For Mike Brown, It’s Championship Or Bust

The Lakers have added some serious firepower to their already talented roster this summer. Although the team was already talented last season, here in L.A., nothing short of a championship is acceptable. By acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers have once again managed to become the favorite to come out of the Western Conference, and possibly even win the NBA Finals; at least that’s what the expectation is now in Lakerland.

Although Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are finally getting the credit they deserve, one relatively recent move hasn’t unanimously been favorable among Lakers fans: the hiring of head coach Mike Brown last summer.

Personally, I think coach Brown has done about as good of a job as anyone could have, given all the obstacles he faced last season.

First, he had to deal with coming into the most highly publicized team during a lockout. Then, once the lockout ended, he had to lead the team–which always has high expectations–through a condensed 66 game season with no training camp.

Couple that with the fact that he was coaching an aging team, and he had to find a way to limit practice for his veterans and still teach his offensive and defensive philosophies. In turn, the team was basically practicing during games because there was no time for dedicated practices.

All of that and he still managed to lead his team to a 41-25 (.621) record. The previous year, Phil Jackson led the team to a 57-25 record (.695), but the Lakers were ousted in the second round of the playoffs in both instances (Jackson also led his team to the exact same 57-25 record in the 2010 season in which they won their 16 championship, however).

For a team that lost reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom, though, the Lakers didn’t necessarily under-perform. By losing Odom, the Lakers lost a play-maker, which left Kobe Bryant as the sole bridge between the back-court and front-court for most of the season. Bryant had to take on the role of dominant scorer and facilitator, which was too much to handle, especially during the playoffs where opposing teams were able to focus in on not letting Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum get the ball down low.

Additionally, under the new system, Bryant was the only player who could run pick and rolls–which was the new preferred choice of attack. However, with Bryant not being a point guard, it was too much to handle and Kobe often had to resort to isolation plays to either get himself a basket or set up a teammate.

It didn’t quite work out as although he averaged relatively the same amount of assists over the past two seasons (4.7 and 4.6, respectively), he only assisted on 26 percent of his team’s total assists while on the floor last season compared with a 31 percent clip during the 2010-2011 campaign. He accounted for approximately the same amount of total team points while on the floor over the same two seasons (about 35 percent), so his scoring activity relatively remained the same.

Therefore, it was clear that the new offense which was based more on pick-and-roll and ball handling didn’t quite work out as well as a read-and-react style of offense such as the Triangle; an offense in which Bryant was comfortable with. Similarly, it left Pau Gasol, who is great at play-making from the high post, as the odd man out, so to speak. Essentially, Gasol was under-utilized.

Now, with the Lakers set to implement the Princeton offense–which is similar to the Triangle in the sense of a read-and react style of basketball–Bryant hopefully will be able to regain his overall efficiency, and Gasol will become more involved.

Add in future Hall-of-Fame point guard Steve Nash, who breathes the pick-and-roll, and Dwight Howard, who can play and finish pick-and-roll plays, and the Lakers have plenty of options offensively.

Defensively, nobody questions Mike Brown’s philosophies, and now with three-time Defensive Player of the Year center Dwight Howard on the team, the Lakers should have one of the best–if not the best–defenses in the entire league.

Great offensive players and a solid offensive system paired with solid defensive philosophies and arguably the best defensive player in the league, and expectations of a championship are once again concrete.

For Mike Brown, there certainly are no other options. The Lakers have to win, and have to win now.

Next Page: The Pressure Is On

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