by Eric Paolini
When the Cleveland Cavaliers overachieved with their roster of nomads and no-names
and reached the NBA Finals in 2007 I never attributed their success to Mike
Brown. Replace Brown with a higher echelon coach like Phil Jackson, Gregg
Popovich, or even Doc Rivers, and the coach gets the recognition. The story
would be about how the coach took this group of mediocre players past their
expectations to the NBA Finals only to be swept. Instead, I gave 4th year
player LeBron James the credit.
Quick side note: it's amazing who played significant minutes for that Cavs team.
Journeymen like Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, and Damon Jones played 65
combined minutes a night. It truly speaks to the low quality of Eastern
Conference teams at the time and the number of great young players that have
entered into the league since then.
Two years later I officially wrote off Brown as a quality coach after the Cavs were
upset by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. At the time,
LeBron James could only be stopped by himself. LeBron's desire to shoot
fadeaways from long distance at the end of games has always perplexed me.
During the Orlando-Cleveland series, while the Magic were making every 3-point
shot they could hoist, Brown was sitting blank faced on the sideline. I
remember Brown staring vacantly at the jumbotron during a timeout near the end
of one of these games while an assistant coach talked with the players. What
happened during commercial break I do not know. The point is, Mike Brown had
one of the most athletic players in the NBA on his roster and did not force him
to get to the basket at all times. Instead he stared vacantly at the jumbotron.
Fast forward to last season when the Los Angeles Lakers signed Brown to replace Phil
Jackson as head coach. Brown had five years of head coaching experience, all in
Cleveland with LeBron James. He would now inherit Kobe Bryant. After a
disappointing season last year, at least for Lakers' fans expectations, and a
rocky start this season, Brown has been fired. To this point I have set up my
doubts as Mike Brown as a coach. But the Lakers should not have fired him.
Especially, after five games with a retooled roster. Since we can't go back in
time to change the minds of Lakers decision makers from hiring Brown, they
should have given him a chance with this new roster.
The more important aspect of this story are Jerry Buss (owner) and Mitch Kupchack
(general manager). The way this team has been put together is inefficient
financially. I disagree with having three max salary players and a nothing
bench. However, this is the current NBA trend. To spend $66 million on three
players (Kobe Bryant: $27.8 mil, Dwight Howard: $19.2 mil, and Pau Gasol: $19
mil) is crazy. When you include Steve Nash ($8.9 mil) and Metta World Peace
($7.2 mil) it limits flexibility for your bench. The ability to have a deep
roster for teams that will have long playoff runs is very important. Especially
when four players in the starting lineup are 32 or older. Despite his
attentiveness to his health, Steve Nash is still 38. Kobe is 34, remember he
jumped from high school, and gets consistently nicked up. Even though he's only
27, Dwight Howard is coming off back surgery and isn't 100% yet. 36 year old
Antawn Jamison plays significant minutes for this team. Plus, the Lakers play
Steve Blake and Chris Duhon a combined $7.6 million this year to be back up
guards when neither are that good, and Duhon has barely played this season. The
fact is that the Lakers have an old, shallow, overpaid team to compete with the
rest of the league which is focusing on athleticism.
The move the Lakers need to make is trading Gasol. The twin towers concept does not
work in this NBA and the Lakers aren't going to trade Howard. There are few
prototypical centers in this era and the Lakers have two guys that can play
center. The Lakers can split up Gasol into multiple parts to fill gaps in the
roster and inject some young life into this group of dinosaurs. Nash and Bryant
can't go on forever. The future is Howard and nothing else at this point.
What the Lakers have done is assemble a team built for the playoffs. They have
enough talented players to ensure a playoff seed. This allows them to work with
their new additions and figure out how the team fits best on the court. As long
as they get in the playoffs. Apparently this is not the mindset. Instead of
allowing their two new starters (Howard and Nash) and key bench player
(Jamison) to mesh, they have created instability among the coaching staff.
Howard is not back to full strength and Nash has only played two games as a
Laker after suffering a small leg fracture. But five games was enough to
realize Brown was not the proper coach for this team. It seems like the Lakers
are doing their best New York Knicks, circa Isaiah Thomas, impression of
While never a supporter of Mike Brown, the decision to fire him five games in is a
terrible one. The Lakers' front office has brought in enough difficulties this
season with their roster construction, adding a coaching change to a playoff
contender only adds to it. The Lakers had smart enough players to overcome
Brown's coaching inabilities. Five high profile and ugly performances was
enough to warrant the firing of Mike Brown apparently.
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