So, the Los Angeles Lakers surprised no one and fired head coach Mike Brown this morning in a story first reported by USA Today‘s Sam Amick. (And it pains me to link to USA Today, as I absolutely hate their digital redesign.) Brown came into the season on the hot seat, particularly after the acquisitions of All Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and even further abated by Kobe Bryant’s dwindling prime. Kobe’s death stare in the waning moments of the team’s loss to Utah on Wednesday night said it all.
Now 1-4, the Lakers have to rebuild … fast. Bernie Bickerstaff will step in as the team’s interim coach, and Eddie Jordan, the man in charge of the Lakers’ oft-criticized switch to the Princeton offense, remains an assistant, so there’s still head-coaching experience on the bench. But, don’t get me wrong, this team will hire a name, whether it’s Jerry Sloan (my personal favorite), Phil Jackson (if he wants it), Mike D’Antoni (doesn’t make sense to me) or Nate McMillan (doesn’t make sense to me, the sequel), before Thanksgiving.
A short toast to Mike Brown
One of the reasons Jim Buss liked, and eventually hired, Mike Brown, a former NBA Coach of the Year (yeah, I forgot that, too), was his experience coaching an NBA star in LeBron James during his five-year tenure in Cleveland. But Brown never really controlled James, and Cavaliers fans, at least some of us (disclaimer alert, I bleed wine & gold), always wondered how much more successful LeBron, and by extension the team, could be if the head coach, not the small forward, was in charge. James is, and always has been, a phenomenal talent, probably the best in the business, but with an authoritative head coach, he could be a more focused and driven athlete, Cavs fans would say. (See 2012 NBA playoffs for how much his game’s evolved.)
Brown, to me, never made sense for this team, this year or last. If you’re capable of reading between the lines, it’s clear Kobe has never been a huge supporter (I don’t care what he says on Facebook) of Brown, and it doesn’t help that the former Wizards, Spurs and Pacers assistant never really learned how to teach, you know, offense. And the purple & gold’s 19th-ranked defense doesn’t much help matters, does it?
Brown will probably wind up returning to ESPN, where he’ll continue to make a comfortable living. But you can’t help but feel sorry for Mike, even as someone who called for his firing in Cleveland for most of his tenure. He was just way too deep, drowning faster than Pau Gasol in a big moment. (Boom, I went there.)
Reminder: 77 games to go
But for the Lakers, there’s a silver lining. It’s November, and barely. With 77 games left on the schedule, including a very winnable home one tonight against the Warriors, this team has plenty of time to ride out Nash’s injury and reach its peak. This is a playoff club, even if it takes Kobe Bryant playing 45 minutes a night to get them there.
And there’s more good news. With James Harden out of Oklahoma City, it’s the Lakers and then everyone else (and then the Pistons and Wizards). San Antonio has the right mix of young and old to make one more run, but no team in the Western Conference … or NBA, with the exception of Miami … has this roster. The bench, or lack thereof, remains my prime concern (where art thou, Jodie Meeks?) moving forward. But until then, Kobe and Dwight shall right the ship. Don’t jump off quite yet.
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