For the past five days, NBA fans and commentators have been coming to terms with that fact that Lakers fired their coach Mike Brown after just five games. Brown, many argued, didn't have enough time to build chemistry among his players, and was run out-of-town after a failed experiment with the Princeton offense. It seems that if you have so many stars on your roster there's an assumption that things should gel faster. Or, more simply, if you coach in L.A. you have a shorter timeframe at play in which to prove yourself.
Since the Lakers have gone in another direction -- they hired Mike D'Antoni to join the team later this month --the players have responded well rattling off two consecutive wins under their interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. Maybe the problem really did rest in Brown and his offense; maybe it was the players' motivation; or maybe it just took a couple more games that management was willing to offer for the players to get to business.
As much as we like to believe that just anyone can coach a talented group of players to success, it's not that simple. In reality, it takes years of behind-the-scenes work and on-the-court adjustments just to get a team in shape to win. On a recent episode of The Association: Brooklyn Nets on NBA TV, Nets coach Avery Johnson was interviewed about the team's first weeks in their new home. Johnson mentioned that while the team has been through some growing pains, he's worked hard over recent years to get the team where he hoped they'd be. It's clear from Johnson's comments that his taking over as coach in 2010 came with the promise that two years down the line the team would be ready to compete at another level, in Brooklyn.
For Johnson, some losing seasons along the way helped pave the road to possibility. He went out and got some premier scorers in the interim and now the Nets are among the league's most talked about teams. For that, Johnson is definitely proud. But credit also goes to Nets' management for committing to a program and sticking with it through the tougher times that they believed would escort in better days for the franchise.
A similar story comes out of the NFL Network A Football Life episode about Bill Belichick who was disheartened to lose his job in Cleveland in the mid-'90s just as the team was building toward a stronger future. Belichick commented that he put together an organization that he thought could be turned into winners over time, and he was getting closer to that goal around the time of his firing. It's no surprise then to discover that once he landed in New England Belichick required complete support from his owner and management to get behind his roster and coaching decisions, no mater what. While Belichick's style has at times left some onlookers a bit queasy, he's run the show his way.
Mike Brown's dismissal may not have been the result of losing four of five games alone. When the Lakers were building in one direction, Brown might have been the right guy to have in charge. With the acquisition of some bigger name players this offseason, though, Brown could simply have been deemed the wrong man to have at the helm. The team gave him a chance to prove he could make it work, yet the experiment started to fizzle right away. And the Lakers acted quickly to salvage the early part of the season by bringing the veteran D'Antoni in.
In doing so, the Lakers also sent a message about the role of the coach inside their organization. If the team wanted to get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, they should have hired someone else in 2011 to fill those big shoes Phil Jackson left behind. Sure, there were no guarantees that plan would have panned out. And there was similarly no promise that Brown would fail to run an effective offense with all of that star power in front of him.
What was already clear at the start of the year, however, is that this wasn't Mike Brown's team anymore. At least not the one he was hired to run. Listen to the way Avery Johnson talks about the Nets, his players, his hopes, and the Brooklyn community. That's the kind of coach every team should aspire to hire. Even if they start with a 46-102 record. Or for that matter a 1-4 record.