
In Tuesday night's road win against the Golden State Warriors, Bynum launched a wide-open three-pointer with 9:33 left in the third quarter and the Lakers clinging to a six-point lead. Bynum's shot landed short on the front of the rim and he landed on the bench for the rest of the game, with the exception of the first 2:50 of the fourth quarter.
Brown said after Wednesday's practice that Bynum's poor defensive effort and only five rebounds were one reason for the benching. But the coach admitted that the three-point attempt annoyed him.
"I was looking at the time, score and flow of the game and I felt like I needed to make a change," Brown told reporters. "Then I put him back in the game and he wasn't getting it done and I felt like we needed to make a change again."
He did, and ignited a controversy that could last for a while.
Bynum spent his time on the sidelines acting as if he didn't have a care in the world, and afterwards he defiantly told the media that he would continue to take three pointers when he wanted. After practice, Brown said his relationship with Bynum is fine and that the All Star center can say anything he wants.
"But if I feel a guy is not playing the right way for our team, I'll make a change."
The biggest change Brown has made, however, is his morphing into Pat Riley.
With his latest actionsand reactionsthe man who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 can no longer be accused of being easy on his stars. Benching Bryant and Bynumboth All Stars this seasonin back-to-back games is the decision of a confident coach.
Was it the World Peace incident that prompted the change, or was Brown playing possum with the Lakers? Maybe it was his plan all along to be Mr. Nice Guy until he felt it was the right time to show everyone whose team it really is.
Whatever the reason, they are bold statements by a man who needs to be respected if the Lakers are to make a legitimate run for another title.
And if he hopes to keep his job for a while.