Already locked in

Mike Brown can’t get too comfortable at a Manhattan Beach restaurant before he’s approached by other customers.

They all want to know the same thing: Will there be basketball soon?

The new Lakers coach smiles easily, says he hopes so, and offers a few pleasantries.

It has been a strange few months for the guy picked to replace Phil Jackson. He rushed his family from Ohio to Anaheim Hills at the end of May and hurried to meet as many players as possible before contact with them was barred by the NBA’s lockout July 1.

Brown has been in lockout limbo since then, unable to bounce ideas off Kobe Bryant, lob a call to Pau Gasol or track down Metta World Peace, presumably an ordeal in itself.


He’s eager to start his second chance as an NBA head coach, and has been making daily appearances at the Lakers’ training facility. He is often seen on the practice court, walking through concepts with assistant coaches John Kuester, Chuck Person and Quin Snyder.

Meetings were initially held at Brown’s home, but that changed after a week or so.

“I became more broke, because every time they came over, my wife, she felt it was our obligation to feed ‘em lunch,” Brown said. “They can all eat. It was costing me an arm and a leg to feed them.”

They have been assembling a plan for the season, despite that minor inconvenience of not having any players on the court.

“We’ve been able to go through from Point A to Point Z what we want to do offensively,” Brown said. “We’ve put our offensive book together so that we’re always on the same page. We’re about two-thirds the way done with our defensive book.”

Brown coached the Cleveland Cavaliers for five seasons and won’t really change his defensive philosophy with the Lakers because he believes it should be similar for any team -- less about tactics and strategies, more about “want, willpower, communication, help and trust,” he said.

Offense, however, will require some fresh work.

“Players are so gifted differently on that side of the ball that you have to tailor your offense to what your team is,” Brown said. “And when I look at my team here, it’s completely different than the team I had in Cleveland. We had a great player [LeBron James] that played pick-and-roll, so we wanted to make sure we had shooters around him. We’d put him at the top of the floor because that’s where he’s the most comfortable to make plays.

“Here, when you look at the team, we have obviously a great player [Kobe Bryant] that can score almost anywhere, especially between the elbows [of the key].

“Just as important, we have a couple of bigs that are very talented in that painted area that remind me of my days in San Antonio when we had the two prolific low-post scorers there.”

Gasol and Andrew Bynum should take note. Their new coach just compared them to Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

Brown envisions an offense called “strong corner.”

“At the start of the shot clock, it will be ‘four out, one in,’ meaning that if we get the ball down the floor quick enough, we’ll have four guys along the perimeter and one of our bigs in the low post,” he said. “If the ball does go in at an early point in the shot clock, hopefully that big will have a chance to go to work without the double team.”

It certainly isn’t Jackson’s triangle offense.

Brown also plansto use assistant coaches differently than Jackson, who designated a defensive coordinator and gave the other coaches specific positions to monitor (forwards, centers or guards).

Brown’s assistants won’t have specific on-court responsibilities. He wants them to “just coach the game of basketball. Whatever they see offensively, speak up. Whatever they see defensively, speak up.”

If the lockout continues, though, Brown will spend much more time at the gym at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.

His son Elijah is a junior with basketball offers from about six schools, including St. Mary’s and Kent State. His other son, Cameron, is a freshman basketball player at Mater Dei.

Brown also recently became a legal guardian of Nirra Fields, a Montreal native, who is a senior at Mater Dei. Brown and his wife, Carolyn, got to know Fields through amateur basketball tournaments. Fields has narrowed her scholarship offers to UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Miami and Louisville.

“She used to stay with us every once in a while last year, but she obviously lives with us now,” Brown said. “We basically took over guardianship of her this summer.”

Brown has acclimated quickly to the Southland, ordering a “California burger” during lunch -- he likes fresh avocados -- and laughing at the allegedly dour weather on a rainy afternoon. He wore shorts and a polo shirt as the drops fell outside.

“We enjoyed Cleveland, but L.A. has been great for us,” he said. “We love the weather. We watched Ohio State play on TV this past weekend and we saw people in their parkas and ski gloves.

“We’re enjoying the people here. We love the school that my kids go to. There’s nothing that we don’t like about L.A.”

Before Brown leaves the Manhattan Beach restaurant, he is stopped by another customer. It isn’t a question this time.

“I’m praying for you,” the man said, gripping Brown’s hand a few extra seconds.

Brown has plenty of people reaching out to him. He just needs the basketball season to begin.




What Brown did for them

Mike Brown’s coaching results with Cleveland Cavaliers:

*--* YEAR REC POSTSEASON 2005-06 50-32 Lost, Eastern Conference semifinals 2006-07 50-32 Lost, NBA Finals 2007-08 45-37 Lost, Eastern Conference semifinals 2008-09 66-16 Lost, Eastern Conference finals 2009-10 61-21 Lost, Eastern Conference semifinals *--*