"The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry" - Robert Burns
In a bold and somewhat perplexing move, the Los Angeles Lakers have hired former Cleveland Cavaliers and current ESPN analyst Mike Brown as their new head coach. In addition, the Lakers have cut ties with long time Assistant GM Ronnie Lester, and more than a dozen training staff members, video staff personnel, and scouts in an apparent effort to distance themselves from the entire Phil Jackson era.
While bold moves are nothing new for the Lakers under the ownership of Jerry Buss, these decisions are head-scratching on numerous levels. But even more foreshadowing to Laker fans should be WHO made the decisions, and what this means moving forward.
In looking at recent trends in the NBA and other professional leagues, the growing trend has been to hire young, upstart assistant coaches rather than the same old retreads. Scotty Brooks in Oklahoma City, Erik Spoelstra in Miami, Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers, Larry Drew in Atlanta, Frank Vogel in Indiana, and Monty Williams in New Orleans are all a part of the wave of talented new head coaches. Even the New York Yankees went with Joe Girardi over a more "veteran" manager. So it was a little disheartening to learn that the initial list of Laker coaching candidates included only one person who hadn't already been an NBA head coach, Brian Shaw. With names like Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, and even (gulp) Mike Dunleavy, it seemed like the Lakers' management was taking the same approach that led them to Rudy Tomjanovich in 2004 when Phil Jackson retired from the Lakers the first time. Hell, Jerry Buss has already hired and fired Mike Dunleavy as the Lakers head coach once before.
Although younger in age than most of the other candidates, Mike Brown could easily be put into the category of a retreaded coach. An assistant coach for 8 years (most notably with Gregg Popovich for 3 of them), he finally got his break in 2005 with Cleveland coaching LeBron James and Co. He led them to the 2007 NBA Finals and was coach of the year in 2009, and finished with a record of 272-138 in his 5 seasons with the Cavs. Despite those accomplishments, it always seemed like the Cavaliers won in spite of Brown and not because of him. He was widely criticized for mismanaging late game situations and time outs, and seemed to have no other offense other than "give the ball to LeBron" for a final play.
Even more astounding is the fact that the proponents of the "Showtime" and Kobe eras of Lakers basketball decided to go with a guy who is widely regarding as a defensive coach with no real offensive game plan to speak of. Not to mention the fact that hiring a coach right now, pre-lockout, means that you are currently paying a coach well before you actually need to. Additionally, hiring a coach that goes directly against your three longest-tenured players (Kobe, Fisher, and Walton) public choice (Shaw) could potentially put your coach in an uncomfortable immediate situation, not to mention the public perception of not consulting your star player during a time of change. Lastly, hiring a coach with a low level of fan support could derail the Mike Brown train well before it really has a chance to leave the station. As seen with Rich Rodriguez at the University of Michigan, a coaches tenure is almost certain to fail when their initial reception by the fan base is mostly negative. It's a constant effort moving forward to win the support of the fans, and every misstep is over analyzed and over criticized.
But every recent action by the Lakers' front office has been done to send a very clear message. That message is that it's no longer Jerry Buss' team. The man behind the curtain pulling the strings now is his son, EVP Player Personnel, Jim Buss. Like it or not, it's his
team now, and he's hellbent on putting his own stamp on it. It was Jim Buss who pushed to draft Andrew Bynum, and Jim Buss who's refused to trade Bynum over the years, including this past season when the Lakers could've landed Carmelo Anthony. It's Jim Buss who liked Mike Brown, and was impressed enough by his interview to hire him nearly the next day. And it's Jim Buss who Laker fans will have to get used to as the decision maker moving forward.
Time will tell if Jerry passed down the championship genes to his son Jim, but it's clear now that the Lakers' management is committed to Jim Buss and committed to moving on from the previous era. The new world order has been set in this benevolent dictatorship. Jerry Buss has chosen, and so must Laker fans. You can join the roller coaster that will inevitably be the Jim Buss era, or you can get off now. Just know, resistance is futile.
- Mark Slattery
ChatSports.com Senior WriterBack to the Los Angeles Lakers Newsfeed