The Lakers have only played four games, but four games were enough to end an era last spring, so it should be enough to form an opinion now.
I like Mike Brown.
There, I’ve said it, mere months after writing that he was an uninspiring hire and the wrong guy to lead the Lakers into this strange new world.
Yes, I’ve said it, just one long off-season after wondering what Brown could do for you, and guessing not much.
I like Mike Brown, but it has nothing to do with his ability to coach the Lakers. It will be six months before we know whether he can coach the Lakers. My initial impressions could be correct. Kobe Bryant’s initial refusal to comment could eventually speak volumes.
I like Mike Brown right here, right now, not because of how he coaches, but because of how he works at coaching.
Four games into the season, and, after the Lakers’ 99-82 victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday, it’s clear that his floor burn of a team is a direct reflection of him.
Mike Brown is as old school as Josh McRoberts’ socks. He is as frantic as Troy Murphy’s hair. But he is as affable as Derek Fisher’s smile.
I like Mike Brown because, after spending last season watching basketball’s greatest coach end his career here seemingly in a bored trance, it’s nice to actually watch somebody sweating it.
I like Mike Brown because of Norm Pattiz. You know Pattiz. He’s the mogul who has spent more than a quarter of a century sitting courtside next to the Lakers bench, clapping a rolled-up program into an empty palm.
Pattiz has a problem these days. He has the best seats in the house, but he often can’t see the game because Brown spends most of it standing in front of him.
He never had this problem with Phil Jackson.
“Right now Mike is in a honeymoon period, but if this continues, I’m sure we’ll have a talk about it,” said Pattiz on Thursday with a laugh.
But seriously… “I love it,” said Pattiz. “I may not be able to see the game, but I really feel his energy.”
We all can. We can see Brown shouting instructions, begging for hustle and individually shouting down guys for the oddest of reasons. The other night he continually screamed at Fisher until Fisher finally looked over, at which point Brown said simply, “Good job!”
At one point Thursday, as the newfangled furious Lakers defense was holding the Knicks to 32% shooting, he grabbed Fisher to instruct him, screamed at Bryant to direct him, then hugged McRoberts throughout the players’ exhausted walk to the bench.
“He’s really upbeat, really encouraging,” said Bryant. “He’s highly motivational.”
I like Mike Brown, too, because he’s not afraid of Bryant.
After the opening loss to the Chicago Bulls, Brown publicly wondered why Bryant didn’t hold the ball long enough to get fouled during one of the final critical possessions.
It wasn’t so much criticism as a question, but, still, to say something such as that about Bryant without talking to him first? Did Brown ever do something such as that to LeBron James in Cleveland? And if he didn’t, shouldn’t he have?
“If I’m not willing to do that, I don’t have a chance,” Brown told me Thursday night. “That’s what coaching is, trying to make someone better, and you can’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
It turns out, Bryant was not offended by the public questioning, because Brown eventually did talk to Bryant about it. After everything was answered, Brown still told Bryant he should have held the dang ball, but acknowledged that he should have positioned Bryant better.
“I will be the first to admit when I need to get better, we all need to admit that, we’re all in this together,” said Brown.
Bryant liked that. He likes that Brown doesn’t act as if he knows it all. He likes that Brown acts as if he has something to prove, which he does.
“We all want to win for him because we see how hard he works,” Bryant said.
I like Mike Brown because he cheers his players after routine plays, pumps fists with fans during big moments, and loves to laugh at himself. In Thursday’s pregame news conference, when comparing Devin Ebanks to another player, he accidentally said, “Devin is very similar to Ebanks.”
He paused, laughed, and said, “Actually, he is very similar. Same size, same length….”
Maybe six months from now, that gaffe is not so funny. Maybe then Brown’s winning personality will be dulled by too many losses. But right now, in this funkiest of times, he’s starting out as the most fortuitous of hires.
Four games down, a mountain to go.