In what was largely considered a surprise, former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has been hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. While Brown is a proven commodity, Lakers assistant Brian Shaw was seen as being the frontrunner for the head job when former coach Phil Jackson left. Shaw was the anointed heir to Jackson’s triangle offense.
A lot of people greeting this as a shrewd move on the Lakers’ part. Brown is a graduate of the Gregg Popovich coaching school, and he’s had a strong defensive pedigree. In Cleveland, he was seen as lackluster on offense, but when the gap between his best offensive weapon (LeBron James) and his second-best (Mo Williams) is so great, “give the ball to LeBron” is probably one of the best schemes to draw up. And there’s pushback around the basketball blogosphere that this reputation is somewhat undeserved.
His success or failure in Los Angeles probably isn’t going to be based on the offensive and defensive schemes he draws up, however. Brown is inheriting a very talented roster that a year ago was deep into a back-to-back title run. The number one challenge Brown is going to have in L.A. is ego management.
Kobe Bryant is the league’s most emotionally unpredictable superstar and he’s entering the twilight of his career. How do you deal with someone who has been undisputably one of the top NBA players for a decade who thinks he still belongs in that upper echelon even though his physical skills have faded? How do you get Kobe to mesh with Pau Gasol, the second banana who voiced his frustration with Bryant’s ball-hoggery multiple times last season? How do you nurture Andrew Bynum, the potential-filled center who splices stretches of dominance in with lethargy, frailty, and immaturity? Who could have imagined that managing Ron Artest would ever be the least of a coach’s worries?
The Lakers have a very, very talented roster. They might enter next season still the favorites to make the NBA Finals out of the West. Brown’s challenge is to utilize that roster, manage internal disagreements, and get the players to tolerate each other just enough to replicate their back-to-back title magic on the court.