Tuesday, June 5, 2012
2011-12 Lakers Report Card: Mike Brown
By Dave McMenamin
How does someone replace a legend?
That was the challenge that Mike Brown faced in his inaugural campaign with the purple and gold.
As if the Lakers head coaching job wasn't hard enough under ideal circumstances, Brown was not only stepping in after Phil Jackson, but he was also doing it in a lockout-shortened season that was pressurized from the very beginning by:
I. A shortened training camp
II. The failed Chris Paul trade that eventually led to Lamar Odom being shipped out of town for bupkis and Pau Gasol ultimately distrusting management
III. Finding a balance between earning Kobe Bryant's trust by allowing him to freelance while earning his respect by having him believe that playing within Brown's system actually gives the team a better chance to win.
At Brown's introductory press conference last May he declared, "We don't play for second here, it's as simple as that," thus setting the championship goal he expected to achieve.
It was toeing the company line for a franchise that hangs up 16 banners up commemorating their titles at Staples Center. But was it fair, or even realistic?
With pretty much the same group, plus the services of the Sixth Man of the Year in Odom and a talented athlete in Shannon Brown, Jackson was only able to get the Lakers as far as a second-round sweep in 2010-11.
With a championship-or-bust decree for his first season with the team, especially considering all the other factors he had to account for, Brown was basically set up for failure.
The Lakers were 41-25 (.621) in the regular season and won the Pacific Division while earning the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings, before losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in the second round.
First things first, Brown got the Lakers a game further this season did they went last season. That bears mentioning. Even if it's just a dollop of whipped cream on top of a mud sundae.
The real achievement of Brown's first season at the helm was Andrew Bynum's development going from an inconsistent role player to a dominant All-Star in the middle. Bynum put up career-best numbers and Brown didn't hesitate throwing the big man's feet to the fire, allowing Bynum to adapt to double-teams and new defensive schemes on the fly, rather than putting him on the bench whenever the defense seemed to be getting the best of him. That maturation process was something Bynum needed to go through if he was ever to fulfill his promise as a franchise-changing center.
He also got the Lakers to play defense. The Lakers held their opponents under 90 points on 19 occasions, including going 3-0 while keeping their opponents in the 70s. There was even a stretch early on in the season when the Lakers routinely limited the teams they were facing to a sub-40 percent shooting clip from the field, which is no easy feat.
And for all the the discussion about his difficulty getting the Lakers' offense in order, L.A. finished the season right in the middle of the league in points per game (15th - 97.3 ppg) while being one of the better teams when it comes to field goal percentage (8th - 45.7 percent).
Probably the easiest way to do this would just be to list them:
* Brown's rotation took too long to come together and seemed haphazard at times when he would randomly pluck a guy from off the bench who hadn't played in a while and then give him big minutes. Sometimes it worked (Jordan Hill's surprise late-season contributions), sometimes it didn't (Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy never found a rhythm).
* Brown's big lineup shuffle he had planned was to bring Metta World Peace off the bench as the team's primary scorer with the second unit. That plan lasted about a month before Brown abandoned it and messed with the confidence of small forwards Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes in the process.
* Gasol played the second most minutes of any player in the league at 31 years old and seemed to wear down in the playoffs. Bryant, 33, was also among the league leaders in minutes. Brown said all season that he wanted to cut down on the playing time of his marquee guys but never ended up doing it.
Despite Magic Johnsoncalling for Brown's job as the Lakers struggled to get past the Denver Nuggets in seven games in the first round, Brown most certainly will not be fired this offseason. That still doesn't mean he has all the security in the world going forward. Brown still has three years and approximately $14.5 million remaining on this contract with the Lakers, but the third year is only partially guaranteed.
Brown will get a full season next year, without the stresses that come with a lockout-shortened schedule, to fully implement his vision for the team. It will be the fair shot he deserves to get the team in the right direction. If the Lakers falter early in the playoffs yet again however, he could truly find himself on the hot seat.
There were plenty of times where it seemed like the season was ready to run off the rails, but Brown made sure the team stayed the course as best as possible. Still, as Brown acknowledged in his first press conference with the team, L.A. expects rings and anything less is unacceptable.