Mike Brown brings his own style
Lakers' new coach couldn't be more different from Phil Jackson, but players appreciate it
It's a good thing Mike Brown and Phil Jackson each won the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA's coach of the year before taking over the Los Angeles Lakers, because otherwise it would be pretty hard to come up with an obvious similarity between the two.
Of course, there's the can't-miss difference in their physical appearance: Jackson is the old, Caucasian man with white hair and a body shaped like a rectangle thanks to those broad shoulders and long legs, while Brown is the young, African-American man with a body shaped like an oval thanks to a bald head and round stomach. And in the basketball realm, the first weekend of Brown's Lakers regime was poles apart from the Jackson era.
It's hard enough to replace any coach who has held a position for almost a decade, let alone replace a legend like Jackson who has won the most championships as a coach in NBA history, while simultaneously keeping your new team focused as three of its top four players are dangled in trade rumors. But Brown has done his best to just be himself, and so far that has been good enough.
"He's very detail-oriented, passionate and a hard worker," Kobe Bryant said after the team's first practice under Brown on Friday. "I can respect that. I think his attention to detail will win the rest of the guys over."
The detail that matters from that last quote is that it sounds as if Brown has already won Bryant over, which is something that wasn't quite so easily done by Jackson, who had an up-and-down relationship with the Lakers star.
Brown has also established a rapport with Jim Buss, the Lakers executive and son of owner Dr. Jerry Buss, something that Jackson apparently never did. In his final news conference as Lakers coach, Jackson sent waves through the media by revealing, "I haven't spoken to Jimmy Buss this year."
In October, Brown told a small gathering of reporters over lunch that he has spent a lot of time with Buss. In fact, Brown has spent so much time with Buss and become so accustomed to seeing Buss' casual attire of "a hat and jeans and a T-shirt" that Brown wants to frame a photo of him and the exec taken at a charity event this summer -- when both men were wearing suits -- and put it up on his office wall.
The most striking difference between Jackson and Brown so far, however, might be how they approach practice.
Nearly an hour of Brown's practice was open for media observation Saturday, something Jackson never allowed.
Brown was like the conductor of a three-ring circus.
He had seven assistant coaches working with the players in two groups -- bigs and forwards on one basket, guards and wings on the other -- plus four more coaches from the Los Angeles D-Fenders helping out. The big staff may have made the court look cluttered, but it will pay off. Last season several players privately complained about not having enough coaches to be able to receive individual attention before games.
Brown made his way back and forth between each side of the court. He barked encouragement. He crouched down in a defensive stance himself when he yelled at a player to get low to properly defend. He made liberal use of the whistle around his neck.
Jackson would whistle, too, by sticking his pinkies at either corner of his pursed lips. And Jackson certainly would make his voice heard, as well, but often the sound would have to travel from the elevated chair he sat in on the sideline (made necessary by health and age issues, such as the fallout of hip replacement surgery).
When the sides finished with their group skill work Saturday, the Lakers played a team scrimmage and Brown followed the action up and down the court, working up a sweat in his shorts and sneakers. Jackson would often wear cargo pants and sandals to practice.
Bryant was reluctant to compare the two coaches Saturday, saying, "I'm not going to get into that type of conversation." But he did acknowledge one difference between the 41-year-old Brown and 66-year-old Jackson.
"Phil was, like, 80," Bryant said. "Phil can't move."
Andrew Bynum described the difference this way: "A lot more emotion. Definitely a lot more energy."
Brown insists this isn't some show he's putting on in training camp to grab the attention of his new guys. It's just who he is.
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"You can see it anytime," Brown said. "That's just how I coach. I get excited. I like practice. I get excited when we're competing and we're competing the right way.
"When those guys do that, you know, my excitement kind of carries overboard a little bit at times, but I want to show them that not only I am, but my staff is working with them also. We want to sweat with them, we want to be in the trenches with them, and that's the only way I know how to do it."
We'll learn more about how Brown puts his stamp on the team with his defense-first philosophy, and shifts the team's identity away from Jackson's way of trust-building and sharing in the triangle offense.
For now, Brown has only one tumultuous weekend in Laker Land under his belt and positive reviews to show for it.
"He's just being himself," Bryant said. "He's always said he's going to be himself and coach the way he knows how to coach. He's been doing a great job of it. Guys have been really listening and paying attention to what he says. He's very detail-oriented and it comes off."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.