The biggest story of the weekend was the rapidly unfolding saga of Mike Brown’s firing and the Lakers’ abbreviated head coaching search. Earlier today we looked back at how twitter handled the narrative. Below the staff of Hickory-High looks back and what happened, and forward at what might.
1. What was a bigger challenge for Brown – managing personalities and getting everyone to buy-in; or implementing game plans and schemes that worked for the Lakers’ roster?
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 - I’m going to walk the line here and say a little of both. Brown didn’t come to LA with great pedigree, and with an organization that was expecting to win right away, he had to prove himself. While the Lakers have star power, they aren’t versatile like the big three in Miami. They require a strategic coach, one who can put his stars in positions where they thrive, a skill Brown simply doesn’t have. He had success in Cleveland following one simple rule: get the ball to LeBron as often as humanly possible. While that is an effective game plan, it isn’t the best way to coach three HOF that are a bit more pigeonholed. Dwight Howard is great inside, Kobe is an elite scorer, and Nash is an elite assist man, but none of them do other things at that high of a level. The Princeton offense was designed to help lesser teams bleed clock and stay in the game for as long as possible, not exactly the mindset of the 2012-2013 Lakers. His game planning and scheming were never strengths, so when he went with a controversial offense, his players had no reason to buy in.
Ian Levy – @HickoryHigh – I agree with Kyle, a little of both. Kobe’s public support of Brown was undermined completely the past two seasons by his in-game body language and regular television timeout death stares. If Kobe wasn’t with him 100% than Brown was really doomed from the start. Although the Princeton offense he tried to put in place might have eventually run smoother, it clearly wasn’t the best fit for the Lakers’ collective skill sets. However, their 1-4 start was because of shoddy defense, careless all-around play and a bench rotation that would have trouble winning 15 games in the MEAC. Brown’s weren’t ideal, but they also weren’t implemented because his roster didn’t seem particularly invested in them. I suppose you put some of the blame on the players for not doing their jobs, and some on Brown for not creating jobs that were so engaging they were impossible to pass up.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - It was all of the above. If skeptical bloggers with their eternal cynicism and primitive video breakdowns could easily identify gaping holes in the merger of Mike Brown’s elementary Princeton offense with the Lakers superstar players, how do you think Kobe, Nash and Pau saw it? And if you’re not getting those guys to either respect your knowledge and game plan or get onboard with your usage of personnel, well then, you’re doomed…doomed as in catching the axe, being exiled, being incinerated by Kobe’s death ray glare or Dwight’s immaturely awkward impersonations.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - I am going to say the game planning and scheming was Brown’s issue but it wasn’t all his fault. Dwight Howard clearly isn’t healthy yet and has admitted as much, Kobe Bryant is dealing with a foot injury and Steve Nash is out with a fractured leg. So Brown was to get a bunch of guys who clearly aren’t themselves to learn to play together, in a new system, and during that initial learning process they lost their starting point guard and replaced him with Steve Blake. I am not sure there are many coaches out there that could have made this work in five games, especially on the defensive end where a healthy Dwight is what a scheme is, or at least should be, built around. Throw in a really terrible bench and things just get harder because of how many more minutes and how much more stress it placed on the starter’s backs.
2. Does Mike Brown ever get another head coaching job?
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - I’m not sure. The NBA loves re-working and recycling coaches, but in his Cleveland and Los Angeles exits he has just looked so completely overmatched both by his players and coaching counterparts. He may be back but I think it will take some time before an NBA front office feels comfortable trying to sell Brown to their fan base. Clearly a weakness of Brown’s is that he lacks the gravitas or force of personality to command complete acceptance from talented players used to doing things there own way. I’m basing that observation on his inability to bend LeBron into some of the changes he’s made with the Heat, as well as what he failed to do with the Lakers. But he can teach defense and I wonder what he would look like as the leader of a young, developing roster devoid of dominating personalities; I’m think of teams like this year’s Pistons, Bobcats or Wizards.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Yes. The NBA embraces recycling. You can build an entire professional career around a mediocre coaching record in the NBA. Just look at three of the league’s all-time winningest coaches: Bill Fitch, Dick Motta and Gene Shue: All three coaches had sub-.500 career records, but never failed to land coaching jobs. And with that ignominious stat in mind, please know that MB’s career winning percentage is .653—in 481 career games. Only five coaches in NBA history have coached as many games and won at a more frequent rate. Oh, and let’s not forget he’s a Gregg Popovich protégé which means he’ll never antt for work as a head coach in the Association.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - I think so, after all the NBA loves its retreads. Mike Brown is a better coach than plenty of guys out there that have gotten multiple chances like Lawrence Frank, Avery Johnson, and Randy Wittman. Brown can coach a defense, most of his Cleveland teams were towards the top of the league in defensive efficiency, and he started under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, which surely will earn him another shot or two. Also I think most people around the league agree that Brown got a raw deal in L.A. and that once the Lakers heard the rumblings that Phil liked this roster and would be willing to come back they started to look for a reason to fire Brown. Was he great in L.A.? No, but part of that was the players he was given, he never had a bench to speak of, and some was the simple matter of he had no time. One lockout shortened season and five games into a new one with a brand new roster of not healthy guys just wasn’t fair.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - Yes. His success with LeBron James will single handedly keep him around NBA circles. The King won’t be the last revolutionary talent on an otherwise average roster, and with his past success in that situation, Brown will find another job in a similar situation. Do I think he is a great X’s and O’s coach? No. But he can please a team with a solo star, where roles are not questioned and egos are not an issue. But with the NBA shifting toward power teams, I find it hard to believe that Brown will ever have the right mix to make another run at a championship.
3. Who makes the most sense for the Lakers as a replacement for Brown?
Editor’s Note: Some of these responses were written before the Lakers announced the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, late Sunday night.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Tough question since the late-breaking news is that Mike D’Antoni was hired tonight (Sunday). It’s impossible to argue against Phil Jackson’s résumé, but it seemed like it was only ever a two-horse race: Jackson vs. D’Antoni. D’Antoni might make more sense from a personnel perspective as his open approach to offense could be more effective with this group of players, but Phil’s experience with managing multiple superstar/diva personalities, his championship success and instant credibility (particularly with Kobe) are too much to overlook. Phil was a better fit than D’Antoni, but in a more fun world, it’d be nice to see guys like Rick Adelman, Rick Carlisle or Larry Bird coach this team.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - The guy who makes the most sense to me is Stan Van Gundy but we all know that won’t happen because of his history and relationship with Dwight. So looking at the realistic candidates I guess it is Phil Jackson, though I worry about roster fits into Jackson and Mike D’Antoni’s offensive schemes. Does Steve Nash really fit into the triangle offense? Sure he will be an elite shooter and get some open looks the same way Derek Fisher always did, but is that really what you want to reduce the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league too? But D’Antoni’s system isn’t a great fit either as the Lakers lack the shooters around Nash to make it work, really only Kobe and Jodie Meeks could be considered good three point shooters. That is why I think Stan Van would work perfectly; his offense would have to change from the one he had in Orlando, something I think he would do, but his defensive scheme would fit perfectly and with a roster that features so many poor defenders (Nash, Antawn Jamison, and Kobe for the most part) that elite defensive scheme would be more important that whatever offense is brought in by a new coach, after all with Pau, Kobe, Dwight and Nash points will come, the Lakers are already sixth in offensive efficiency this year, the defense will be the problem just like it has been so far.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - Early favorites include Phil Jackson and Mike D’Antoni, and I like the latter in this situation. The Zen Master would be an intriguing hire, but the triangle offense would take as much time to implement as Brown’s Princeton offense, and I’m not sure the team or Jackson is ready to do that. His physical health has also been an issue, so taking on a stressful job in LA may not be the right play for Jackson as a human being. D’Antoni makes a lot of sense to me, even with his reputation as an offensive guru and the Lakers defensive problems. Steve Nash succeeded with D’Antoni in Phoenix, which should give him credibility among the other Lakers stars. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are top notch defenders already, and adding an offensive minded coach isn’t going to change that. The Princeton offense was limiting the impact of Nash (when healthy), something D’Antoni certainly will not do. If D’Antoni does fill the position, I would expect a big season from the athletic Antawn Jamision, and thus a more well rounded scoring attack. This isn’t going to be a great defensive team, but if they can turn turnovers and blocked shots into points, maybe they don’t need to be.
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - D’Antoni is the man, for good or bad. I think he’s certainly a much better choice than Nate McMillan or, gulp, Mike Dunleavy. However, I don’t think he solves any of the Lakers’ immediate problems. Two of their best players aren’t completely healthy, their bench is woefully thin, and they are trying to figure out how to play together on the fly. I think he has more credibility than Brown and has much more talent to work with than he had in New York. The issue is whether the media, fans and front office will be patient enough to hold things together as everyone muddles through getting healthy and implementing a new system.
4. Are the Lakers still a legitimate title contender?
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - They are still contenders but they are certainly not the favorites because as we have seen so far this year the Lakers are significantly flawed. The first is that the bench is terrible. Jamison can’t guard anyone and hasn’t really stretched the floor all that well in the last couple years (he hasn’t shot 35% from three or better since the 2008-2009 season), Steve Blake is just terrible in general; Devin Ebanks and Earl Clark can’t shoot and Jordan Hill is an energy guy but not a real difference maker. Combining that weak bench with a group of starters that are older (Nash, Kobe and Pau) and have history of injuries (Nash, Kobe and Dwight) and things get sketchy. The bench becomes a bit less of an issue come playoff time but even then there needs to be a player or two you can count on to spell starters, especially if they were worn out during the regular season. Right now the Lakers don’t have one. So they are contenders but if I had to rank my title favorites right now they would be behind the Heat, Thunder and probably Spurs, at the very least. In fact right now I would probably put the Clippers ahead of them because of their depth and Chris Paul. But clearly as the season progresses things can, and will, change.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - Yes. If you’ve paid attention to professional sports lately, it isn’t how you start, but rather how you finish. The slow start is a bit of a concern, but is there anybody doubting the Lakers are a playoff team? No matter how you slice it, a team with two all star level 7 footers, one of the best scorers of all time, and a point guard willing to set those three up, is going to be dangerous. You don’t have to be perfect to be a title contender, you just have to win 4 out of every 7 games once you make the postseason. If you plug in D’Antoni as the coach, you can pencil in 100 points per night, a number that will win more games than it loses. They protect the rim and have players (Kobe, World Peace, Jamision) who can apply pressure on the perimeter. I had the Lakers as a 52-30 team heading into this season, and I still think something along those lines is reasonable. Other than OKC and maybe San Antonio, who scares you in the West more than the Lakers (if healthy)? Bring in a coach that the players respect and get the old legs of Nash and Bryant healthy by the playoffs, and you’ve got yourself one of maybe four or five teams that can win it all come June.
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - Of course, although they don’t look quite as intimidating as they did before the actual games started. Once the playoffs roll around, the bench and their lack of speed become less of an issue. Over the next 75 games they need to figure out how to get healthy, assemble some approximation of a workable offensive and defensive systems, win enough to make the playoffs and try to accomplish all that without hating each other’s guts in April.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Yes. My mom has an elderly English springer spaniel named Uncle Buxton. Uncle Buxton is old (in dog terms) and has bladder and arthritis issues, but even in his advanced years, he could coach this team—suit, tie, dress shoes, clipboard, special dog seat—to title contention. Just make sure Gary Vitti keeps his water dish replenished and Robert Sacre takes the dog coach for walks.