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Friday, November 09, 2012

Sluggish Lakers Fire Mike Brown

Mike Brown did not even last 82 games on the job after following 11-time NBA Champion Phil Jackson as the Coach of the L.A. Lakers; the Lakers fired Brown today in the wake of the Lakers' disappointing 1-4 start. Brown won the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year award in Cleveland and owns a 314-167 regular season record, a .653 winning percentage that ranks 12th in NBA history, ahead of several Hall of Famers--including both Red Auerbach and Pat Riley. Brown's Lakers earned the third seed in the West with a 41-25 record during the lockout-shortened 66 game 2011-12 season despite giving up 2011 Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom without getting another player in return.

Brown's Lakers maximized their potential last season but expectations went through the roof prior to this season when the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and used the financial flexibility provided by the Odom trade to sign Steve Nash. The Lakers' projected starting lineup included two former regular season MVPs (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash) plus the league's most dominant center (Dwight Howard) and one of the league's top power forwards (Pau Gasol). If those four players were healthy and in their primes and had an even minimally competent group of reserves backing them up then the Lakers would be rightly expected to win 65-plus regular season games and strongly contend for the championship; even at the current stages of their respective careers, it seemed reasonable to predict that--health permitting--the Lakers would be serious championship contenders.

The Lakers' 0-8 preseason caused some alarm in Los Angeles even though Howard missed several games and is still rounding into form now (ahead of schedule, by the way) and even though Bryant also played sparingly. Through the first five regular season games, nothing has gone right for the Lakers except for Bryant's performance (27.2 ppg on .560 field goal shooting plus 5.2 rpg and 3.2 apg). Howard has scored well (22.4 ppg) and shot very well (.678 field goal percentage) but he clearly lacks his former explosiveness and thus has not been as dominant as he used to be defensively or on the boards (9.6 rpg, significantly worse than his career average of 13.0 rpg despite playing 36.0 mpg, right in line with his career average of 36.2 mpg).

Howard is still recovering from off-season back surgery, Nash only played in the first one and a half regular season games before breaking a bone in his leg, Bryant is dealing with a nagging foot injury (which has not stopped him from playing very well so far) and Gasol is putting up career-low numbers after back to back subpar playoff performances, suggesting that he is a declining player. No matter who was coaching the Lakers in those first five games, the Lakers were not going to be a dominant team under those circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, offense has not been the Lakers' problem this season, either in theory or in practice: the Lakers' system produced high percentage shots for Bryant and Howard (the team's two best players) and the Lakers scored enough (97.2 ppg, 13th in the NBA) and shot well enough (.470 field goal percentage, fifth in the NBA) to be successful. The Lakers' biggest problem has been their porous defense (98.8 ppg allowed, 19th in the NBA; .447 defensive field goal percentage, 20th in the NBA). Defense is Brown's calling card, so he is being blamed for the Lakers' struggles in that regard--but Brown did not suddenly forget how to coach defense: Howard's limited mobility, the team's lack of continuity (due to roster changes and injuries) and the team's unproductive bench have more to do with the Lakers' poor record than any supposed deficiencies in Brown's coaching. That said, when a team does not meet expectations the coach will generally take the fall; it is much easier to fire one guy than to trade several players--but, no matter who the Lakers bring in to replace Brown, their record will not improve unless Howard gets healthier, Nash returns to action and their bench becomes more productive.

It is rarely easy to be the guy who follows "The Guy" and it is generally much easier to be the guy who follows the guy who followed "The Guy." In June 2011, I explained that Brown faced a big challenge in Los Angeles and much of what I predicted came to pass: Brown improved the Lakers defensively last season but after a slow start this season he could not survive the high expectations placed on this team. It will be interesting to see who the Lakers hire now and how the Lakers perform during the rest of the season; if Howard and Nash get healthy and the bench performs adequately then the Lakers have a great chance to win the West but if those things don't happen then the Lakers will continue to struggle no matter who the new coach is.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:15 PM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Friday, November 09, 2012 5:32:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Agreed.

The difference between Mike Brown and Erik Spolestra's respective slow starts with their superteams was that Riley handpicked Spolestra to be his successor.

When Miami went 9-8, owner Micky Arison asked Riley if they needed to do something, and Riley said, "just trust me on this."

Mike Brown didn't have anyone that loyal to him in Lakers management. Hence the rash decision.

Who should be their new coach? Jordan or someone from outside?

 
At Friday, November 09, 2012 5:44:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

It's extremely premature to fire Brown. Unless they get Phil to come back, who are they going to get who's better than Brown?

While the offense has been better than defense, the offense has been shaky at best. Even at 97.2ppg, that isn't that great, especially considering the stars on the team. But, the role players certainly still aren't very good. And take away the detroit beatdown, they're averaging only 94.5ppg.

Even with Howard's limited mobility, he's doing at least as well bynum did last year, if not better. Kobe's playing very well. Pau is ho-hum, but a decent 3rd wheel. The supporting cast, while bad, isn't worst than last year. 41-25 isn't anything to get excited about, but even with Nash out, this team should certainly eclipse the winning pct. from last year, and that just doesn't seem like it will happen at this point.

 
At Friday, November 09, 2012 6:03:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Horrible decision. Horrible. Perhaps I am the only one in the world, but I thought the Princeton offense would have worked very well with this collection of players. Pau and Kobe and obviously Nash are terrific passers and World Peace is pretty decent. If the Lakers tried to run a pick-and-roll heavy attack, too many players (i.e. Kobe, Metta and Pau) would become spot up shooters--hardly maximizing their skill sets.

The fact that Bryant is by far, having his most efficient campaign (outside of the turnovers)and Howard, who is not nearly at full strength is putting up 20 and 10 on nearly 70 percent shooting, shows every indication that the Princeton offense was working.

The fact the Lakers management panicked and sent Brown packing, is a clear indication to me that this team has significantly lessened its chances of winning this year.

Defense takes patience, trust, and a lot of reps. The Lakers have had none of these things.

Lakers fans are rejoicing that Brown is gone, but he wasn't the problem like you've stated, and I am afraid those same fans will soon realize that he wasn't the problem.

No one else can come in here and fix anything in a month or two. Not Phil Jackson (whose Triangle is a very poor fit for the Lakers current personnel...especially with Nash). Not D'Antoni, who coaches zero defense and has never even been to the Finals. Not Brian Shaw, who's never been a head coach. And certainly not Nate McMillan, who preaches a slow it down, possession-by-possession, efficient half court offense that would make the Princeton look like SSOL.

(FYI, I'm WestCoastSlant and Dodgerblue15)

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:37:00 AM, Anonymous Charliegone said...

I can't say I'm surprised by the firing of Mike Brown. It seemed like the team wasn't very cohesive. Jamison looked very uncomfortable and Meeks, who the Lakers acquired in the offseason was getting no playing time at all, which made me question Brown's ability. I understand that it takes time, but this is the Lakers we are talking about and with them expectations are high. Also am I the only one that thinks the rotations seemed really strange?

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 7:22:00 AM, Anonymous Alfahridi said...

My feelings are mixed as regards the Brown's firing. There are obviously caveats in doing such a move in-season and it is not yet clear who will replace him.

However, there was something weird about Brown's coaching this year (of course, very small sample size, but still): bizzarre rotations, putting players out of their natural positions, putting in starters in a +20 points blowout, and the impression that he was doing "experiments" (i mean laboratory experiments) with the team, that didn't work out at all. An ultimately, he might have lost the team's trust.

I for one have never liked the Brown hiring, I don't like the way he talks about basketball when interviewed, the way he talked about his players, the way he couldn't make in-game relevant, game-changing decisions (he looks to me like more of a "theorist" than a coach)... and most importantly (but this is really only gut feeling) he had (and spread it over the team) a mediocre aura. thus I am relieved that he is gone now. However, this does not mean that the Lakers will necessarily do better without him (i'm not refering to last night's game against the Warriors, as 1 game in not even a very small sample size)

I guess we'll wait and see what the management decides.

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Anyone watch that post-game interview with Bernie Bickerstaff? He seems to have the presence that Mike Brown never had - control of the room, sense of humor, astute knowledge of coaching.

So the Lakers might've lucked into a better coach, and may not need to find a replacement this season.

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I would hope that the Lakers' goal is to win, not to have entertaining press conferences. Who would you rank more highly as an NFL coach, Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan?

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 7:50:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

The answer is obvious, but unlike Rex Ryan, Bernie Bickerstaff was never a coach of a talent rich team like the Lakers.

 
At Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet M:

True, but Bickerstaff is not an upgrade over Brown; Bickerstaff is an interim coach who will fill the seat until the Lakers bring in Brown's full-time replacement, presumably Phil Jackson.

 
At Sunday, November 11, 2012 12:42:00 AM, Anonymous st said...

it's funny how there are such stark differences in opinion of mike brown's capabilities as a top coach. charley rosen, who is a respected and knowledgeable basketball analyst, has written many times that he doesn't rate mike brown very highly, yet you maintain he is underrated. why is there so much disagreement on this?

here is his most recent article on the firing of coach brown :

http://hoopshype.com/columns/rosen/pick-jax-over-dantoni

 
At Sunday, November 11, 2012 8:33:00 AM, Blogger jamar summers said...

Whoever the next coach is, a change in the rotation is needed.. and it starts with pau. They need to replace pau with Jordan hill, a high energy guy who doesn't need the ball to be affective, in the starting lineup and have pau anchor the second team. Doing this will bring stability to the second unit and won't hurt enough of the scoring punch or defense on the first team...kobe, Dwight, and Nash will be more than enough...thoughts??

 
At Sunday, November 11, 2012 9:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ST:

Rosen is an insightful analyst who I frequently agree with but I disagree with him about Mike Brown. Keep in mind that Rosen is a close confidant of Phil Jackson's and thus Rosen may not be completely objective regarding Jim Buss, who hired Brown and who also has had a contentious relationship with Phil Jackson. Rosen's critique of Brown may at least in part be Rosen's way of sniping at Jim Buss.

 
At Sunday, November 11, 2012 9:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jamar:

I think that Pau Gasol is a declining player but I would not replace him with Jordan Hill, who is a career journeyman; there is a big difference between being a high energy role player in limited minutes and being an All-Star caliber player in 30-plus mpg. Gasol may no longer be an All-Star caliber player but he is still a much better and more complete player than Hill.

 
At Sunday, November 11, 2012 1:16:00 PM, Anonymous st said...

David,

I would agree with you if this was the first time Rosen stated his opinion of Brown's abilities as a coach. However, Rosen has addressed Brown's inadequacies many times in the past. Unless Rosen also has some issue with Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, I think Rosen was just providing his honest assessment of Brown's coaching capabilities.

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 5:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ST:

I have written several articles explaining why I think that Mike Brown is a very good coach so there is no need for me to repeat myself here. I cannot speak for Rosen or explain why he has a lower opinion of Brown.

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 8:41:00 AM, Blogger jamar summers said...

David:

That's my whole point. Hill is a journey man who won't need the ball to be effective. U can sort of hide him in the starting lineup and then work the second team offense through Gasol which will bring some stability to that unit. Scoring/defense/rebounding from the first until shouldn't suffer that much with Hill in the starting lineup, but Gasol anchoring the second unit can work wonders I think

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 12:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jamar:

Sorry, but I just cannot see Hill being an effective starter period--let alone a more effective starter than Gasol--for the reasons that I mentioned in my previous comment.

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Will you be posting on the Lakers' new coach, D'Antoni and how the Lakers will transform under his tutelage?

I was thinking that a high powered running offense needs strong defensive rebounding and quick outlet passes to Nash, as well as thoroughbreds that fly up court then the Lakers need some adjustments to their roster.

Howard can control the boards provided he's healthy but the lakers do not have enough athletes to run.

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 3:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I will write an article about D'Antoni, Jackson and the Lakers soon.

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 3:45:00 PM, Blogger jamar summers said...

Maybe I wasn't clear enough. Of course he wouldn't be as strong of a starter as gasol...my point is do the lakers need him to be? With the other 4 starters able to sort of get their own shots, and with the Lakers bench having no such guy, y not plug hill in and strengthen the bench with gasol as ur main guy?

 
At Monday, November 12, 2012 3:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jamar:

Coach Brown used Gasol as the anchor for the bench unit already, so I am not sure what you are proposing. Hill is a player who will be most effective in 15 mpg or less so I am not sure why you think it would be a good idea to use a substantial portion of those minutes early in the game by starting Hill. Also, Gasol has been a starter for most of his career and not everyone adjusts well to coming off of the bench, so it makes more sense to mix Gasol with the reserves at certain times as opposed to demoting Gasol to reserve status.

 

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