What sort of franchise hires a coach without at least discussing the prospects and candidates with their team's best player and the league's most headstrong star?
What sort of team hires a coach who routinely failed to make headway with his top star at his previous spot, sliding him into a role that even the legendary Phil Jackson couldn't handle toward the end of his run?
What kind of team watches as the coach cheerily embraces an offense that doesn't utilize typical point guard roles even after the franchise swings a trade for one of the finest point guards in NBA history?
What kind of franchise blames the coach for the fact that the triptych of Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol combine to put together perhaps the league's worst pick-and-roll defense at the two most prominent pick-and-roll positions, looking the other way when the hoped-for salve in Dwight Howard can't overcome the rustiness and pain that is obvious to anyone tuning in with standard-definition TVs?
What kind of team fires a guy on a game night?
It's the Los Angeles Lakers, chippies; and for all their front-office brilliance in acquiring some of the finest players of the last 16 years to lead them to their 17th title, they also blew it with the hiring, embracing and eventual firing of coach Mike Brown. USA Today's Sam Amick reported on Friday that the beleaguered coach will be glared at no more, at least during games, as the Lakers have sent the former Cavs head man and Spurs assistant packing just five games into an outright failure of a season.
It's the Lakers at their best. Completely doing everything right and terribly all at once. Mike Brown was the wrong hire, to be sure, and the wrong guy to lead this team all along. But because the Buss hubris extended to declining a solid shot for Kobe Bryant-favorite Brian Shaw to take over in 2011 (because of Shaw's connections with Jackson, an influence deemed too unsettling for the insecure Buss family), and into the realm of the absurd as they demanded a more productive start from a top-heavy team truly missing a good chunk of its top parts, Brown is somehow turned into a sympathetic figure. Fired on a game day, with just hours to go before the Lakers tip off against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, with interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff scrambling to put it all together.
Cable TV — and not the blogosphere, which has been pretty heady in its analysis mainly because they have Internet access — has prattled on for over a week about the Lakers' iffy offense, and the attempts to worm facets of the Princeton playbook into the Lakers' scheme. On the surface, Brown's interest in the offense seems a sound move; mainly because there really is no Princeton playbook, just a series of reactions based off of solid spacing and quick but deliberate movement. To a quotemonger, though, the idea was off — you don't take the ball out of Steve Nash's hands, you don't walk the ball up.
The problem is that the Lakers weren't walking the ball up. The team's 23rd ranking in possessions per game had more to do with their defensive issues than anything else as they took the ball out of the net. The team is seventh in offensive efficiency this season, an improvement over last season's 10th showing and an impressive showing considering two things:
1). Steve Nash has played just 50 minutes, all season. Steve Blake, his replacement, has had a miserable season.
2). The team turns the ball over on nearly 18 percent of its possessions, good for 29th out of 30 teams so far this year. That might damn Brown's offensive schemes all to hell, but to rank seventh in the NBA in offense in spite of giving the other team the rock on nearly a fifth of your possessions? That's remarkable stuff.
It's the defense, dummies. It's that miserable defense that was apparent from the start, with Nash and Gasol (two of our favorites at anything, ever) losing their way amongst quicker guards and big forwards, with a still recovering Dwight Howard unable to cover all the open spaces. The next coach will be the beneficiary of Howard's eventual defensive recovery (anyone can dunk, as Dwight has made over 67 percent of his shots on the season; but not everyone can hedge and dissuade three different opponents from easing into an easy shot), but for now the Lakers are a mess on that end.
The team ranks 25th out of 30 teams, defensively. It's awful, on that end. We knew it would be mediocre, heading into the season, but this was with an 82-game consideration in mind. With the possibility that Howard might miss the first few weeks of the season. That Kobe might go easy at times, smartly saving himself for June. Knowing that Metta World Peace is perhaps in the best shape of his career, but that being in great shape doesn't matter when every small forward is quicker than you and you can't use your hands to stop them.
And the Lakers, because they're the Lakers, waited five games. Again, Mike Brown was the wrong coach, but only the Lakers could turn his deserved dismissal into something this pear-shaped.
Mike Brown's intelligence is off the charts. He's a perfect assistant, mindful and hard-working and well-heeled in hoops knowledge. That doesn't make a leader out of him, sadly, though we rooted for the guy in spite of him delivering some of the most frustrating basketball we've ever seen, wasting LeBron James and Kobe Bryant's time over the years. Sometimes assistants need to remain assistants, and while this is harsh, understand that the Lakers have gone from sixth defensively during Phil Jackson's final year (one that saw the Busses giddy to push him toward Montana in the hours following) to 13th under the "defensive-minded" Brown to 25th this year. The players are to be blamed for the lack of execution, but it's not like we don't have a pattern going on here.
This will be the ends justifying the means, assuming the Lakers choose the right replacement. Brown had to go. All this handwringing in the second week in November won't mean a thing once Howard has his sea legs back, and Steve Nash helps Kobe Bryant re-discover what a brilliant player Pau Gasol can be when he's put in the right spots. This is a low point, for the Lakers, but one they have 77 games and a playoff run to work their way out of.
For now, though, it's the final kiss-off on the Busses' great lost year of 2011. One in which they fired low-level employees just to keep the payroll tidy, dismissed longtime scouts without the benefit of an explanation, and treated the notoriously pouty Bryant as if he were training camp fodder in choosing the leader that would have to guide Kobe through the most stubborn seasons of his career.
This probably won't serve as a wake-up call to Lakers ownership. Hell, far from it. They'll just back into another championship or three, leaving us wondering why they couldn't find it in themselves to appreciate what Phil Jackson — 2011 sweep at the hands of the eventual champs or not — did for them.
Never change, El Lay. You big, bloated, mess of a thing that will somehow charm us by May.
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