- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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"I'm terrified. Are you serious with that?" Kobe Bryant said. "I'm shaking in my Nikes."
That was Kobe's response just days ago to a question about whether or not he was worried about the Lakers' season up to that point. He used the word "terrified." Sarcastic or not, it was appropriate.
Two days later, after a somewhat believable endorsement (the proverbial kiss of death) by Lakers owner Jerry Buss that everything was "all good," 17-month head coach Mike Brown joins the 7.9 percent.
In these cases in professional sports it's always easy to blame the coach when a team doesn't meet expectations or live up to the billing/hype. But when a team goes 1-14 in their past 15 contests (including the 2012 playoffs), the chances of keeping a job is less than the chance of Jermaine Jackson's barber getting a new client.
Here's what Mike Brown had working against him:
• The Slam cover jinx. (Dwight Howard graces the latest cover.)
• The karma of Brian Shaw. (He was widely thought to be first in line for the head-coaching job when Phil Jackson retired. Instead the organization decided on Brown.)
• The injuries. (Steve Nash's leg, Howard's recovering from a back injury, Bryant's foot, etc.)
• The age. (As many players over 30 as the New York Knicks.)
• The "Dwight Howard is kinda/sorta overrated" whispers/reality. (Listen to Shaq any night on TNT.)
• The void of defense at the point guard position.
• The absence of Derek Fisher.
• The seeing Lamar Odom every day in L.A., but in another uniform.
• The David Stern/Chris Paul veto hangover.
• The inability to meet or handle the new expectations.
• The pressure.
• The Clippers.
• The pressure of trying to reclaim status in L.A. that they lost to the Clippers.
• The Princeton offense.
• The true lack of commitment to defense.
• The reality that no one can follow Phil Jackson. (Look what happened to Rudy Tomjanovich.)
• The nonexistent chemistry.
• The unestablished leadership.
All legit variables. All legit reasons. All excuses. But what really caused the end of the Mike Brown Era in L.A. was the fact that he had a team on his hands that refused to play basketball with a sense of pride. And there was nothing he could do about it.
No team with the Lakers' talent should have a stretch of games as they've had since May. Everyone understands the struggles of age, injuries and chemistry between new and core players, but losing to teams (even in preseason games) such as the Kings, the Blazers, the Warriors and the Mavs without Dirk, when people have penciled you in to possibly represent the West in the Finals or win the whole damn thing, indicates something beyond coaching is wrong.
At some point the question of pride -- or the lack of it -- has to be addressed. Not as an issue among a laundry list of issues, but possibly as the first, foremost and only issue.
The Lakers have been losing at this rate because they have been playing pride-less basketball. At no point has anyone on that team taken it upon himself to try to "will" a victory. At no point has anyone left "blood" on the court, indicating that he was willing to exhaust everything inside to stop the team's bleeding.
Sometimes it takes that to correct what's gone/going wrong. And unless the Lakers get away from being comfortable with losing, no coaching change in the world -- not even a return of Phil Jackson -- will save what is already being called by Laker haters "the perfect season."
This is deeper than Mike Brown, deeper than a roster of future HOF players not being in sync or finding themselves, deeper than the adjustments they've had to make with the additions of Nash and Howard, deeper than struggling with a complicated offense no one on the team ever liked. For the first time since Shaq left, it's deeper than just Kobe.
He alone is not the answer this time.
It's a divergent, internal reverse of the struggle of a team refusing to lose. Which is exactly what the Lakers are not doing and what they have to do to initiate a change. Someone inside of that locker room has to refuse to lose. Not just say it, but display it on the court.
Not to get all Malcolm X on anyone here, but the "by any means necessary" creed and mentality applies here more than at any other time in the team's recent history.
So good luck to whoever they decide has next in the coach's chair. This is the players' problem to resolve. No one else is going to get to the real truth behind what is wrong with the Lakers and uncover what it is going to take to reverse their already being called "the most overrated team in the history of the NBA."
Or better phrased, "to continue their basketball version of suicide."
On his Facebook page a few hours after the news of Brown's firing, Kobe posted this:
"Tough day. I've seen coaches as well as friends come and go. No matter how many years I've been playing, it's still hard to deal with. I had a good relationship with Mike and I will continue to have one. I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I spoke with him today and thanked him for all of his hard work and sacrifice.
As a team, we must focus our energy on tonight's game. We must block out the weight of today's news and simply do our jobs to the best of our ability.
I'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now.
Mamba out "
Kobe's words tell only part of the story, part of what can be the salvaged . Closer to the cure are interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff's post-win press conference use of the words "professional responsibility" and how he shouldn't have to coach "effort."
Unless the Lakers are willing to acknowledge that they have not been playing with any honest sense of pride, the direction they will head in next won't be any closer to the direction they need to go to save themselves from themselves.
2hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
3hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins