I really want to like Mike Brown.
He’s got those cute kids, a wonderful wife. He’s a brother. He’s a family man. He’s a self-made man. He works hard. He loves the game. He wants to do right by his team.
He’s one of the few African-American coaches in a sport where nearly all the other coaches and owners are white and the bodies that exist for them to profit on—to be bought, traded, and sold by them…anyone remember slavery…anyone?—are Black.
But is Mike Brown really what’s best for the Lakers?
True Mike Brown has had a slew of bad luck—what with Blake’s injuries, Chris Paul’s switch and now Dwight Howard’s stalling–making a serious dent in the bench. The shortened season. A star team coming off being led to 5 championships by the most legendary of legends.
He did say yes, though.
And he is the head coach.
His job is to win.
Once when we were both finishing up our first novels, my friend and India Times journalist Saloni Meghani, told me: Be careful… You are always promoted one past what you are able—to the level of your incompetence. And then it ends.
Is this the future of Mike Brown?
Since the first 5 games of the season—when it could be said that the Lakers were still on autopiloted muscle memory—the Lakers have been doing ever-increasingly worse. To watch them play ball is to watch a group of weary sailors bailing buckets out a boat that is more holes than wood…desperately looking for land against an all blue, all clear horizon.
In other words: they have been losing, and losing bad.
This season, the Lakers have won five games in which Bryant has scored less than 35 points: The matchup against Marc Gasol’s Grizzlies, Odom’s Mavericks, the Clippers game in which Metta World Peace sat on Blake Griffin, the surprisingly close game against the last-rated Bobcats, and the just-barely-there win against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
And the Lakers lost again yesterday, after the three point lead they had been averaging the first two quarters turned into a tie game in the third—of course, nothing new there—until the Lakers were down by 4 at the top of the 4rth—again nothing new. Because this is exactly what happened the night before in Denver—only the Lakers were able to neutralize Nene’s momentum by utilizing Gasol and bringing Barnes in for Bynum to play defense—Barnes stopped Nene cold and then scored 2 FTs. Fisher, not to be outdone, was able stop Harrington’s attack; the Lakers held on at 93-89.
The last-minute win against Denver wouldn’t been so bad…except this is the pattern we have come to see in every Lakers game. Mike Brown has now done a tremendous amount in being able to take advantage of his starters and enter the game with high energy, scoring high in those first two quarters.
But then he keeps the starters in for the third quarter, running them straight until they are exhausted.
And then, in the bottom of the third or the top of the fourth we wind up with a situation where Mike Brown realizes this all of a sudden—usually when Kobe misses 3 shots in a row, Gasol starts yawning, Bynum begins looking terribly confused, and Barnes (when he used to start that is) starts punking around. Then, Brown pulls them all out and the bench—led by a bunch of rookies, however stellar—takes over the floor. Until, when they have done enough damage, Brown pulls all them back out and slams his starters back on the floor to finish the game. If Kobe can kick it here and still dominate the court to score an extra 10 points and/or a slew of assists, they win. If not, they lose.
So…Utah. Denver. Bobcats. The Pacers, the Magic.
Any of this beginning to sound familiar?
Sure it worked for the Bobcats, but we know about them. And has this strategy worked—really—against any other team?
Yet Mike Brown keeps playing it.
And so, yesterday, this came to a head. As the Lakers entered the fourth quarter and dropped to 68 vs the Jazz’s 74, Mike Brown erupted in temper at the latest instance of “inconsistent refereering” and got himself kicked out of the game. He faces possible suspension if the NBA chooses to pursue the matter. Most likely, he will be. And what kind of players can the Lakers woo to build the team with this kind of leadership? Is this why Barnes and Watson were laughing afterwards? Did they have anything to do with allowing the opportunity for Brown to show his true self and force the situation?
Will we see a new coach for tomorrow’s game…and will that coach become permanent?
Witness the massive PR campaign by the Los Angelese media machine already in play–touting the Laker girls, Kobe’s teamsmanship…anything at all. Imagine…a once-legendary team now reduced to pimping itself for players…because of lack of leadership.
In any case, Brown claimed that he was attempting to “fire up” his team to achieve a victory through his outburst. True, Gasol did wind up with a black eye and Barnes and Bryant were bumped around more than necessary—”but basketball is is a physical sport” Lakers TV James Worthy maintains, and “nobody ever said a home court ref was gonna play fair.”
These things happen. You deal with them. You don’t get yourself thrown out of the game and leave your players in the lurch in the second of a 6 game roadtrip in the middle of a very, very, poor season. And when you add this to the fact that this was Brown’s same reaction when Blake Griffin wasn’t given a technical foul at the Staples Center in the previous Clippers/Lakers match-up, it sets a very ugly precedent…
So you gotta wonder: Just how much of Brown’s meltdown had to do with his realization that he was repeating the same cycle in this game, yet again–the Lakers now down at the top of the fourth after leading the whole game, his starters drained from 3 hard quarters, no options left?
The understanding that because of his strategic mistakes the Lakers were going to lose, and lose hard?
Mike Brown appears to lack the ability to adapt…as well as the ability to remain calm and strategize during high pressure situations. For a coach, this is vital.
So what happens?
You notice how, in the 3rd and 4rth quarters, when the starters are brought back in after their few seconds of rest to earn back the bench’s deficit…how Bryant or Gasol have been holding the ball and talking to each-other—then running a series of familiar looking plays involving 3 members of a triangle to get the job done?
That’s what happens.
And when you’re asking players to do the work not just of leading on the court, but of watching the big game picture to coach and strategize the whole team, how can you expect them to be able to concentrate 100 % on the game right in their faces? Just like how, as members of the team stop and try to focus on building up Bynum’s aggression and power, their own suffers through lack of attention. Players are who they are—they’ll become the best version of that, if they work at it—but the essential nature of a person that person’s game never changes. It doesn’t do anyone good to hurt yourself to help someone—especially on a basketball team. The whole team suffers. Other people have to pick up the slack, and then they can’t do what they’re expected to do. Because if you’re spending too much time working out someone else’s game, you’re not going to have anything left for your own.
Just like Brown still hasn’t learned to leave anything for the fourth.
Except this time, he didn’t even leave himself.