Solid Brown Enters A Solid Mess

It seems strange to say a coach with a .663 winning percentage, an NBA finals appearance and a Coach of the Year award is unqualified for any job, but Mike Brown with the Lakers just doesn’t seem like the right fit.

According to a Lakers’ press release, Brown came in and simply blew away VP Jim Buss. That really shouldn’t be a surprise. At just 41, Brown has a resume few can match. He’s an acknowledged defensive whiz, worked in San Antonio during the David Robinson and Tim Duncan era (which should help him figure out the Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum issue), and he already has experience dealing with Ron Artest when he was an assistant with the Pacers.

But for all his talents, Brown just isn’t L.A. Nor has he proven he can handle a prima donna, let alone two or three – including those in the executive offices.

While in Cleveland, Brown may have had the title, but as in most NBA cities, the real power was in the hands of his best player, LeBron James. The dynamic worked for a time, but the lack of success in the playoffs caused a rift between Brown and his generational player that eventually cost the coach his job. Don’t be confused. Brown wasn’t fired because he won 127 regular season games in his last two seasons. He got canned because Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert needed to appease James in an effort to retain the most important athlete in the city of nearly 400,000. And even though Cleveland hired the type of coach James was asking for, he decided to take his talents to South Beach and the city was left with the second worst team in the NBA. Will things be any easier in L.A.?

Had James stayed in Cleveland, his input in the hiring process of a new coach would have been carefully cultivated. That didn’t happen in L.A.

Kobe Bryant wanted to see former assistant Brian Shaw get the job, but the Lakers’ most recent standard bearer wasn’t even given a courtesy call about the search or decision. Bryant isn’t as petulant as James but the idea that he’ll subjugate himself to whomever is brought in and to whatever style of play they prefer, just doesn’t jibe with modern-day athletics.

Unfortunately for Brown, his troubles don’t just involve an ignored superstar or an aging roster. He also will have to deal with Buss. And not the one who brought the city 10 titles nor the one universally regarded as an astute businesswoman with talent and moxie to spare, his sister Jeanie.

The junior Buss isn’t content just to be Jerry’s son and run the team in a manner his father would approve: successfully. He is looking to create his own legacy. Perhaps behind the questionable skills of Bynum, whom he deemed untradeable in the face of a possible deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony from Denver.

Buss rarely saw eye-toeye with Phil Jackson and bristled at having to deal with an employee who demanded as much attention as any star athlete and whose relationship with his sister, and perceived rival, made him that much more difficult to deal with. (For a good examination of the family dynamic, check out Sports Illustrated‘s 1998 article on Jeanie Buss.) This is the dysfunctional mess in which Brown now finds himself. columnist Jason Whitlock has written that Brown was hired to do one thing, show the Lakers how to beat James. He may be partly correct. But Brown also is not Jackson, and that’s key. Jim Buss wants to be his own man and he will never get out from under his father’s massive shadow unless he can win with a team stocked with his own players and led by his hand-picked coach. That’s a scary proposition for an executive who, in that SI article, disregarded the importance of scouting saying, “If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts.”

By all accounts, Brown is a nice guy. And you know how nice guys finish.