East Side: Mike Brown an easy target
The Lakers' coach opens team up to criticism by giving offense 'Princeton' label
J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives, called West Side/East Side.
J.A. is in L.A., a la the West Side. And Israel is down in Miami, home of the NBA champs, representing the East Side.
Here's what every Los Angeles Lakers halfcourt set is supposed to look like this season, through the eyes of the impatient, uncompromising basketball fan (that's pretty much all of us):
Steve Nash uses a Pau Gasol screen, hits a rolling Gasol with the perfect, left-handed pocket pass. Gasol draws an extra defender and hits an open Kobe Bryant in the corner. Kobe blows by a closing defender, spins past another, throws a no-look pass off the glass, where a smiling Dwight Howard finishes with a two-handed dunk, all while Metta World Peace is sharing popcorn and a beverage with an A-list fan, knowing his services aren't often needed on the offensive end of the floor.
Or at least something close to that, right?
The Princeton offense is working well for all of the Lakers' stars except for Steve Nash, says J.A. Adande. West Side »
Two NBA Finals appearances and one championship later, we've learned to be patient. We've learned that even with the most talented of players, chemistry takes time to develop, and meshing styles of play is actually more difficult with players of this caliber because old habits are so difficult to break.
What's that? We haven't learned a thing?
Yeah, that seems more like it.
The fact that it took all of three games (you could say 11 games, if you count a winless preseason) for Mike Brown's coaching ability to be questioned, and for the bat signal to be lit to request Phil Jackson's appearance (he lives in a state-of-the-art cave somewhere, right?) shows that we might've actually regressed.
Take it from the best on the planet, a slow start on a Super Team isn't an indictment of a head coach. It's practically inevitable.
"We thought it would be a lot easier than it actually was our first year," James said. "In order to get to the sunlight, I guess you have to go through the thunderstorm."
What makes Brown so easy to criticize in this scenario is he made himself an easy target. He even gave the target a name. He called it the Princeton.
When you think of the Princeton offense, you think of underdogs needing an edge to upset top seeds in the NCAA tournament. You think of backdoor cuts from crafty players less talented than the competition. You think, well, Princeton.
And even though similar systems have made their way, successfully, through the NBA over the years, you don't associate that style of play with anything the Lakers should be doing.
It's actually a fair criticism of Brown, if indeed this "Princeton" his team planned on running is the true system we're all assuming we'll see.
What you expect from a team with Nash, Gasol and Howard is, quite simply, multiple pick-and-roll sets. It is, after all, what Nash is arguably the best in the game at. It is what Gasol and his point guards on the Spanish team run so smoothly. It is what Howard essentially did his entire career in Orlando, with Stan Van Gundy surrounding him with shooters to create the proper spacing.
Where would Kobe come into play? Well, not every screen-roll works to perfection, so the isolation specialist would have plenty of opportunities to do work. Plus, Nash won't be on the floor all 48 minutes to perform pick-and-roll magic.
And besides, since when has any player, coach or system been able to keep Kobe from taking over when he chooses to?
But the fact is, there's an evolution that's required to find the ideal offensive system for a group this talented. And it has to start somewhere.
Even Doc Rivers will tell you the Celtics' offense at the start of their Big Three era only looked better because their defensive chemistry was sharp from the start.
Spoelstra learned that. The main difference is his labels -- "pace and space" come to mind -- didn't ignite the same furor as "Princeton."
"You look back at it sometimes and look at what we were trying to run our first two months of the first season, and I kind of scratch my head," Spoelstra said.
"It was tough. We did a lot of preparation in July, August and September to try to put together the best system for our team ... but until you have all the pieces together and see how the chemistry works, you need that time."
If you watched Heat games from early in the 2010-11 season and compared them to games from the 2012 Finals, you might think the teams were coached by two different men.
The difference in the Lakers situation, however, is that initially it wouldn't appear Brown was playing to the strengths of his stars. If there was a true Princeton offense in place, that wouldn't allow Nash to make life difficult for opponents with the screen-roll. It wouldn't keep Howard in a comfort zone. And it would leave Kobe and Gasol learning a new system as well, rather than be the rocks any team going through growing pains would need.
But again, that's just Brown giving his offense an unfortunate name, setting himself up for this type of criticism.
The last two Lakers games -- granted, they were without Nash -- included a very familiar scoring explosion from Bryant against the Clippers, then a post-heavy effort against the Pistons, with Howard and Gasol benefitting.
It doesn't take a Princeton man to recognize those were deviations from the initial plan.
And that'll keep happening until the Lakers get it right.
It'll take a handful of squabbles, a decent amount of losing -- at least more than expected -- and a whole lot of adjustment and ego-checking.
But if the Heat situation was a good example, all of that is actually necessary.
"We did have communication, but I think it was more of actually going through the fire, actually going through the wins and losses, the adversity of the season and reacting off that," LeBron said. "Actually going through it prepared us more than anything."
At some point, it should actually look like Brown is taking advantage of his stars' respective strengths. And at some point, we'll all share a hearty laugh about how impatient we all were, again.
But if Brown's going to reach that point, he'll have to make sure his team's defense is among the best in the league, and he'll have to settle on a rotation that masks the team's lack of depth.
Oh, and he might want to lose that whole Princeton stamp.
Ironically enough, the Ivy League label wasn't exactly the smartest move.