Mike Brown Firing: A Reflection Of Lakers' Fine Line Between Confidence And Arrogance
The Los Angeles Lakers head coach is out of a job this weekend, fired after only five games into the 2012-2013 season in which the Lake Show was supposed to challenge for 70 wins and sweep through the playoffs. Or something like that.
Obviously, there were a few things that conspired Brown from moving along with this season. Unlike Jim Buss, we knew Mike Brown wasn't long for the job. But enough about why the Lakers were losing. Coaches aren't fired after five games solely because of things happening on the court.
Mike Brown was fired because he is a nice guy who doesn't fit the Lakers' profile of arrogance and bluster in the face of adversity.
He preached patience in a "win now" season and let his players dictate the mood of the team. It's one thing to have Kobe Bryant tell the media to shut up because Brown doesn't have the credibility to do so. But when you then follow that up with Kobe's "death stare", declarations of a home stand evaluation, and the availability of any unemployed coach (especially the only one that Kobe has won with), there is nothing to suggest that Mike Brown would be able to stay on much longer.
And we KNEW this would happen. Brown only got hired because he was available. Who would have wanted to coach this Lakers team in 2011 after the disaster-bomb that was Phil Jackson's last season?
Despite the addition of other teams' franchise players (Dwight Howard and Steve Nash) and the retaining of SG Kobe Bryant, PF Pau Gasol, and SF Metta World Peace, the Lakers still went off of the belief that it didn't matter who coached the team or how they played as long as they were winning in a way that forced the rest of the NBA to cede the season and/or trade James Harden.
Four losses in five games to Western Conference teams? Ladies and gentlemen, that's not just how the Lakers' season began. It's how the 2011-2012 season ended as well, losing to the eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
In between the two ill-fated five game series, Brown watched the Lakers load up the roster. Then he watched the Lakers load up the coaching staff. He even got to watch Magic Johnson load up the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Make any excuse you want, but part of the Lakers' aura for this season was looking unbeatable. What they did instead was show the league that they could lose four times in five games now, and that they certainly can in the postseason, where the competition will be better.
That image didn't sit well with a franchise and fan base that is as "championship or bust" as ever. Not that we're surprised the Lakers didn't have confidence in Brown to finish the job. Surely they knew what they had when they hired the man. Let's look at the Cleveland Cavaliers under Brown, shall we?
Brown was hired by the Cavs in 2005. LeBron James had missed the playoffs his first two years in the league, but the Cavaliers weren't the laughingstock they were earlier in the decade. Brown's first season resulted in 50 regular season wins, a playoff series victory over the Washington Wizards (the first for Cleveland in 13 years), and a Game 7 loss to the Detroit Pistons in the second round. The Cavaliers followed that up with a deeper postseason run the next year, defeating the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Over the next three seasons, the Cavaliers would add big names to the club in an effort to appease James, knowing that the entire league set a clock on his 2010 free agency.
In 2008, Cleveland added Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Ben Wallace. That team only reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing to the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics in seven games.
In 2009, Cleveland added PG Mo Williams and the Cavaliers cruised to a 66-win season and sweeps of the first two playoff series. But the Orlando Magic would upset the Cavaliers, as Mickael Pietrus would outscore the Cavaliers bench by himself and expose the lack of offensive adjustments of Mike Brown.
And in 2010, Cleveland added Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison, and Anthony Parker. The Cavaliers still won a league-best 61 regular season games, but they were upset in the second round by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. We know the rest from there: rumors of James checking out swirled, with some of those rumors swirling around the locker room (re: Delonte West). Brown was fired, James left anyway, and O'Neal released a book mentioning how Brown was a nice guy that LeBron stopped listening to.
Things only got worse when the Lakers traded triangle-era PG Derek Fisher (aka, the guy capable of holding a locker room together while Bryant pulled his totalitarianism act) and replaced him with a player in Ramon Sessions who, like Brown, was a regular-season performer who performed like a deer in the headlights during the postseason.
World Peace absolved Brown of the postseason failings of 2012. He mentioned last May that Brown wasn't guarding Kevin Durant, turning the ball over, or missing threes (but he did mention Mike Brown coming in out of shape like World Peace).
The Lakers added Steve Nash because he was going to keep everyone happy, and a big part of that was his MVP résumé. The Lakers added Dwight Howard and shipped out Bynum. While Howard isn't significantly better than Bynum, he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. They even brought in PF Antawn Jamison to come off the bench, a role that Jamison won Sixth Man of the Year for in 2004 for with the Mavericks.
But none of those guys, or the Princeton offense, was going to make Brown a better coach. If anything, they made him a less confident coach. And because his character doesn't suggest he will combat adversity with narrative arrogance, it meant that he would sit on patience while the team played on.
There's team building, and there's buying confidence. The Lakers don't build teams, they aggregate talent to form championship coalitions. The Lakers are still the Lakers, but their stock price isn't as attractive now as it was two weeks ago or even two months ago. With the money sunk into that roster, the best move to make was on the head coach. Phil Jackson will either return and hope the 2003-2004 or 2010-2011 seasons aren't repeated, or Mike D'Antoni will reunite with Steve Nash and hope that Kobe Bryant doesn't turn into Carmelo Anthony.
But at least with those coaches (or any other coach), we won't know the result until the end of the year. Until proven otherwise, the Lakers will win, the players will buy in, and the league will fear another purple and gold championship. The Lakers will win with them, the players will buy in, and the league will fear another title from the Purple and Gold.
After all, the clock is ticking on that Dwight Howard contract pitch.