Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 12/22/11

The Los Angeles Lakers lost out on Chris Paul, an irritable Lamar Odom migrated to Dallas, Shannon Brown is gone as well, they stand miles above the salary cap, there are countless questions that surround “everything Kobe Bryant,” and they have a glaring lack of overall depth.  It’s easy to see why people believe the Lakers are no better than the fifth best team in the West.  My question is this:  Where would we have the Lakers if Phil Jackson were still at the helm?  Higher than about fifth?  With everything mentioned above, my guess is probably not–Odom is tough to overcome, as well as the emotional roller coaster of Chris Paul’s false pretense.  So that begs this question: are we really that confident in Mike Brown to say they’ll be that good in the West?  Heck, are we even cogitating Mike Brown into the big picture equation when we’re putting a number on the Lakers win total and championship prospects?  If not, we should be.

For better or worse, entering an NBA season, we pretty much know who’s going to be good, who’s going to be bad, and who will be terrible.  This year it’s a little different though.   There are going to be surprises galore.  Some good teams will struggle, some bad teams will prosper, and a lot of everything in between.  That’s what happens when a lockout shortens camp and and crams free agency into a two week period; you get a lot of variables that result in quite a few unpredictable outcomes.  Consider the variable of  Mike Brown taking over a prominent Lakers franchise so familiar with Jackson and you have to consider that Brown will play more of a factor to his team than any other coach in the NBA this year.  With the exception of Kobe’s German forged knee, Brown should be the biggest the Lakers biggest concern.

Argue this following point if you want, but NBA coaches, in comparison to baseball and football, play the largest role in their teams on court success.  They never get enough credit for it either. With that said,  it’s of enough concern that Mike Brown is someone other than Phil Jackson, but it’s of far more concern that Brown just so happens to be the polar opposite coach of Phil Jackson.  That’s the real problem here.  It’s not being given enough weight.

Jackson was an offensive genius.  He ran the triangle offense with near perfection.  He had everyone’s trust, most importantly Kobe’s.  He had familiarity with every facet of the team, and vice versa.

Brown, on the other hand, is defensive minded.  On this side of the spectrum, like Jackson, Brown very well could arguably be the best coach in all of basketball on that side of the ball; even more than his mentor, Gregg Popovich, and even more than Thibodeau or anyone else among the elite.  We just forget to ever recognize him because he never won a championship and his success was overshadowed by everything LeBron James.

What Brown did with the Cavs was actually pretty remarkable considering, you know, our notion that the Cavs were made up of LeBron James and a bunch of nobodies’.  In the last two years of his tenure in Cleveland, the Cavs ranked in the top five of every significant defensive category (with a few exceptions).  LeBron became one of the best defenders in the game, too.  It wasn’t just Brown’s last two years in Cleveland where the team excelled on the defensive side of the ball, they were tops in that department for all of his five season’s there.

While Brown’s defensive expertise might spell good things for the Lakers and their prospects of emerging into a defensive team of note (something that could make up for their falling behind the curve in the West, and the reason he was hired in the first place), it more than likely won’t.  Not this season.  Not with 3 weeks of camp, two preseason games to work with, and two recent additions of Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy thrown in the mix.  Not with a team that could be broken apart at any time via a trade through Orlando.  That’s the veritable reason why the lockout will affect the Lakers this season more than any other contending team.  That’s what the Lakers forgot to factor in when they hired coach Brown.

If Mike Brown is going to successfully implement his defensive philosophy, it’s going to have to be on the fly.  I wish him luck with that though.  It’s hard coaching anything on the fly in the NBA, let alone during a year with a crammed season schedule.  The Lakers will play 16 back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back ( their first 3 games of season).  That’s what everyone is forgetting about the Lakers, that this coaching change came at the worst possible time, and Mike Brown, in particular–unlike Rick Adelman or Brian Shaw–might have been one of the worst possible predecessors to take over in such a situation.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s a terrible coach.  He  just doesn’t exactly find himself an ideal situation for this season.  Few would. When it comes to team oriented defense, it takes some time for teams’ to learn all the inner workings, and more importantly it takes time for the team to buy in.   Time simply isn’t something Brown had this offseason and won’t have much of this season.  Making matters worse, and rendering extreme caution to the situation as a whole is the fact that Brown is miles behind the offensive learning curve for coaches in this league.  And did I yet mention he’s taking over a team that was coached by the mastermind of the triangle offense?

In Cleveland, the Cavs offense under Brown was pedestrian and beyond frustrating.  LeBron James was the only reason the teams overall offense wasn’t death to the basketball-purest’s soul.   Under Brown, in crunch time the offense was relegated to giving the ball to LeBron and… well, yea, that was about it.  (Skip Bayless earned celeb-like status as an unintended result.)  It was in the 08-09 season when Brown was–for all intents and purposes–relieved of his offensive duty’s by assistant, John Kuester.  The following year, Kuester got Detroit’s coaching job and his absence from the Cavs may have cost Cleveland the championship.  (That or LeBron against the Celtics did, not sure.)  Fortunately for the Lakers, Kuester is on Brown’s staff.   Take it for what it is worth though, which might not be that much; they won’t be running any form of Jackson’s offense, maybe I’m wrong though.

All in all, Brown’s lack of offensive command could be a good thing for Kobe.  As far as posting numbers goes, Kobe might just go a little 2006 on us.   As far as team success goes, everyone knows that that’s not a good thing.  Right?   Kobe is a completely different player than LeBron when it comes to making the people around him better.  Making matters worse is the possible physical and mental state of Kobe, and when I say mental I’m not referring to his recent divorce, I’m talking about his regard, or lack thereof, for Mike Brown as the new coach.  It’s clear Kobe wasn’t down with the hiring, though as of now all of that is old news according to this L.A. Times story.

It’s not just Kobe though.  How will the rest of the team react to Brown?  How will they take to playing a different and highly retrogressed offensive style?  Will they buy into his defense?  Will they even get to properly learn it?  What’s going to happen when, three weeks into the season, Magic Johnson voices his displeasure with the coaching and Laker town goes into a frenzy?  Are they allowed to trade Adelman for Brown?  That’s really where he would have been a perfect fit–up in desolate Minnesota, preaching defense to Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, and Mike Beasley.  Instead, he’s with a team in utter turmoil that’s still reeling over the Chris Paul debacle.  Luckily for Mike Brown, all the talk of the “David Stern veto”, “Clippers being good now”, “Kobe’s divorce”, and “Lamar leaving town” has taken all the attention off of him.  Which is funny and ironic considering he’s replacing the best coach in the  history of the game and he’s the underlying X factor as to how far the Los Angeles Lakers will sink or swim this season.

Then again, Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, and Artest in Brown’s defensive system is a very scary thing for the rest of the league.  Maybe, just maybe the Lakers will be even better than even any of us think?  Just remember to expect the unexpected, this season.




Los Angeles Lakers could struggle mightily under new coach Mike Brown isportsweb

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