NBA@2: Is Mike Brown Really To Blame?
The highest-profile job opening in the NBA last summer was that of the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coaching position, and the Lakers filled it with the highest-profile name available. Mike Brown came to the team with credentials that included a championship run under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals under Rick Carlisle in Indiana, and an NBA Finals appearance as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The fact that he was able to handle the pressure of winning a championship and trying to keep LeBron James in town in Cleveland seemed to indicate that Brown was prepared for any heat he might face as the head coach of the world’s most popular basketball team, and now that theory is going to be put to the ultimate test.
A great as it sounds to be named the head coach of the Lakers, it was not exactly a dream scenario for Brown. He was replacing an iconic coach in Phil Jackson who is often cited as the best NBA coach in the history of the league. His ability to manage difficult personalities was at least as important as his ability to handle difficult situations, and his decision to step way from the Lakers at this most difficult juncture was telling. Sure, he had some physical issues that were making it hard for him to do the job, but the issues rising on the court had to figure at least partly in his decision.
Brown inherited a team in disarray, to some extent. They had just been embarrassed and lost all composure in a second round sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks; they were working on a major roster overhaul, and when one major deal fell through they found they had alienated two of their mainstays in Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Odom was traded at his own request, but the team only got a trade exception in the deal with Dallas. Gasol has been traded a dozen times over in the rumor mills, but has yet to actually be relocated. And then there’s Kobe Bryant, who wants to get at least one more ring before his body succumbs to the pressures of Father Time.
In short, Brown walked into a tenuous situation, at best.
Now, with trade rumors continuing to circle like vultures in the sky and losses piling up – especially on the road – and Brown is starting to become the focus of those looking to focus blame. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher even called a players-only meeting after a recent win to discuss Brown’s coaching style, among other things. Last night’s shocking loss to the Washington Wizards seems to have brought things to a head.
“It’s very simple,” Brown said postgame. “In the first half, we played the right way; in the second half, we didn’t. We forced shots, and forcing shots is not a good thing for us.”
One of the reasons the Lakers are forcing shots is because they’ve broken away from the Tex Winter triangle to play a more traditional style of basketball, which is fine except that the Lakers don’t have the type of point guard it takes to play at an elite level in today’s NBA. Fisher still has some game left, especially in the clutch, and Steve Blake is a decent role player, but for the Lakers to get back into the championship discussion – or even be assured of a playoff spot – they’re going to have to find the point guard they’ve been looking to acquire for months.
It wasn’t so long ago that another head coach in another high profile NBA market was facing the same kind of pressure that Brown is facing now. The New York Knicks entered the 2011-12 season with thoughts of winning a championship, but limped out of the gate struggling to get wins. Just when it sounded like the calls for head coach Mike D’Antoni’s head might reach shrill proportions, Jeremy Lin stepped in to save the day. He was the perfect player in the perfect situation, and in taking the league by storm he also got the Knicks back on a winning track.
The Lakers’ struggles are partially Mike Brown’s fault, but not entirely, any more than the Knicks’ struggles were entirely D’Antoni’s fault. It’s up to the front office to give its head coach everything he needs to put his team in the best possible position to win, and right now the Lakers front office hasn’t done that for Brown.
The good news is there is still time. The trade deadline is March 15th, and the Lakers are pursuing a number of options at point guard including Portland’s Raymond Felton, Toronto’s Jose Calderon, Houston’s Kyle Lowry, Cleveland’s Ramon Sessions and a few others. They might do well to call the Knicks about Toney Douglas, who is now wasting away after some promising stretches last season. One way or the other, the Lakers are likely to acquire a point guard before the deadline, and if they do they could jump right back into the mix in the West.
If they don’t . . .this could be a long season for Mike Brown, who will hear his name mentioned as a prime candidate for firing every day by the relentless Los Angeles media.
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One of the more interesting stories around the NBA since this time last year has been the Denver Nuggets. Left for dead when they traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, they have instead been one of the best teams in the Western Conference without their “franchise player.” The freedom and teamwork that resulted from Anthony’s departure – together with the influx of great talent – buoyed the Nuggets into the playoffs. This season they were among the West’s home court teams until the injury bug took a big, nasty bite out of the lineup after an impressive 14-5 start.
Now, with Danilo Gallinari back in the lineup and Nene expected to follow soon, the Nuggets have to make up some ground. The team has fallen to 22-18 and sits in the seventh seed in the West, with a precarious one-game lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Denver’s current nine-game home stand would seem to be the perfect time to start moving back up the standings, but the reality is it may turn out to be the Nuggets’ biggest test of the season.
Denver’s 11-9 road record isn’t bad. After all, there are only two other teams in the entire Western Conference who are above .500 on the road. The problem for Denver is they have the same record at home, and being just two games over .500 at home is hardly a great distinction. They began the home stand by needing an overtime period to beat the 13-26 Sacramento Kings (4-20 away from Cali), and then last night they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sit at 14-23 in the far less competitive Eastern Conference.
This is not the kind of start George Karl was hoping for.
It only gets tougher from here, with Memphis, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Boston waiting to visit Denver before the current home stand ends. The Nuggets need to start taking care of business at home, for sure, but they also need to take out conference foes like Memphis, Dallas and OKC if they hope to regain their standing as one of the best teams in the West.
The team is certainly capable; after all, they dispatched the visiting Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers with relative ease in that strong start to the season. Now they need to regain that confidence and focus before they watch the rest of the conference start to leave them behind.
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