(Photo via MSN)
Mike Brown didn’t deserve this. For all of his shortcomings, his struggles to implement an offense, his inability to command respect from his superstars, he surely didn’t deserve to be fired five games into the 2012-2013 season! It’s embarrassing. It’s unbelievable. Now and forever, Mike Brown will be remembered as the coach who was discharged just five games into a season, after Kobe Bryant gave him the now infamous “death stare” from the bench during their last game together.
Let's take a step back for a moment and examine the climate in Lakerland. During the off-season, the Lakers brought in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to complement Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Expectations immediately shot though the roof. Fresh off back surgery, Howard wasn’t even healthy enough to play until halfway through the pre-season. Bryant had a strained foot. Not only was Mike Brown trying to incorporate two new players into his lineup and install a completely new offense, he wasn't even working with a full deck. Then Steve Nash suffered a leg injury in the second game of the season (he's been out of the lineup since). Couple those injury problems with the Lakers' weak bench (Jordan Hill? Antawn Jamison?), and it should come as no surprise that the Lakers got off to such a slow start.
If there is anything to be learned from the Miami Heat’s first year with the Big Three, it is that patience is key. Through their first 17 games together, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were a pedestrian 9-8. The panic that now surrounds the Lakers floated through the hallways of American Airlines Arena. Fans were calling for head coach Erik Spoelstra to be fired and for team president Pat Riley to step in and coach the team to its full potential.
You know what happened? Nothing. Riley stayed the course, allowing his young coach to adjust to the pressure. After their uninspiring start, the Heat won 10 in a row. They reached the NBA Finals that season and won the championship the next. Lakers ownership clearly has not read its basketball history book.
Patience is a luxury that Mike Brown has never been afforded. He never had it in Cleveland, where the front office was willing to sacrifice anyone to keep LeBron James in place beyond 2010. From 2005 to 2010, Brown led the Cavaliers to five straight playoff appearances, including trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
Some say those years were failures, because none of them ended in championships; but Brown was able to take teams that had no idea how to play defense and turn them into defensive powerhouses. Each year that he coached the Cavaliers, the team was in the top ten in points allowed, including no. 1 in 2008, when the Cavs gave up just 91.4 points per game. Many of Brown’s detractors say he was successful only because he had the best player in the game, but defense is a team effort. Brown taught players like Delonte West, Mo Williams, Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Sczerbiak and an over-the-hill Ben Wallace to defend at a championship level. It was one of the most successful periods in Cavaliers history, yet Brown was fired in 2010 in an apparent effort to appease the team’s superstar. He has now been terminated for the same reason just two years later.
Brown was doomed from the start in L.A. The hire was not popular around town, as Brown beat out popular team assistant Bryan Shaw, who had already received Bryant’s blessing. When Brown was brought in, Kobe refused to publicly back the decision. In a league driven by superstars, there is no doubt that Kobe’s unhappiness, combined with his team's poor play, drove the Lakers to turn the panic meter up to 11 and fire Brown. He may have not have been the best fit in the first place, and the players never seemed to buy into his system offensively or defensively, but Brown never truly had a chance. Perhaps his best move now is to coach a team devoid of egos, in a smaller market, where he has a chance to perfect his craft without the threat of a superstar throwing him under the Buss.