For all the talk about LeBron’s stint in Cleveland – his “choking” in the clutch, the “limited” supporting cast, etc. – one caveat that is often overlooked is the performance of the Cavaliers coach during those years, Mike Brown. There was a time during his tinier when Brown was thought to be a budding elite coach, someone you could throw into the foray with a top-five star and he would maximize the potential of not only the star, but also his teammates.
As an ardent observer and semi-reluctant fan of the Cavs during the LeBron era, I witnessed this reputation gradually erode after the Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic in 2009, when Mike Brown semi-famously stood outside the huddle while his assistant drew up a play in the waning minutes. This was the first year the Cavs – with Garnett sidelined with injury – were the favorites to make the NBA Finals and considered a coin-flip against the Lakers for the title. So for them to lose to under-the-radar Orlando (who should have never been under the radar in the first place) was a bit jarring.
Needless to say, things only got worse from there. After another stellar regular season in 2009-2010 that notched them the best record in the league, they struggled with the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs then promptly lost to the Celtics in convincing fashion, during which LeBron seemed to fluctuate between competitive overlord and total indifference (the latter specifically defined the last few games). Obviously, given that LeBron was a free agent and the actual superstar in the equation, his story was going to dominate their post-season collapse. Mike Brown, however, was almost immediately canned one season after winning Coach of The Year and putting up the NBA’s best record in back-to-back seasons.
This was (and still is) somewhat unprecedented, and while the story was put on the back burner, there were mixed opinions over whether or not he deserved his fate. The best example of this are the job he was fired from and the job he later received. After being canned by Cleveland for under-performing, he managed to end up with what’s definitively the better of the two gigs: head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. His behavior this season, to put it mildly, has been pretty erratic.
It’s a mix of insecurity & general incompetence, but mostly insecurity. Now, he hasn’t exactly caught a lot of breaks. First there was the lockout, then a trade for two of his four best players was leaked, only to be revoked, resulting in one of those players being traded for cash because he was so emotionally crippled by the “betrayal”. Coupled with the fact that reportedly all the players wanted Brian Shaw (long time Lakers assistant) to succeed Jackson and Kobe refused to endorse Brown’s hiring, the pressure has gotten to him.
Since then, he’s conceded being deferential to Kobe (the “he has to let me coach him” moment), the weird outburst he had on an official a few weeks ago, now he’s come forward to state that he doesn’t understand why Kobe isn’t part of the MVP discussion, and that he ought to be. I’ve never really understood the machinations of Mike Brown, and what little grasp I had of them has long-faded.
I guess the first question anyone would have is: On what planet is Kobe Bryant not apart of the MVP discussion? He leads the league in scoring despite battling injuries, is shooting as high of a percentage as ever, everyone has decided that his supporting cast isn’t good enough for him now (a supporting cast which includes all-stars Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, as well as specialized wing defenders in Matt Barnes and Ron Artest) and are still currently the fifth seed in the West.
I know Brown is making his new coaching strategy to be at the beck and call of his star (because that went so flawlessly in Cleveland), instead of providing guidance, insight or attempting to create any cohesion amongst Kobe and the rest of his team; but there isn’t a sane person invested in watching the NBA, either for recreation or a living, that doesn’t have Kobe in his top five for MVP (along with LeBron, Paul, Durant & Rose).
It often seems that much like he did in Cleveland, Mike Brown operates in a bubble of sorts, incapable of learning from past mistakes or challenging his premiere players on any level. It doesn’t pay to be a passive coach. Well, it pays, but it doesn’t win anything. Every highly reputable coach makes it a point to at least attempt to quell any locker room strife of derision between the players and front office, which the Lakers have experienced a lot of this year. Since he’s technically neither, it might be in Brown’s best interest to, I don’t know, maybe act as some sort of intermediary. Instead, the players hold a meeting in which he isn’t invited. He doesn’t seem to command the respect of anyone, anywhere, much less within the Lakers franchise.
When Brown was first announced as the Cavs new head coach, I was encouraged by the hire. After all, he was coming out of Rick Carlisle’s camp, who I held in high regard (and still do). But he has been slowly treading downhill ever since, employing no offensive strategy other than “LeBron/Kobe get the ball in isolation: Go!”. LeBron is a more adept passer than Kobe so it worked well enough more often than not in Cleveland, but Kobe is the spitting definition of the term “score first player”. Kobe is one of the greatest isolation players to ever take the court, and he’s always in the MVP discussion regardless of Mike Brown screaming persecution in his defense.
But that isn’t the objective of a coach. Instead of rushing to the defend his star who doesn’t need it, he should be developing some sort of strategic offensive that makes his team more competitive in the post-season where most everyone has them pegged to be a first round exit. And you’re not going to believe this, but apparently Lakers are still dismissive of his game plan. As far as any outside observer can tell it’s probably because he doesn’t have one. If he was less preoccupied with complaining about a media oversight that’s more a figment of his imagination than anything else, and more concerned with the clear lack of offensive rhythm afflicting his entire team, the Lakers might fare better league-wide and his star-player whom he’s taken up the cause of would go from an MVP contender to an MVP favorite. But no one should hold their breath.