Lakers fans have no shortage of reasons to panic, to doubt management, to fear the seemingly inevitable decline into mediocrity. We like to win, and for many fans, they find a great source of identity in that winning tradition. Imagine how the Lakers themselves must feel. Who are we? What kind of team will we be? Yet despite all of the chaos and turmoil that has come to characterize this off-season, the Lakers have not undergone as vicious an identity crisis as many expected.
When the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder last spring, a key piece of that team’s identity was relinquished, and the void was left empty. The team collapsed under pressure because the concept of “Ubuntu”, the identity of family, was stripped from them with nothing to replace it. For all his shortcomings on the offensive end, I believe coach Mike Brown is exactly who the Lakers need to shift their identity in the post-Phil Jackson era.
A coach dedicated to detail and to defense, Brown appears to be the complete opposite of the Zen Master: loud, excitable, impassioned and aggressive. Forward Matt Barnes said just the other day that “I think with this team, with Kobe, he’s going to lead us on the offensive end. Our team will follow him on the offensive end and us together will be a pack of wolves on the defensive end. That’s the identity we are starting to get on the defensive end, which I think is great.”
For a team that was ousted in no small part due to lethargy and a lack of intensity, the togetherness and focus that the Lakers’ are exhibiting out of training camp is exciting. And coach Brown is the cause of that.
Just as head coach Tom Thibodeau changed the basketball culture in Chicago, Mike Brown will do the same in Los Angeles. He has high expectations placed on him to win, and there won’t be any shift on that point. But much like Jackson’s MO was the offensive creativity of the triangle, Brown’s will be the tenacious power of defense.
Regardless of what changes are made to the lineup in the coming days, we know that Brown’s mantra of defense will remain the same: that dependability is something the team needs. For a coach to win Kobe’s respect and to unify this team under such fearsome odds, and with so little time, we as fans must trust that his drive to win is as voracious as our own.
The Lakers identity may have changed in style, but not in expectation. The ultimate goal remains the same: to win.