Today, Mike Brown was fired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, just five games into the NBA season. It was a move that lacked patience, which is a quality the Lakers often have in abundance. When Kobe Bryant demanded to be traded, the Lakers did not panic, and ended up building a championship squad around him within two years. They could have traded Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard at any point over the last 18 months if they were willing to take back bad contracts or throw in Pau Gasol, but they waited until they got a deal exactly on their terms. The Lakers are a patient organization, and yet Mike Brown still finds himself out of a job. Why?
Because patience requires time. When Kobe demanded a trade, the Lakers still had him under contract, so they had time. Throughout the Dwight-mare period, the result of the Lakers not trading for Howard was that they still had Bynum, and so they had time. Even stepping outside of Los Angeles, when the Miami Heat got off to a rocky start when building their super team, Erik Spoelstra was not fired (though many fans called for it) because it was the first year of a multi-year project. He had time. This year, this Lakers team does not have time, not much of it. The organization has exactly one season to convince Dwight Howard to stick around, or else their gambit explodes right in their face. They do not need to win a championship this year for it to happen, but they simply could not risk the possibility that this season could devolve further than it already had.
In five games, the Lakers have looked lost and ill-conceived. Not all of that is Mike Brown's fault: some of it is due to circumstances (Nash's injury, Dwight's form) and some of it is simple roster limitation (a moribund bench unit that is especially weak defensively). Other reasons were Mike Brown's responsibility: an out of sync offense that still required work and a defensive concept which hinges on a player the Lakers don't currently have (an in-form Dwight Howard). There's nothing Brown could have done about Dwight Howard not being 100%, but a man who is supposed to earn his coin as a defensive strategist should be more equipped to create some kind of scheme to protect the defensive weaknesses of his team. Make no mistake, the defense is and has been the problem all season long. Mike Brown's failure to create a scheme for the team he currently has, or his failure to teach said scheme, was a major issue. In the end, his failure to convince the Lakers to attempt any kind of scheme defensively, is the reason he is out of work. To these eyes, the Lakers looked on Wednesday like a team that had been lost by the head coach, and though I didn't expect Brown to be fired immediately, that game cemented the probability of the action in my mind.
And then there's the offense. Let's talk about that for a second. Lots of folks think Mike Brown should have been fired because of his implementation of the Princeton Offense. It doesn't fit the personnel; you don't waste what should be a truly epic pick and roll combination in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to implement an offense in which (theoretically) Metta World Peace is on equal footing with all the stars in the Lakers universe. At times, especially in the pre-season, the offense looked terrible as the team struggled to implement it.
But here's the thing: the Princeton Offense (or something like it) was probably the right decision. A steady dose of Steve Nash-Dwight Howard PNRs would be epic and probably unstoppable, but Nash can only play 30-34 minutes a game, which leaves a whole lot of game time in which a completely different offense would be required. Throughout Nash's time in Phoenix, there was always a backup who could come in and play a lesser version of the same game Nash was playing. The Lakers don't have that. What the Lakers have is a starting lineup filled with diversely talented players, including a decent passing center and the best passing big man in the game at power forward. What the Lakers have is a bench unit which practically screams out for an offensive scheme that makes them better than the sum of their parts, because the sum of their parts is rather close to zero.
Add it all up, and the decision to go to the Princeton might not have been just OK. It might have been brilliant. But it certainly wasn't brilliant through five games. The offense required patience, and patience requires time. Patience also requires a reason to believe that things might get better, and that is the reason Mike Brown was given none. Mike Brown has neither the cachet nor the mentality to make the patience argument convincingly. All that Mike Brown had to sell his team and his bosses on this season was to have patience. But it's tough to sell patience when you grind down your stars trying to erase a 20 point deficit. It's tough to sell patience when you change your rotations as erratically as an ant whose path has been blocked. If Phil Jackson walked through the door tomorrow and said "I'm going to be your head coach" and then laid out a plan to pursue the exact same strategies Mike Brown has pursued, nobody would bat an eye, because PJ has more cachet than anybody in the world, and nobody can sell patience like Phil Jackson. Mike Brown was specifically hired by the Lakers to be the anti-Phil Jackson, and so it can not be a surprise that the Lakers have fired him for implementing (extremely poorly) a strategy PJ would be proud of.
Which brings us right back to the beginning. Today, Mike Brown was fired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, just five games into the NBA season. It was a move that lacked patience, which is a quality the Lakers often have in abundance. But it was perfectly fitting and appropriate for Brown to be shown the door so quickly. Mike Brown can't sell patience, and the Lakers couldn't afford to buy any of it this season.