As the Lakers continue their intentionally slow coaching search, we have jumped around our network of SB Nation NBA teams sites to bring you some scouting reports of what to expect from candidates who have been linked to the job, from Doc Rivers and Quin Snyder, to Nick Nurse and Mark Jackson, as well as Darvin Ham and Terry Stotts.
Up next is one name that should be pretty familiar to Lakers fans, and another coach who has been around the league for quite a while: Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown, and Portland Trail Blazers assistant Scott Brooks.
Brown is obviously well-known by Lakers fans and LeBron James fans alike, as he was the Lakers’ head coach for one full season and five games of a second one from 2012 to 2013, and he also served two separate stints as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Brooks, meanwhile, will be a familiar name to anyone who has followed Russell Westbrook’s career, as he coached the veteran point guard with both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards before being fired from the latter job in 2021. Both have been connected to the Lakers gig by media reports.
Now, obviously everyone in this community likely has some thoughts on both of these names — especially Brown — but for a more up-close-and-personal look at their recent resumes, I turned to Kevin Broom of our Wizards site Bullets Forever for some analysis of Brooks’ tenure in the nation’s capital, and after previously asking him about Jackson, once again hit up my friend Brady Klopfer of Golden State of Mind for an update on Brown.
As always, below are the questions and answers from our email exchanges.
What are his best qualities as a head coach?
Kevin Broom: Brooks’ biggest strength is his ability to form strong working relationships with veteran players (Editor’s Note: This is a quality Rob Pelinka has said the Lakers will prioritize in their search). Russell Westbrook loved him in both Oklahoma City and Washington. He got career-best seasons out of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Even Marcin Gortat, who saw a dramatically reduced usage level when Brooks took over, liked and respected Brooks.
Brooks was also capable of being adaptable and even inventive. He’s not an innovator like Nick Nurse, but the Wizards went on a late-season run and reached eighth in the East in his final season, in part because he started 6’0 Raul Neto at small forward and rolled with a three-headed center rotation of Daniel Gafford, Robin Lopez and Alex Len.
In addition, when Wall went out with injury, the team went with an “everybody eats” approach that was effective enough that Wall got mad and sparred through the media with Gortat.
While he was often criticized for “not having a system,” in reality Brooks’ offensive playbook was an assemblage of the kinds of actions that
a) catered to the strengths of the team’s star players, and
b) were difficult for defenses to defend.
He had set plays that got open threes for Davis Bertans by leveraging his length, quick release and his ability to shoot on the move.
Brady Klopfer: It starts on the defensive end, where Brown has a lot of talent. He replaced Ron Adams as the Warriors' “defensive coordinator” this season, and Golden State had the second-best defense in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. That was despite Draymond Green missing 36 games, Klay Thompson missing 50, and having 6’9 Kevon Looney as the team’s only center. Brown deserves a ton of credit for that defensive showing, and also for the rapid defensive improvements of young players like Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga, and even veterans like Andrew Wiggins and Steph Curry.
He’s also quite diplomatic. All of the players seem to like him, he rarely ruffles feathers, and he’s not one to ever make things about him. He’s been an assistant coach with the Warriors for six years, and I can’t remember so much as a single negative rumor or quote about him during that time. And this was on a team that employed Kevin Durant for half of his tenure.
He also seems equipped to handle drama which, if you’ll forgive me for the barb, would seem to be helpful with the Lakers. Shortly before Jordan Bell’s first tenure with the Warriors ended, the youngster got suspended for a game because he charged a bunch of gift shop items to Brown, forged his signature, and lied about it. Last season when the Warriors needed depth, they re-signed Bell, which wouldn’t have happened if Brown hadn’t signed off on it.
What are some of his weaknesses?
Broom: Defense! The Wizards were solid on that end under Brooks’ predecessor, Randy Wittman. They got progressively worse, finishing 28th and 30th in 2018-19 and 2019-20. At times, it was challenging to discern what their defensive principles were because no one executed force rules on the perimeter, their rotations were a mess, and the kind of multiple efforts it takes to defend well were few and far between.
When they brought in a defensive coordinator to help, the choice seemed as much to avoid having a “coach in waiting” on the staff as it was to improve defensive performance.
Brooks also could not be accused of attention to detail or of making sure his team was well-prepared for regular-season games. For example, even when Beal was their only real offensive threat, the team never seemed quite ready when the opposition trapped or blitzed him. For the most part, the Wizards didn’t engage in significant game-planning during the regular season. They focused on playing their own style and adapted on the fly.
While Brooks related well to veterans, that skill didn’t always extend to younger players, who were often unsure of their role. Mike Lee reported about an episode where Otto Porter went to Brooks’ hotel room on the road to discuss how he could do more to help the team. Brooks told him, “Do your job.” And then closed the door in his face.
Early in the 2020-21 season, Westbrook led a team meeting in which he went around the room and had each player articulate their role with the team. Many of his teammates appreciated the exercise. Some wondered why Brooks hadn’t already led that kind of session or defined roles in one-on-one settings.
Klopfer: Brown has focused on offense for much of his Warriors career, which is funny given that he’s always been known for his defense. But it’s a little unclear how much he’s learned on the offensive end.
It’s really hard to judge what an assistant coach does well, but there’s not too much evidence supporting Brown having fixed the offensive woes that had plagued him at previous head coaching stops. The Warriors’ offense really struggled after Durant left and Thompson got injured, though they didn’t exactly have very good personnel during that time, either.
And even when the offense succeeded during the times when Brown was ostensibly in charge of it, it was with a style that probably isn’t applicable to the Lakers. The off-ball movement-heavy motion offense the Warriors like to run isn’t really what you want to implement with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, let alone Russell Westbrook.
So, at the risk of copping out, I’m not sure what Mike Brown’s weaknesses are. But they used to be his offense, and I don’t really see much reason to think that’s changed.
Anything else you think we should know about him as a coach?
Broom: There’s nothing particularly wrong with Brooks as a head coach. Like most NBA coaches, he’ll be about as good as his roster. He’ll likely help in some ways and hurt in some others. On balance, he’s… a kinda standard NBA coach.
I doubt he’ll be an upgrade on Vogel, who — at least in my eyes — falls into the “standard NBA coach” bucket with Brooks. That said, different can sometimes be better in the short term. At minimum, Brooks would arrive with the respect and support of Westbrook, which could help him get back to something more like he was in Washington, rather than the crappy season he just completed.
Klopfer: Brown has spent six years coaching Curry and three years coaching Durant. When he was a head coach, there was some thought that he struggled with coaching stars — after all, the Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to fire him twice to keep LeBron happy.
I’m not sure Brown will have learned anything about managing stars from his time around Curry because, if I can delve into the exceptionalism that Lakers fans are known for, there really aren’t any other superstars like Curry. But I’d bet a lot of money that Brown learned something about coaching superstars from spending three years around Durant — three years during which Durant’s relationship with Steve Kerr seemed to turn a little sour.
It’s also worth noting that Brown has been the lead assistant during his entire six-year tenure with the Warriors, and has filled in (and done very well) as head coach when Kerr has been out. He wasn’t exactly hurting for experience prior to joining the Warriors, but six years alongside a very respected coach, and three (perhaps four) runs to the NBA Finals really can’t hurt. Add in a stint coaching Nigeria in the Olympics, and Brown has definitely done a lot to improve and expand his skills from where they were the last time he roamed the Lakers sideline.
Broom also had this to say on Brooks’ overall approach:
The Los Angeles Lakers replacing Frank Vogel with Scott Brooks would leave many Washington Wizards fans bewildered. For a large swath of Wizards watchers, Brooks was an atrocious coach who deserved significant blame for the team’s failures.
While I didn’t think much of Brooks as head coach, was fine with his departure and never would have hired him in the first place, I disagree with the belief that he was The Problem in Washington. To me, Brooks was a garden variety NBA coach, who would probably rank among the bottom half in overall quality, but was still competent enough to win with the right personnel.
The Problem in Washington: personnel. The one season he had everyone healthy, the team won 49 games and reached the second round of the playoffs and took a strong Boston Celtics team to seven games.
So, in conjunction with his comparison of Brooks to Vogel, take that into consideration when thinking about how much you like him as an option.
Again, I was most curious about how Brown may have grown since his last Lakers tenure, so I’m grateful to Brady for taking the time to help us get to know how things have gone for him in Golden State.
And for as much of a long shot as Brooks may seem to be right now, it’s still worth getting to know what he would bring to the table too, because — as anyone who watched the Lakers’ last coaching search knows — sometimes a team doesn’t secure their top option. Or their second one. But I digress, so a big thanks to Kevin for helping us get to know the pluses and minuses Brooks would potentially bring to the table if he ends up being this coaching cycle’s fallback option.