The Lakers making a move to fire a head coach this quickly is nearly unprecedented. Back in 1982, they did relieve Paul Westhead of his duties, but that was directly related to an acrimonious relationship with Magic Johnson. Franchise players almost always take priority over the head coach, even ones that have won a championship.
Mike Brown didn’t seem to have these issues. Just yesterday Kobe Bryant spoke of being Brown’s “biggest supporter”. And while there’s frustration from losing, that didn’t necessarily translate to a frustration with Brown as the coach. But he’s been let go all the same.
This would imply that this move was made in haste. Through 5 games the Lakers have dealt with a variety of issues. Steve Nash is injured and Dwight Howard is still not 100% physically. They have a new offense to learn and a new roster to build chemistry with. Lack of continuity and precious few game minutes to find an identity — especially for his top players — has been the norm for a team that needed plenty of both to try and build towards their bigger goals.
That said, there have been some negative trends through those five games that have surely influenced this decision.
Brown hasn’t managed his roster in a way that’s optimized the personnel made available to him. In the off-season the Lakers signed Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks to be key contributors off their bench. Brown, though, has been trotting Jamison out as a small forward in most lineups, a position he’s no longer able to play effectively. Meeks, meanwhile, has been buried on the bench and has only played a total of 22 minutes while appearing in three games.
Furthermore, even when Nash was healthy Brown deployed bench lineups with only one of their big four on the floor at a time to little success. At the same time, he played his starters heavy minutes in the pursuit of wins that were likely not in reach and even brought his starters back into a blowout game against the Pistons in fear his bench might cough up the lead.
These situations don’t scream “putting players in position to succeed.”
Taken individually, these issues seem relatively minor. However, when they’re added up and set up against the backdrop of what was seen from him last season, there were legitimate concerns that Brown would show the flexibility and big picture thinking to turn the team around by season’s end.
Of course, there’s more than just a hint of unfairness to this. Brown likely deserved a chance to show what he could do with a fully healthy roster. Steve Nash is set to return relatively soon and adding him back to the lineup would surely have made a difference. Add that to Dwight Howard’s steadily improving health and overall play, and the odds say that Brown could have made enough progress to justify sticking around for longer.
That said, I think it’s also fair to say that this decision is much less about what type of short term progress could have been made in situations that were inching towards ideal and more about the long term goals and wether he was really the right man to guide this team to them. From the Lakers perspective, and mine, there were serious questions that he was that man.
So the Lakers are now embarking on another path rife with change. Some may question how they got here this soon. That’s a legitimate perspective. But if they were going to get to this point at all, isn’t sooner the better way to go?