Now is not the time for Lakers to get rid of Mike Brown
Mike Brown finished a long post-practice talk with Pau Gasol on Thursday, walked to a corner of the practice gym, and waited for the media to surround him for his daily interview session.
And waited. And waited.
Dwight Howard was giving interviews about 20 feet away, and no reporter was about to leave the most hyped Laker to listen to the most harangued Laker, so Brown stood alone, physically, metaphorically, pretty much the same spot he’s stood since he was hired as coach last season.
Finally, I walked up holding the trunk of the elephant that accompanies him to every room. I asked Mike Brown, seriously, what was it like to know there were so many people living among him who want him fired?
Brown spread out his arms and, of course, as always, he smiled.
“Shoot me all you want,” he said. “Actually, don’t put that in there, I don’t want anybody shooting me for real, because they might.”
Some have said that he can’t correctly control the climate on the court or in the locker room, but nobody can say that Brown doesn’t know the exact temperature of his seat on the bench.
The Lakers are 0-2, and he knows everyone is blaming it on him. The Lakers are expected to go to the NBA Finals, and he knows he will take the fall if they don’t. When he told everyone Tuesday night that he expects his Hall of Fame lineup to jell after the All-Star break, well, he knows he might not last that long if it takes that long.
“Kill me all you want, it’s OK, I’ve got thick skin,” he said, listing the number of strikes against him. “If only I had a ring ... if I was an ex-player ... yada yada yada ... trust me, I’m an easy target, which is OK, because that’s part of it.”
You know what should not be part of it? Cutting him loose before he has a chance to finish growing with this team.
Don’t fire Brown now. Don’t fire him tomorrow, or next month, or any time before this infamous process can be processed. The Lakers need to show the patience that everyone else around here lacks, including me. Yes, I thought he was a bad hire, but I saw him evolve last season into someone whom the players seem to increasingly like and trust. What has happened so far this season is not completely his fault — he blocks out on free throws? — and he should be given a chance to finish what he’s barely had a chance to start.
Remember, Brown wasn’t given any training camp last season, and this season he is trying to integrate two new stars into a new system and ... hmm, anybody remember when the Miami Heat suddenly got rich? Two seasons ago, with newcomers LeBron James and Chris Bosh? Well, Miami won only nine of its first 17 games, and as recently as early last season, everyone was still trying to fire Erik Spoelstra.
What happened there was the continuity that rewarded the city with a championship, and why couldn’t that happen here? Brown wasn’t Kobe Bryant’s first choice, but Bryant has told me he believes Brown can win here, and Bryant never says anything about winning that he doesn’t mean.
“I think critics are more likely to take runs at [Brown] than Phil Jackson; it’s fair because Phil obviously won and Mike hasn’t won yet,” Bryant said Thursday after practice. “But you have to look at the offensive philosophies; it’s the same type of philosophy.”
Bryant claims the Princeton offense and triangle are the same sort of wacky ideas that will eventually work here. He became even more adamant when I pressed him about supporting Brown, saying, “For Mike, it will be a little tougher for him to say that, so I’ll say it for him: Everybody shut up. Let us work. And then at the end of the day, you’ll be happy with the results as you normally are.”
Yes, you wonder if Brown has the credibility to sell the players on this odd new offense. Yes, you wonder why this brilliant defensive mind can’t teach superstars to commit themselves on defense. But he won me over last season with his hard work and quiet control of a sometimes nutty locker room. I wrote during the summer that he deserved at least a chance to succeed this season, and two games or 20 games or even 40 games is probably not a fair chance.
We’ve been here before, but under very different circumstances. In February 1999, I wrote that Del Harris was no longer an effective coach, and the Lakers fired him the next day, only 12 games into an abbreviated season.
I am not writing that here. This is different because Harris was in his fifth Lakers season and because Phil Jackson was waiting for Jerry Buss’ call. If Brown were fired, there is no guarantee that Jackson would return to coach this team, especially after Jim Buss worked so hard to eradicate all traces of him. And if not Jackson, who else could command the credibility that Brown sometimes lacks? Mike D'Antoni? How many titles has he won?
“I get paid great money, I’ve got a great job, I wanted this job, I still want this job, I’m OK with everything,” said Brown. “I think the group here understands what we’re trying to do. I told them this would be a process, I laid out the process to them, and I think the group here is OK.”
He paused, his trademark smile curling up and disappearing.
“The people outside the wall, I don’t know, they want it yesterday,” he said, showing a glimpse of how, indeed, he’s feeling the heat.
Brown is concerned about his high school children hearing about his troubles from other students.
“The more we lose, the more kids are going to talk,” he said.
Brown is concerned about people ripping the Princeton offense, so he pulled out a stat sheet from Wednesday’s loss in Portland and read the numbers that showed the offense wasn’t the problem. He talked about 106 points and 51% shooting again and again.
“I know you guys are doing your job, but I’m answering the same questions over and over and over,” he said.
It’s fair to ask the questions. But it seems reasonable that everyone can wait a little longer for the answers.
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