Mike Brown was hired because he was not Phil Jackson.
That’s not all of it — all accounts around the league are that Mike Brown gives good job interview, and his defense-first philosophy is a good fit — but not being part of the Phil Jackson coaching tree mattered. This was Jim Buss’ move to assert himself in the organization, to make his mark. And part of that was breaking from Jackson, who Buss did not get along with. At all. Jackson said they spoke once all season.
That doesn’t mean this can’t work for the Lakers.
But all that hinges on Kobe Bryant buying in. Completely.
There needs to be more, too — roster changes including a new point guard, for one — but it starts with Kobe. This is his team, he is the leader. Someday it will be Andrew Bynum’s team (he is Buss’ boy and if you think the Lakers are trading him you are mistaken) but right now it’s all about Kobe Bryant.
If he leads, others will fall in line. If he doesn’t, drama will ensue. As will losses.
Officially the Lakers are saying Kobe is on board, and during a halftime interview on ESPN Wednesday night Mike Brown said he has had a couple of texts with Bryant.
But when the Los Angeles Times reached Bryant to ask him about Brown, he had no comment. What is clear is that as part of Buss — both Jim and Jerry — reasserting themselves Kobe was not consulted on the hire. That’s not really a huge shock, the Buss family has done things like this before, but it chafes at Kobe.
Which brings us back to him buying in.
At the end of the day, he will (if he hasn’t already). Because he wants to win, and mutiny is not going to get him another ring. And not only will he fall in line, the team will come with him.
With Kobe onboard, this can work for the Lakers. Mike Brown is a good defensive coach and that is the end of the court where the Lakers need work. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom and others scoring points was never going to be the Lakers issue. Their offense was sixth in the NBA in points per possession last season. They will be fine.
They also have the sixth-rated defense in the league, but it was inconsistent. By the Dallas series it had collapsed, nobody helped the helper, guys just seemed to float through plays. Brown can change that. Will change that. If Kobe buys in.
There will need to be changes on the offensive end. Derek Fisher sort of worked as a triangle initiator. Barely. But as a traditional point guard he did not impress in Golden State and Utah — and that was five years ago. Steve Blake can be a backup, but the Lakers need to get a new, solid point guard. Not a ball-dominating guy, but a guy who can set the table and knock down shots, plus play a little defense.
They need a more athletic roster. They need to buy in fully for whatever offense Brown brings in. They have to play as a unit.
They know how to do it. They have done it. And if they buy in they can be contenders again under Brown.
But it all starts with Kobe.