New Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown was in the middle of a meeting with his staff last week when a familiar face suddenly appeared in the doorway of the coaches' conference room. Phil Jackson was at the Lakers offices to see his girlfriend, Jeannie Buss, and stopped by to greet Brown.
"We just talked shop about some of the guys on the team," Brown said of his 15-minute conversation with Jackson. "But we talked more about what he's got going right now, and where each one of us is living, and where he still has a place and all that other stuff. We talked about that more than really getting into talking about basketball."
Jackson retired as the Lakers coach at the end of a season that saw the two-time defending champions swept by the Dallas Mavericks. He left with a record 11 NBA coaching championships, a .704 career winning percentage and the reputation as the game's greatest coach. Players respected Jackson, the fans loved him, and his presence still hangs over the franchise.
Brown now steps into this void, charged with steering one of the league's most fabled franchises back onto the championship track.
"In no way, shape or form am I trying to be Phil Jackson," Brown said. "I understand that. I'm pretty secure in who I am. I welcome him stopping by any time he wants."
Brown doesn't appear intimidated by the challenge of following Jackson. In the season he spent away from coaching after the Cleveland Cavaliers let him go, Brown says he daydreamed about what it would be like to coach a star-studded team like the Lakers. He's since watched several of the Lakers' games from last season to get more familiar with his new team. The ongoing lockout has prevented him from meeting with the players – or even discussing them publicly.
"Maybe there will be a day where I'll look back and say, 'What did I do?', or, 'That was a lot harder than I thought,' " Brown said. "But I was excited about the Lakers and the opportunity. I know and understand how it can be daunting to people because of the comments that people have made to me during the course of it.
"I'm looking forward to this challenge. I think this is a very good team. I think this team is extremely hungry because of the way it ended for them last year in their minds and their hearts. They feel like they're better than that. The motivation is there. They have a history of knowing how to win."
While Jackson ran the triangle offense, Brown will largely use a different system that's derived from an offense the San Antonio Spurs ran with Tim Duncan(notes) and David Robinson when Brown was an assistant there. Kobe Bryant(notes) could often have the ball at the top of the key in the new offense. Brown's defense won't differ much from what he used in Cleveland.
"There will be some aspects of the triangle that we will use," Brown said. "Mid-post action and stuff like that. More than anything we're going to play four out, one in, with a strong corner look.
"[Defensively], you're going to the screen a little bit more. You're forcing the action a little bit more. Your job as a big will begin and end rather quickly when it comes to guarding the basketball."
A lot of Jackson's success is credited to his ability to handle star players and coach those with strong or even eccentric personalities. Brown spent five seasons coaching LeBron James(notes) in Cleveland and likely will be tested with a Lakers roster that includes Bryant, Andrew Bynum(notes), Paul Gasol, Lamar Odom(notes) and the recently renamed Metta World Peace(notes) – of whom Brown has a relationship from their days together with the Indiana Pacers.
Bryant endorsed former assistant Brian Shaw to be the Lakers' next head coach, but had good conversations with Brown prior to the start of the lockout.
"I think the key to coaching a superstar more than anything else is preparedness," Brown said. "A lot of times, guys that are superstars have such a great feel for the game of basketball. If you are not prepared, they can sniff it out or they can smell it. I think you would lose your credibility with superstars really early on if you're not prepared."
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- Phil Jackson
- the Lakers