Although Phil Jackson led his 57-25 record team to a title in 2010, he led virtually the same group to a 65-17 (.817) record in 2009; which was also a championship team. He led one Shaq-and-Kobe team to the same record as well, in 2000.
The regular season doesn’t count when it comes to the Lakers, since they are more concerned with trophies, but the comparisons will be there nonetheless; next year in particular.
So, how can Mike Brown live up to the expectations of the regular season as well as bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Los Angeles?
First, he’ll have to establish a solid rotation. Last season, everyone from players to fans seemed frustrated with coach Brown’s ever-changing rotations. In his defense, he didn’t have a solid enough bench to clearly establish role players last season, and had to try to get the most out of certain players in certain games.
This upcoming season, however, he definitely has a talented enough bench to get the job done and must set concrete rotations.
Players such as Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake will undoubtedly receive minutes off the bench, but Brown will have to decide early on how much time, if any, he’ll give to players such as Jodie Meeks, Devin Ebanks, and Jordan Hill.
Meanwhile, he will have to limit his starters’ minutes. With Steve Nash averaging 31:36 minutes last season and Metta World Peace averaging just 26:53 minutes, coach Brown will have to make sure those minutes stay in the same vicinity for the Lakers to remain healthy next season.
Similarly, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol–who each averaged 37-39 minutes per game last season (Gasol actually logged the second-most total minutes among any NBA player last season; second only to 23-year-old Kevin Durant)–will have to be kept fresh as well. With Howard coming back from back surgery, Pau Gasol continually playing for Spain during his summers, and Kobe Bryant never knowing how to put down a basketball, Mike Brown will have to find a way to decrease each of those guys’ minutes by at least two or three per game.
That all reverts back to the bench.
Last season, the Lakers’ second unit couldn’t maintain a lead for the life of them. Even when bench players were mixed in with starters, it was still difficult to maintain the same level of play. Hopefully this season, the bench will be able to perform at a high level.
Fortunately, all the star power the Lakers possess will be able to help them in this area. Last season, as soon as Kobe left the floor, things instantly went awry. This upcoming season, coach Brown can tinker with the lineup a bit more, and will undoubtedly have more freedom to do so.
He can leave Steve Nash on the floor with Dwight Howard while Kobe gets rest, or vice versa. With four All-Star caliber players, he will be able to let Nash freestyle a bit on offense while Kobe rests, and then let a fresh Kobe come out and dominate offensively while Nash takes a breather. Similarly, Gasol can spell Howard at the center position while Superman gets some rest, and Antawn Jamison and/or Jordan Hill can give the offense a different dynamic when Gasol sits down.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that with two All-Star ball-handlers and two All-Star post players, coach Brown will have options galore when it comes to maintaining productivity while also limiting minutes. Essentially, he will be able to constantly have two All-Stars on the floor prior to the fourth quarter, when more than likely the starting lineup will also be the closing lineup.
Andrew Bynum was certainly an All-Star player, but he was never “the man” on any team. Dwight Howard, on the other hand, has held the lead role for his whole career. Same thing with Steve Nash, and at one point, Pau Gasol. The leadership and ability to put a team on their respective backs for a period of time will pay great dividends for the Lakers when it comes to limiting minutes and keeping players fresh during the season and playoffs.
Last, but certainly not least, will be Mike Brown’s ability to mesh all of the egos. I don’t particularly see this as a huge problem, but Brown will have to monitor it all season. Steve Nash is a championship-hungry veteran who already commands the utmost respect from Kobe Bryant, so I don’t see any sort of clash there. I doubt they will argue over the ball since they should complement each other offensively. Pau Gasol has an edge to him, but certainly not a strong ego. Additionally, he’s the ultimate team player and will likely be revered by his teammates.
Dwight Howard clashing with Kobe Bryant could pose a potential clash, however, with both players hungry to score. Andrew Bynum was hungry to score, but he also knew his place on the team. However, Howard appears to be submissive towards Bryant and understands that he will have to take a secondary role to the Black Mamba and learn from him in order to win his first championship.
With Steve Nash distributing the ball, I don’t see many instances where Superman won’t get the ball when he has low-post position. Similarly, Pau Gasol wants to be a part of the offense, but it’s just because he knows he can make the correct play, which often leads to easy baskets for his front-court mate as was witnessed by the many lobs he threw Bynum’s way last season. In that sense, Howard will have at least two guys looking to constantly feed him the ball.
One area of concern is Mike Brown’s respect level amongst his players. Andrew Bynum appeared disrespectful to coach Brown at times last season, so the question this season is whether Howard–who had plenty of clashes with former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy–will buy in to everything Brown is selling. However, as long as Bryant maintains his respect for Brown, I don’t see any players going against the grain.
Coach Brown, on the other hand, will have to earn respect by not giving preferential treatment to any one player–not even Kobe Bryant. Brown obviously respects Bryant in the highest regard, but he’ll have to hold Kobe accountable on defense and offense much more this season. He now has the freedom to bench Kobe for longer periods of time, so if he sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll have to address it.
All of these factors will be crucial to Mike Brown and the Lakers success. However, the bottom line–a championship–will be the most important. With arguably the most talented team in the league, there is no margin for error when it comes to this team winning a ring. With all the pieces in place, it’s up to the coach to put the team over the top. If he’s unable to do so, I doubt the Lakers will exercise much patience next summer.
Mike Brown has been handed a championship-caliber team, so now the question is “what will he do with it?”
The pressure is definitely on.