Friday, November 9, 2012

Lost in Translation

No, that is not Kobe pointing Mike Brown to the exit.  But considering the Laker's massive financial investment, was Brown's firing really a surprise? A lethargic, sloppy 2-4 early season start (win less in the preseason) was the tipping point. It then swung to the dreaded vote of confidence-the Hollywood equivalent of "trust me." Under the 2012-13  burden of massive expectations- $100,365,744 in salary and your own "big four": Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant, coach Mike Brown had no margin of error. It starts with the age-old question: how do you replace the Zen Master, Phil Jackson and 11 NBA championships? Mingle that with the Lakers ordained  manifest  of "anything less than a Heat versus Lakers  NBA championship finals would be an utter failure." Brown is cast as Sisyphus.

It began last year with the failed trade for Chris Paul and ended with ignominious playoff defeat in five games to the Oklahoma Thunder.  To overcome a stagnant and predictable offense- where the ball-dominant Kobe was too frequently  hoisting up long 2's at the end of the clock-Brown decided to adopt a less predictable scheme: the Princeton Offense. In theory the Princeton Offense, a first-cousin to the triangle- would seem to be a good fit for the Lakers's Kobe-heavy offense. Last year in old-school b-ball terms, "Kobe went nut." Despite having two dominant low-post bigs (Andrew  Bynum and Pau Gasol), Black Mamba had one of his worst shooting seasons. His true shooting percentage was the worst of his career, 52.7 percent. He had highest usage in the NBA at 33.0 percent, the lowest field percentage of his career at .43%, all while taking five treys a game and making only  30 percent of them. To all who watched, the Lakers something needed to change.

Brown posited the Princeton offense would work best with five players on the floor able to keep defenses at bay with the threat of being able to shoot from at least 15 feet out. The Princeton Offense is based on reading and reacting to defensive schemes, utilizing crisp passing, off-the ball movements, back door cuts,and democratic shot selection. Since defenses can not key on just one or two players, it makes it more difficult and less predictable to defend.  Brown may have had the right system, but with the wrong team. The always offensively challenged Brown, failed to realize the rudimentary flaw in his system-it neuters the effectiveness  his newest stars, Howard and Nash. Nash thrives in transition, setting the tempo, driving and kicking, and in pick-and-rolls. He is best with the ball in his hands orchestrating the offense. Howard is a freakish athletic and mobile big, who is a devastating pick-and roll finisher, great at getting deep positions, and sports an improved low-post arsenal . Yes, Kobe is used to dominating the ball (and thus the offense) but Nash's ball wizardry would allow Kobe to post-up, get the ball on the run, attack on the wing. Kobe would then be much more efficient without having to create for himself and the team.  Considering Brown's new offensive mojo  too often had Dwight Howard at the high-post and Steve Nash off the ball, failure was a matter of time. Then  lump in Magic, Shaq, Kenny the Jet, and Barkley spewing anti-Brown invective from the broadcast booth, the only thing  you could  do is win quick and win decisively. Brown did neither.

But Browns death knell was not just the wrong offense, it was suposedely his forte'-defense right?  ? No! It is not that simple either. The Lakers are not playing putrid defense.  Opposing teams only have  a .428 field goal percentage against them, .339 percent from downtown, and are only scoring 95.1 points. The long and short of it is the team never bought into Brown as a coach. One player said, "we liked him ,  but we did not buy in."  He added, " from the beginning we knew the Princeton was not right for us." Brown lacked the gravitas and despite his record in Cleveland( 272-138 in regular season 42-29 in the playoffs)he was not the right fit for the fickle Lakers hierarchy.  Moreover, Brown is not an X's-and-O's kind of coach. His inability to make the kind of intra-game adjustments needed to produce championships  has consistently been on display through his career. Nonetheless, Brown is solid coach with a solid coaching resume. He will  land somewhere. He is ideally suited for a younger team he can mold. This  vet-stacked team, championship-ready Laker team is built to win NOW. It deserves one man- Zen Master Phil. Despite the 11 rings, I am sure he does not want his swan song to be his 2010-11 playoff  butt-whipping series sweep with a 32 point loss in the finale.

The talk of the offensively promiscuous  author of the high-octane "seven-second or less" offensive aerial show, Mike D'Antoni would be doubling down on bad decision making. D'Antoni is the hot blond of coaching-great to look at but very little depth. Sure his point guard dominant , pick and roll system gets back his original quarterback Nash back-albeit 7 years too late.  But, D'Antoni's all offense, no defense philosophy  is fools gold for a team seeking to win a championship. Look no further  than his implosion in New York. His stubborn persistence in fitting his players into his system  instead of creating a system for his players is blatant sign of bad coaching.  He is non-confrontational, does not hold players accountable, and  his steadfast refusal to coach both sides of the ball is mind-numbingly dumb. The 2.0 version of Nelly ball would  be entertaining, fan-friendly, and almost assuredly guarantee you a early playoff exit

Phi the job is yours to take. You are a master at managing the Mount Everest sized egos of the volatile( Kobe), temperamental ( Gasol) immature( Howard), and explosive( Metta). Your mastery of the machinations of psychology and motivation are never in question. Simply put, Phil this script was written with you in mind. Go win the Academy, oops, I mean O'Brien trophy and your star will burn brighter than ever before.

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