Around 10 p.m. last night, the noise in Los Angeles started getting louder, with a sound of Mike Brown being hired as the next head coach of the Lakers. Almost immediately, the majority of my Lakers fan friends proceeded to bash the unofficial decision, citing reasons such as, “[Rick] Adelman would have been a better choice,” or “Wow, I can’t believe the Lakers are going to play Brian Shaw like this.” While, Adelman may have been the most qualified candidate for the job, there is no reason to knock Brown, who took home the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2008-09 after guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to a league-best, 66-16, record.
He received the boot from Cleveland after five seasons and two early exits from the playoffs, despite having the league’s MVP, LeBron James, on his roster during both seasons. And even though it probably was time for him and the Cavaliers to go their separate ways, that doesn’t take away from who Brown is as a coach in this league.
Yes, he had the great fortune of coaching arguably the best and most dominating player in the league during his stint in Cleveland, where he finished with a 272-138 (.663) record. However, does anyone realize what else he was given to work with on that supposedly “championship-caliber” roster? The team’s second best player was Mo Williams (who is on par with Jamaal Magloire and Brad Miller for the worst all-star selection of the decade) and realistically, that “team,” which should have been called the “Cleveland LeBron’s,” won 127 games out of a possible 164 over two seasons –- a pretty incredible feat. While James was clearly the primary reason that the Cavaliers were contenders for so long, Brown contributed a great deal to Cleveland’s success, that unsurprisingly has gone unnoticed over the years.
Remember, Mo Williams was the Cavs’ second-best player during Brown’s final two years in Cleveland, and during their trip to the finals in 2006-07, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson was their only other reliable scoring option in the playoffs. So, how did Cleveland experience so much success when its roster’s talent pool didn’t expand past LeBron? Because Mike Brown made defense a priority, and by getting the talent-less Cavs to play some of the league’s best defense, it overcompensated for their one-man show on offense, and helped them be a near-championship winning franchise.
Although I do agree that, in terms of experience and getting the most out of your players, Adelman was clearly the best choice for the position. However, Brown’s commitment to defense and his ability to get his players to take on a defensive mentality, is exactly what the Lakers need right now. Say whatever you want about their offensive display in the playoffs –- yes, it was bad. But given the fact that they won 57 games this past season without playing a lick of defense in nearly all of those games, it was about time that the Lakers decision to let their offense determine the outcome of games, bit them in the backside.
Even next season, when Kobe Bryant is 33 years old, Pau Gasol is 31 and Lamar Odom turns 32, the Lakers are still going to have one of the best offensive rosters in the NBA (assuming they stand pat and don’t make any major trades). But like every year, there are going to be times when Kobe’s salary won’t be able to buy the Lakers a basket and Gasol is going to make Charmin look like a viable house-building product. And those will be the times when the Lakers defensive efforts will matter the most, a sentiment Bryant echoed during his exit-interviews.
“If you’re building a championship team,” said Bryant. “The DNA always has to start on the defensive end of the floor. Always. I’m a firm believer in that. I don’t believe in building a championship team on offense. It has to be built on defense and rebounding. Period.”
Bryant’s right too. Look at every championship team from the past 20 years (Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Pistons, Heat, –- not one of them has been a poor team defensively. Even the champion Lakers in 2010 played fantastic defense that year. (Game 7 of the NBA Finals was won purely through defense and rebounding, nothing else.)
Simple or not, if you want to be a championship contender, defense must be a team’s first priority. While Brown may not have the familiarity of Brian Shaw or the experience of Adelman, he most certainly will bring a much-needed philosophy to the Lakers’ locker room, and they will undoubtedly benefit from that.