Saturday, November 10, 2012
Mike Brown's firing stuns LeBron
By Michael Wallace
As the Los Angeles Lakers move forward in a high-profile search for their next coach, count LeBron James among those who took exception to how matters went down with Mike Brown.
James doesn't believe his former coach in Cleveland ever got a "fair shake" in Los Angeles and was stunned when he learned Brown was fired by the Lakers on Friday after their 1-4 start to the season.
James played five years for Brown with the Cavaliers before Brown was fired by Cleveland after the 2009-10 season, just weeks before James departed in free agency to sign with Miami.
"I think it's unfortunate," James said Friday after the Heat's win in Atlanta against the Hawks. "I just don't think he got a fair shake, honestly. With the shortened season last year, and five games into this year, he didn't really get a full season."
Brown was hired by the Lakers before the NBA lockout last season, which condensed the regular-season schedule to 66 games. The Lakers were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals by Oklahoma City, who eventually lost to Miami in the NBA Finals to give James the championship he never won with Brown in Cleveland.
Brown was fired in Cleveland despite winning more games than any coach in franchise history. But he was let go amid speculation that his relationship with James had soured over their final season together. James was publicly silent about Brown's potential fate -- or any other matter regarding the Cavaliers -- after Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs by Boston in 2010.
James shook his head and paused for several seconds at his locker when he was initially asked about Brown's dismissal in Los Angeles. The Lakers are reportedly interested in former coach Phil Jackson, among others, to take over for the rest of the season.
"I've got a lot to say, but I'm not going to say it right now," said James, who won two of his three league MVP awards under Brown in Cleveland and also led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals. "I wish him the best, but I just think it's unfortunate and it's just, you know, how the league is. They can do what they want to do."
James didn't elaborate, and his session with reporters was ended by a team official after that final vague comment. James told ESPN.com he planned to reach out and speak to Brown in the coming days. The Heat are on a six-game trip that takes them to Los Angeles next week to play the Clippers.
Brown is connected to others in Miami's organization. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra considers Brown one of his better friends in the league and they share a similar rise to prominence in the coaching ranks.
Spoelstra and Brown started as video coordinators and advance scouts in the NBA and worked their way to premier head coaching jobs. The two were also rival point guards in the same collegiate conference on the West Coast.
"When you see one of your coaching peers, one of your fraternity, not get an opportunity, that's tough," Spoelstra said of Brown. "Mike is an excellent coach. He has proven it. He has got an excellent track record. It's a shame that it came down like that."
The Lakers made the change after getting off to a 1-4 start despite the offseason acquisitions of two-time MVP Steve Nash and perennial defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already in place, the Lakers entered the season with immense expectations to reclaim their spot atop the Western Conference.
Instead, they had the worst record in the West through five games before they opened a homestand with Friday's victory against Golden State. Injuries and chemistry problems have contributed to the Lakers' slow -- and costly -- start to the season.
Miami endured similar early struggles when James and Chris Bosh first joined Dwyane Wade in Miami two seasons ago. The Heat started 9-8 during the 2010-11 season, and their frustrations spilled over during a team meeting after a loss at Dallas in November. Like Brown, Spoelstra also initially had to deal with players privately grumbling about his offense and their roles in it.
But the Heat quickly regrouped and advanced to the Finals that first season before losing to the Mavericks in six games. They avenged that setback last season to win the title, and all the early turbulence is now a faded memory in Miami.
Spoelstra said one difference between the Heat's and Lakers' situations is that he had more support from owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley, who groomed Spoelstra for the head coaching position when Riley retired as coach following the 2007-08 season.
"Looking at our situation, it was something much, much different," Spoelstra said. "We had patience. The stability comes from Micky and Pat. They were thinking big picture the whole way. There wasn't a panic, even when we were 9-8. I felt great confidence from them, but it needed to be said. All we needed was to get our hands dirty, get to work and figure out collectively how to get out of that hole."