Lakers report card: Mike Brown’s a worker, but not a leader
This is the sixth in a series of posts grading the Lakers on the 2011-12 season.
Coach Mike Brown
The good: Let’s establish the circumstances in which Brown entered his first season as the Lakers’ head coach. He succeeded Phil Jackson, keeper of 11 championships rings and plenty of pedigree. Brown had a lockout-shortened season and couldn’t have any legitimate practices to teach his concepts. Before he even had his first practice, the NBA nixed the Chris Paul deal while the affected players reacted with professionalism (Pau Gasol) and emotion (Lamar Odom). He had to figure out rotations that, beyond Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum, featured aging veterans and new faces. And all the players fielded a good dose of skepticism on whether Brown could actually effectively coach the team.
The results are what they are -- the Lakers lost in five games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. Things rarely turned out pretty. But Brown entered and ended the season with the same enthusiasm and work ethic. That attitude paid off in holding his ground, including benching Bryant and Bynum, responding to Metta World Peace’s charge that he’s just a “stats guy” and handling criticism from the likes of Magic Johnson that he should be fired. His respectful demeanor and willingness to listen helped as Brown adjusted his preparation so that the Lakers wouldn’t feel exhausted from energy and information overload. Brown’s boldness in trying new ideas helped spur some pleasant surprises, such as Jordan Hill and Andrew Goudelock. When the players bought in, Brown’s comprehensive preparation paid off, such as in their strong starts in the Denver first-round series and adjusting enough to stay competitive with the Thunder.
The bad: Brown too often appeared overreactive with how he handled personnel decisions. He should’ve devoted most of the offense in ensuring the Lakers work on providing a perfect balance between Bryant, Bynum and Gasol. Instead, Brown leaned on Bryant to carry the workload and the Lakers never truly found a consistent offensive identity. Brown should’ve limited minutes for the Big Three to sustain their energy and force the reserves to contribute. Instead they exhausted his premier players for the sake of collecting as many wins as possible. With Ramon Sessions’ arrival, everyone thought he’d handle the ball more and create off pick-and-rolls. Instead he became just a facilitator. Brown featured a dizzying array of small forward combinations with World Peace, Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes. All their weaknesses aside, it would’ve been suited if Brown just allowed one combination time to fully develop. Simply put, the way Brown handled his personnel made it harder for players to truly understand the thought process and buy into his system.
He entered the season touting his defensive credentials. Yet, the Lakers ranked 16th in points allowed (95.88) and ninth in field-goal percentage (43.7%). These aren’t bad numbers. But for a team that lacked consistency everywhere else, the Lakers’ failure to maximize Brown’s greatest strength reflects their tendency not to buy into his philosophies. That also translated into other areas. Players, most notably Bynum, didn’t hesitate in questioning his coaching. The Lakers’ actual effort on a game-to-game basis remained unpredictable too.
Because of the aforementioned circumstances Brown had to handle this season, he deserves to be graded on a curve. Still, it’s clear there’s LOTS of things Brown needs to correct. The good sign: Brown conceded he could’ve done a better job and will have a full season to lay a foundation. The bad sign: His effectiveness hinges on convincing his players to buy into what he teaches. His lack of success in his first year could undermine that effort.
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