“Take emotion out of the equation before you analyze a situation.”
These words ring true for many areas in life, and are especially true when it comes to sports. Often times it’s easy to overreact to a situation based purely because of how you’re feeling at any given moment.
Now, in a moment like this, following a disheartening Lakers loss to the Phoenix Suns purely because Los Angeles lacked effort and intensity, it is easy to look at everything the team did wrong and demand heads on platters and all the other gruesome metaphors you can think of.
But as I sit and try to figure out exactly what changed between Friday night’s victory over Phoenix and Sunday night’s loss to the same team, there’s one thing I think needs to be said.
Mike Brown’s rotations are killing this team.
I have spent the last few months defending Brown in nearly every move he’s made. I’m certainly not a member of the bandwagon that is already demanding his job. I’m not one of the individuals who thinks he has no business coaching in the NBA. But it is getting more and more difficult to defend some of the decisions he is making with the team’s rotation right now.
One of the things most successful teams have is a sense of continuity, of routine. Each player has an individual job to do and they know exactly what that job is. I hate to be that guy that points out the obvious, but there’s a reason they call them “role” players. As of now it seems that very few players on the Lakers know exactly what their role is. And for that, I blame Mike Brown.
Sunday night was a glaring example of Brown’s lack of a solid rotation. Over the past several weeks Brown had begun to settle on a more consistent set of minutes that he distributed to a select number of bench players. In fact, I was beginning to think he was doing a better job of establishing his rotation. The team seemed to be developing a bit of consistency. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Troy Murphy were the first players off the bench. Andrew Goudelock took over when Kobe Bryant needed a rest. Jason Kapono would get some occasional run when the Lakers were really struggling to find their outside shot. And the rest of the roster (McRoberts, Walton, Morris) were the odd men out.
The rotation seemed to finally be coming together, and the team was beginning to understand what to expect during each game. But on Sunday night all of that changed. Brown inexplicably sent McRoberts, Walton and Kapono into the game in the first half. Walton hadn’t played in a game since Jan. 31, and before that he hadn’t played since a game between the Lakers and Utah Jazz on Jan. 11. McRoberts, who played four minutes on Sunday, had only been on the floor for nine minutes all month prior to Sunday. Even Kapono, who has received more playing time than McRoberts or Walton this season, had only seen action in one of the last five games.
Despite all these facts, all these apparent trends that Brown had been developing, all three of those players were put on the floor in the first half. There could have been several reasons for this, the most likely being that the Lakers were struggling and Brown was looking for some help from his bench. But if McRoberts, Walton and Kapono were really the answers to the Lakers’ offensive woes why have they spent more time on the pine this season than the stars of Ax Men?
The lack of continuity for the Lakers is beginning to become more and more apparent. For the first several weeks of the season it was easy to overlook the constant lineup changes, especially after the shortened pre-season and the relatively new roster. Combine that with Brown and his new coaching staff and it was easy to make excuses for a lack of a steady lineup.
But now, after 31 games played and just 35 games left in the regular season, Brown is still trying to solve problems that should have been fixed 10-15 games into the season. And even that’s being generous.
One of Brown’s biggest criticisms during his days in Cleveland was his lack of an offensive identity. If Brown continues to waffle too and fro with his rotations the Lakers are going to find themselves in the same situation as the Cavaliers. It’s time for Brown to settle on a lineup and stick with it. If he doesn’t the Lakers will suffer. Well, continue to suffer.
It may seem like a minor problem, but these players live and die by routine. Everything about their jobs and lives are routine. Everything sticks to a specific, predetermined schedule. They practice. They hit the gym. They play. Then they rinse, wash, repeat. Again. And again. Again.
Brown’s inability to decide on who to play on any given night is throwing an enormous monkey wrench into the well-oiled machine the Lakers call their daily schedule. Even though the team is going to struggle on offense some nights this season, they are going to have an even tougher time establishing themselves if they don’t know what to expect on any given night.
Mike Brown has brought some positives to the team so far this year. Their defense is much improved and Steve Blake has been getting more minutes than Derek Fisher (something we didn’t see under Phil Jackson last season). But there’s no question that the uncertainty surrounding who will be on the floor on any given night is costing the Lakers more and more as the season progresses. It may be difficult to take over a new team and spend your first season coaching in this type of season. But the bottom line is that Mike Brown hasn’t done what the Lakers need him to do yet in this situation. The time for making excuses is over. It’s time to see some results.