Now that Mike Brown has been jettisoned out of the Los Angeles Lakers ship, the way is clear to bring in a head coach who can make a difference with the Tinseltown squad in the NBA. Brown should never have been hired to succeed Phil Jackson in the first place but the Lakers rescued him from coaching his son’s middle school team and brought him back to the mainstream, thinking his lack of a dominant personality would be a good thing in harmonizing with Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and the like.
Brown was a bad joke in L.A. He took Cleveland to the Finals in 2007, largely because of LeBron James, but the Cavs were swept in a humiliating loss to San Antonio. It was the first 4-0 spanking since the Lakers, with the Zen Master at the helm, broomed New Jersey in 2002. That should’ve given Jerry Buss a clue as to Brown’s ability to bring a team all the way to the Promised Land.
The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown on Friday (Saturday in Manila) after a 1-4 start to his second season in charge. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
But Brown got the nod to take over from Jackson last campaign. He steered the Lakers to a 41-25 record in the lockout-shortened season but was nowhere close to the class of Gregg Popovich or even Scott Brooks in the playoffs. The Lakers raced to a 3-1 series lead over Denver in the first round of the Western playoffs and had to scramble to finish off the Nuggets in Game 7. L.A. would’ve been the ninth team in NBA history to lose a series after a 3-1 surge. In the conference semifinals, Brown wasn’t as lucky. Oklahoma City exposed Brown’s deficiencies in a big way as the Thunder bundled out the Lakers in five.
Entering this campaign, the Lakers were on a 0-10 losing streak, including eight straight setbacks in the preseason. Then, L.A. got off to a 0-3 start before finally nailing a win over the hapless Detroit Pistons. With the Lakers at 1-4, Brown got the pink slip. They had lost to Dallas by eight, to Portland by 10, to the Clippers by 10 and to Utah by nine. Beating Detroit was hardly a consolation, considering the Pistons are now 0-6 with coach Lawrence Frank on the brink of termination.
Brown promised to bring L.A. back to form with the Princeton offense, something that Pete Carril patented in the Ivy League. It was his answer to Jackson’s triangle. Both offensive systems require lots of motion in the half-court, not too much improvisation, trust among the five players on the court and communication in execution. Backdoor cuts are often the finishing plays. But working with a new nucleus anchored on Dwight Howard, it was difficult for Brown to sell the approach. The system requires constant practice in the gym, something college players love to do but most pros don’t. Besides, the Princeton style just isn’t the West Coast type.
The Lakers celebrated Brown’s exit by crushing Golden State, 101-77, with Bernie Bickerstaff calling the shots on an interim basis today. For sure, Bickerstaff won’t hold on to the top job for long. He’s just as bad a joke as Brown. Bickerstaff coached four NBA teams in 13 total seasons but only 10 were on full 82-game schedules. Of those 10, Bickerstaff posted only four winning records. In his last three seasons as Charlotte coach, the Bobcats registered non-winning percentages of .220, .317 and .402. Including the win over the Warriors, Bickerstaff’s overall coaching record in the NBA is 416-517, certainly nothing to crow about. He’s probably better off coaching the Harlem Globetrotters, which he used to.
So who’ll come to L.A.’s rescue? There’s talk of bringing back the 67-year-old Jackson. He’ll do it for the money or for Jeanie Buss or for both. But from what Jackson showed in his last season with the Lakers, there could be little fire left in the belly. He retired with a whimper as the Lakers were blanked by Dallas in the second round of the 2010-11 playoffs. The Mavs, of course, went on to win the championship over Miami in the Last Dance.
Jackson won five of his 11 NBA titles with the Lakers so L.A. fans are hoping he’s still got what it takes to deliver another crown or two or three. Jackson made it a habit to win championships in threes – he did it twice with Chicago and once with Los Angeles but fell one short of a fourth Grand Slam. When the New York Knicks prayed for a savior, Jackson wouldn’t heed the call despite his roots with the Knicks. Now that the Lakers are clamoring for a return, it remains to be seen if Jackson will even give it a thought.
Aside from Jackson, other names being floated as Brown’s successor are Jerry Sloan and Mike D’Antoni. It is often said that Sloan, 70, is the best NBA coach never to have won an NBA title – he came close twice but Michael Jordan was on the other side with Chicago and the Jazz bowed out in 1997 and 1998. Sloan got John Stockton and Karl Malone to play beautiful music together in a classic pick-and-roll combination that wreaked havoc on defenders for years. Can he transform Bryant and Howard into the modern-day version of Stockton-to-Malone?
D’Antoni, 61, was Steve Nash’s coach when they were at Phoenix and resigned from the Knicks last March. His orientation is offense, which suits Kobe just fine unlike Sloan who prefers a defensive approach. Nash, 38, is newly-arrived in L.A. and dreams of a championship ring like Malone did when he joined the Lakers in 2004 only to be awakened out of a nightmare by the Pistons. Surely, Nash couldn’t be an influencing voice with the Lakers. Kobe’s will is what counts and his will, it will be done.
And so it comes down to Brian Shaw, who operates as associate head coach with the Indiana Pacers. Shaw, 46, is perfect for the job. He has won five NBA titles, three as a player and two as a coach, all with the Lakers. Shaw played his college ball in L.A. and toured the NBA with stops in Boston, Miami, Orlando, Golden State, Philadelphia and Portland before winding up his career with the Lakers. He was considered to succeed Jackson but Brown got the job, leaving him to explore options that led to Indiana. Shaw is a master of the game and Kobe’s buddy. The descriptions work to his advantage. The problem is he’s tied up with the Pacers who wouldn’t be where they are today without Shaw, no offense to head coach Frank Vogel. So how do you trade for a coach?
The Lakers need a coach who commands respect, knows how to get the most of his players, works to his strengths, is able to express himself clearly to his players and media, isn’t allergic to hard work, can tighten the screws on defense, unleash the fury of an explosive scoring machine, has the advantage of youth and can make players die for him on the floor. They should make a deal right now for Shaw.