I can’t say that I’m surprised by the firing of Mike Brown. I must admit though I didn’t think it would happen this soon even after the Lakers woeful start. But I did think it would happen one day. Mike Brown just doesn’t have the “it” factor. Never has, probably never will.
There’s something about his demeanor, the way he carries himself, that’s always given me pause about his readiness to coach in the brightest spotlight. He’s never looked the part.
Even though he took Cleveland to an NBA Finals series and won more than 60 games twice, the Cavaliers were never really his team. It often appeared that Cleveland area prodigy LeBron James called the shots there as the defacto coach.
But beyond his mild mannered public persona, there are other reasons Mike Brown lost his job.
The Lakers are the NBA’s counterpoint to the New York Yankees, which means if you’re coaching the Lakers, you’ve got to win big. And Brown struggled to win impressively last season, his first in Los Angeles and he didn’t make the finals, another sin. And as always there were the persistent questions: What does Kobe think? Is Kobe on board? Those questions started before Brown arrived at his first Lakers’ practice and never stopped.
The Lakers spend a lot of money on talent. And their fans expect big things. Anything short of a championship guarantees disappointment, round the clock scrutiny, and second guessing, which means in that high pressure environment, the well-paid stars on the court must be coached by a star.
Former Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson was a star. He cultivated a mystique from his time with the Chicago Bulls coaching Michael Jordan. Jackson’s mystique only deepened when he coached Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal when he went to the Lakers. Five Laker championships earned him every accolade. The Zen master indeed.
The original leader of “Showtime”, Pat Riley, was a star. Even though it was his first head coaching job, Riley skillfully cultivated his image. The media talked about his slicked back hair, his custom suits, and his supercool demeanor. And by the time we stopped talking about his style he had actually become a very good coach, which shifted the focus to how good he was as a coaching strategist. Riley led the Lakers to four NBA titles.
Riley and Jackson of course are rare, but they are the kind of coaches that it takes to win over an anxious and demanding media market like Los Angeles and manage the massive egos of the star players they coach.
Also what this means is without that kind of gravitas, players can’t or won’t play hard for you. They won’t listen or do what’s needed to win. And that’s what sunk Mike Brown.
It takes quite a coach to lead and direct a guy like Kobe Bryant who has played 17 star-studded years, or to inspire a dominant but often childish big man like Dwight Howard, or squeeze a few more big moments from an aging, two-time MVP like Steve Nash. Mike Brown just wasn’t that guy.
I know the critiques of Brown are highly subjective, and perhaps unfair to a hardworking, knowledgeable guy who most certainly has paid his dues learning his craft from some of the best – like San Antonio’s Greg Popovich.
So yes, Mike Brown does in fact know his X’s and O’s. Unfortunately though he’s never made the best impression when it mattered most.
I’m hoping one day he will, but he was clearly miscast in LA.
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