On what turned out to be his last day as the Lakers’ coach, Mike Brown was as upbeat as ever, still sure his high-salaried, high-drama team would emerge from its 1-4 funk and become the powerful and multifaceted machine he believed it could be.
Brown ran another lengthy practice Thursday after the team had played a road game the night before -- to the end the man players last season nicknamed “all day, every day” because of his love for long practices. Again in character, he took time afterward to talk to players one on one, spending extra time alone with a flailing Pau Gasol and then slapping hands with Gasol after they walked off the practice court in El Segundo.
“Guys still believe,” Brown said. “For us that’s the biggest thing right now while we’re trying to find our way.”
Brown didn’t get a chance to guide them to more secure footing. Dismissed on Friday with the Lakers in the unaccustomed spot of last in the Western Conference, he will be remembered as a nice man who wanted more time to install his version of the Princeton offense and perfect a spotty defense, but learned the hard way that time is a precious commodity in a hurry-up world.
His positive demeanor wasn’t an act. It was how he is, how he felt he had to act, and he stayed true to the very end.
“I’m frustrated. I think we all are frustrated,” Brown said Thursday. “We want to win every time we step on the floor. But as the head coach of this team, for me to walk around pissed or mopey or however you want to call it is not the right thing to do because I believe in what we’re doing on both ends of the floor.
“I really think that we’re getting better. And so I’m going to point out to these guys what we’re doing wrong, but also I’m going to point out to them what we’re doing right. I’m not going to beat them over the head with it, but I’m going to keep coaching, keep coaching, keep coaching because it’s a long process as opposed needing to have it yesterday, with everything.”
So he kept coaching until he was told Friday morning that he wasn’t the Lakers coach anymore, because there can’t be slow learning processes for a team that has won 16 NBA championships and built a huge payroll -- besides taking on enormous luxury tax liabilities -- in order to pursue a 17th title while Kobe Bryant’s aching legs and shoulders can still carry them.
Bryant insisted until the end that he supported Brown. When it was suggested to Bryant on Thursday that his stone-faced glare toward the end of the Lakers’ loss at Utah on Wednesday night had been directed at Brown, he vehemently denied the coach had been his target. “I’ve been his biggest supporter,” Bryant said.
“Everybody here would be frustrated. You lose a game, you’re upset. You’re angry. So it has nothing to do with one particular person.”
Five games isn’t a huge sample to evaluate a coach. But the seeds of the decision to dismiss Brown were planted last season, when the Lakers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight spring, and they grew during a listless, directionless 0-8 exhibition season. When they continued their high-turnover, low-emotion performances in losing four of their first five games in the regular season, his fate was sealed.
He wasn’t allowed more time. It didn’t matter that he saw improvements here and there. These are the Lakers. They don’t do things in small, subtle steps. They win big or go home, and Mike Brown now goes home.