Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
It's that time again. SB Nation NBA is gathering around the campfire on our latest venture into theme days. This time? The biggest surprise for our franchise in the first ten (or, eleven in our case) games of the season. Los Angeles Lakers? Surprises? I can't think of any...
Mike Brown was a curious hire when the news broke he would be the man to replace Phil Jackson. Sure, he had accomplished plenty in Cleveland with LeBron James, hitting the NBA Finals once and nabbing a coach of the year award along the way. Still, he was exiled from Cleveland after being unable to deliver a championship with one of the most gifted basketball players to grace the hardwood in the last decade in LeBron, and his coaching abilities were constantly in question. He was an unproven, jobless, coach who seemed to have more who questioned him than supported him once his story was concluded in Cleveland.
Truth be told, though, no coach could have sat on Phil Jackson's high chair on the sideline and found the support the Zen Master had banked in Los Angeles over all these years. The hardware speaks for itself; eleven rings that will forever be the bar for any "greatest of all time" conversation. Much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 points and Michael Jordan's dual three-peats and six rings. The odds were stacked against Mike Brown and the clock was ticking against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, something had to give. Give; just like the Lakers did in the 2nd round against the younger, faster, better Oklahoma City Thunder when the 2011-2012 season came to an end.
So, onward and upward the front office went. Ramon Sessions not cutting it? Let him walk as a free agent who opted out of his contract. We'll just go and swoop up Steve Nash, no problem. Andrew Bynum disinterested and a bowling game away from hanging out with Greg Oden for the season? Fine, we'll go ahead and trade for Dwight Howard. No, no, no, don't worry-- we'll still keep Pau in the process. Oh, we almost forgot to mention, here are a few throw-in's we came across in the meantime: Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison, and we managed to bring Jordan Hill back. Now, tell us what more do you need?
Enter, Princeton offense
"I've always been fascinated with that offense ever since the days I was in Cleveland and it seemed like every year I was there we faced the Washington Wizards and Eddie Jordan in the first round. If you take away everybody's different abilities that they have in the NBA and how good or bad they are in those different aspects of the game offensively, and you turned everybody into robots or equated to being the same player, then I always felt that offense was the hardest to defend. The spacing is tremendous. The ball movement is tremendous. The ability to play a stress-free game was off the charts." - Mike Brown at Lakers Media Day
A quick recap: Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, bench reinforcements, Princeton offense, and a coaching staff to assist in all of these changes. Clearly the Lakers front office did all they could to give Mike Brown a fair chance to try things his way. Sure, one could argue that the bench was problematic, but with a starting five like the Lakers had constructed, complaining about the bench is like complaining about missing an extra cup holder in your Bentley.
Off the Lakers went, riding into preseason with high hopes and a franchise center who was making remarkable strides in his rehabilitation. Such great strides that the projections of a late December return suddenly turned into the reality of preseason games. Finally, the Lakers would display their starting five for the world to see, and much sooner than anyone anticipated.
Naturally, they lost in the preseason. Every. Single. Time. They. Played.
It's preseason though, right? Deep, steady, breaths. This
Harvard Princeton offense thing is going to work. Mike Brown is going to see this through and give the Lakers a system, a foundation, to work around. Besides, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash both played in minimal minutes over the preseason and they will surely build a repertoire between one another. The season opener was on the horizon, there was no time left to pick apart a preseason.
Basketball had returned!
And so did the Lakers losing ways. Against a Dallas Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of spare parts that Mark Cuban and his front office managed to find (they were holding up "Will Ball for $ and Shark Tank Cameos", so one could say it was hard to pass up.). Yes, Eddy Curry and the Dallas Mavericks downed the Los Angeles Lakers. In Staples Center. To open the season. The nerves began to unsettle... what if? What if this wasn't the right fit? What if it was all wrong and precious time is burning away? No, stay the course. This is one game of an 82 game journey. Just a single regular season game!
Then, something funny happened. It was game 2 of the season, just 24 hours since a deflating loss to the Mavericks. The Lakers were visiting the Portland Trailblazers, looking to pick on a team that should be in a rebuilding phase with rookie point guard Damian Lillard and 1st Team All-NBA Overlooked Lamarcus Aldridge. The universe works in mysterious ways, and on this night, perhaps the fate of Mike Brown was sealed. All it took was a small bump to Steve Nash's knee and the Lakers fortunate Summer began to look like a mirage in a desert. The fans, the writers, the Lakers themselves could only look at what was supposed to be with unquenchable thirst, dehydrated and stranded in the desert. Where were the pick and roll dunks? Where were the world beating Lakers? Why can't there just be basketball bliss?
For the remainder of Mike Brown's time with the Lakers he would have no "quarterback" Steve Nash. The night in Portland ended with a loss. Next up, the Los Angeles Clippers... and another loss. Finally, it was time to pick on the Detroit Pistons. And boy oh boy did the Lakers pick on them. Took all of their lunch money, turned their backpacks inside out, and then fed their homework to Kobe's German Shephard that he travels on his mambacopter with. Finally, a win! A collective sigh of relief, right? Right!? Time to take a road trip to Utah to take on the Jazz and build on this momentum.
But something extraordinary happened in Utah. We may never know the context, why it happened, or if it was ever specifically directed at Mike Brown. But, we know it happened. As the Lakers fell back to the filthy ground of losses they had finally climbed out of, Kobe Bryant sent off what is now the infamous "Death Stare". The basketball world was buzzing. After a remarkable Summer, Mike Brown and the Lakers were failing. The Lakers were blown out of the playoffs the prior season, swept through the preseason, and were now 1-4 on the regular season. This shouldn't be happening. Now, on top of everything else, there was a death stare that every media outlet was riding.
Thursday, November 8th, 2012.
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all," Buss said. "He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening." - Jim Buss via ESPN LA
Friday, November 9th, 2012.
"This was a difficult and painful decision to make," said Kupchak. "Mike was very hard-working and dedicated, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to make a change at this time. We appreciate Mike's efforts and contributions and wish him and his family the best of luck." - Mitch Kupchak via Lakers.com
Boom. Bang. Pow (Pau?). Mike Brown, five games into the regular season, was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Five games in! Was it too soon? Should the front office have sat on their hands and let this sort itself out over time, or at least over the 6 game home stretch that was coming up? How many more death stares could Mike Brown survive? Given time, the Princeton may have worked out. Given time, Mike Brown may have gotten through to a team that was playing as if they. However, as C.A. Clark put ever so eloquently, patience required time that the Lakers simply no longer have.
Where there's fire, there's smoke, and Los Angeles was set aflame with the news that there was a coaching vacancy with the Lakers. The chance to coach a group headlined by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash was a killer interview away for one lucky man. The problem was, as the process began to play out, the smoke was suffocating, and out of the smoke the figure of Phil Jackson emerged as the front runner for the job. As soon as the rumors and leaks began to swirl the fans were quick to jump on board. "We want Phil!" chants echoed the walls of Staples Center as Bernie Bickerstaff did his best to coach a team in the midst of a crisis. Or, as he said, to simply stay out of the way. It all made so much sense. Jackson would be perfect for the job, Triangle be damned (and perhaps twisted to fit this roster). He coached superstars Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant to titles, there's no reason to believe he couldn't squeeze a title or two out of perhaps the most stacked, talented roster that was ever available to him. All signs pointed towards Phil, "95% certainty" was thrown around like arm sleeves to Dwight when he's accessorizing before the game. It was going to happen. The Lakers, and Phil Jackson, were going to reunite. Kobe, who was busy gushing about his former coach in the meantime, would get the chance to give his coach everything left in his tank and send his ship off to sea the right way.
Monday, November 12, 2012.
"After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, Dr. Buss, Jim and I all agreed that Mike was the right person at this time to lead the Lakers forward," said Kupchak. "Knowing his style of play and given the current make-up of our roster, we feel Mike is a great fit, are excited to have him as our next head coach and hope he will help our team reach its full potential." - Mitch Kupchak via Lakers.com
The Lakers left a coach with 11 rings, a proven system, and a long spanning history with the franchise.
The hiring of Mike D'Antoni was a curious one when the news broke he would be the man to replace
Phil Jackson Mike Brown. Sure, he had accomplished plenty in Phoenix with Steve Nash, but he never made it to the NBA Finals though he also nabbed a coach of the year award as the seasons passed. Still, he was exiled from New York after being unable to deliver consistency with a team consisting of a great basketball talent in Carmelo Anthony alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, and his coaching abilities were constantly in question. He was a jobless coach who seemed to have more who questioned him than supported him once his story concluded in New York. Funny how that worked out.
It's been a blur for the Los Angeles Lakers, but finally things seem to be coming into focus. The Lakers are, gasp, winning basketball games and have now driven that 1-4 record under Mike Brown up to 6-5. The latest, a win in Mike D'Antoni's debut for the storied franchise. Where this road may ends for the D'Antoni led Lakers? Who knows. In ten more games of basketball there may be an entirely new surprise worthy of scribing about, ruining my sleep cycles. For now, though, the coaching carousel stands as the most stunning development. A little steadiness would be welcome.
Oh, and a Steve Nash return. Is that too much to ask for?
- Follow this author on Twitter @BallReasons
(This was so stunning, in fact, that we recorded episode #4 of the Silver Screen & Roll podcast entirely focused on Mike Brown being fired and the potential of Phil Jackson making a return. We all woke up to news that Mike D'Antoni was hired, shook our fists at the sky for ruining our content, then proceeded to record episode #4.5 to talk about the surprising hire of D'Antoni. Give it a listen down below if you haven't already!)
Which of these was most surprising?
Mike Brown fired five games into the regular season (60 votes)
Phil Jackson passed on in the hiring process (167 votes)
Mike D'Antoni hired once the smoke settled (35 votes)
262 total votes