Despite progress, Brown still trying to make his mark with Lakers
DALLAS -- Four days after Kobe Bryant defended Pau Gasol, three days after Bryant and Derek Fisher called a players-only meeting and 30 minutes after his Lakers had earned a second impressive win in a row, coach Mike Brown was talking about the furious evolution of his troubled team.
"Our offense is a read-based offense -- it's up to our point guards to get the ball in different spots,'' Brown was saying Wednesday following the Lakers' 96-91 over the champion Mavericks. "There's no way, without a training camp, after the first week of the season that I could sit back and say, 'Guys, go figure it out.' Because they don't know it.
"Not only do they not know it,'' he admitted of his opening weeks in charge of the Lakers, "I'm not sure, based on the personnel, if this is the right stuff for us.
"I keep the play cards and I make one up almost every game. My play card from the first two weeks of the season is completely different from what it is now. It's funny, because all this stuff came out recently.''
He was referring to the talk that the players weren't receiving enough freedom offensively.
"But two and a half weeks ago, as a staff, we said our guys are to the point right now where they can read what they need to read, based on where bodies are, and run what they feel like they need to run in terms of flow. Here, I'll show you.''
He led me out of the hallway and into his cinder block office adjacent to the visitors locker room. On the desk lay a play sheet, curled up at the edges. There were nine play headings, each printed in red. The first five plays and their various options, which were also detailed on the sheet, were to be used in the early offense coming out of transition. The remaining four and all of their options were plays meant to be run in the flow of the game.
"These sheets right here, I started giving these to my point guards,'' said Brown. "These sheets are early reads, meaning this is for you guys to digest during the flow of the game so I don't have to call plays.
"Now what we have to get better at is this right here -- in-the-game plays,'' he said, pointing to the latter four plays. "This I give to my point guards so that they can get a feel.''
The first play was headlined, "
Then there were other plays headlined for Bryant out of the post and other areas of the floor. Brown showed me a smaller version of the play sheet which was laminated for his personal use during the game.
"This sheet right here is strictly for my point guards,'' he said, holding up the larger paper. "Soon, once I feel my point guards have this down, I'm going to give this to my whole team so that we're all on the same page. Right now, the whole team is going based off our point guards' decisions.
"What people fail to understand is Steve Blake was out for a month and a half. [Lakers rookie] Andrew Goudeluck had never played the point guard in his life. How am I supposed to sit back and let this kid try to run a team when he's never played point guard, and now he's playing in the NBA as a backup point guard? It ain't happening.
"Let's make sure we try to ignore as much noise as possible. I'm not going to react to a ton of it because I do feel good about our process and what we're doing. Let's stay the course and let it work itself out, and by the end of the season, I think we'll be where we need to be going into the playoffs.''
This win was a strong showing for a team that had created too much news away from the floor recently. The Lakers threaten to be defined by negatives that have little or nothing to do with their new coach -- by the trade they wanted to make for Chris Paul, by the mysterious leadership of de facto owner Jim Buss, by the regrettable departure of Lamar Odom and the as-yet unused trade exception that needs to be exploited.
Brown's job has been to put all of those negatives aside by focusing his experienced team on what it can do while avoiding its many weaknesses, which include a dearth of three-point shooting and an inability to drive off the dribble. The transition away from the enormous success of Phil Jackson was never going to be easy. But this win Wednesday against the team that swept the Lakers last May was a promising sign.
"The reality of it -- and this is not a knock on our players at all -- if you got Chris Paul, you say, 'Chris Paul, go get us a good shot.' Play pick-and-roll and Chris Paul is going to set you up. You got Tony Parker? Go get us a good shot. (Russell) Westbrook, go get something.
"We are an execution team,'' continued Brown. "It's not a knock on Steve Blake, it's not a knock on Derek Fisher. They're not breaking it down and playing pick-and-roll, so what we have to do is we have to be an execution team. What does that mean?''
He held up the play sheet.
"We have to get the ball up the floor so we can get to not only our first or second option, but sometimes we've got to get to our third and fourth option because we don't have the break-down guys. Metta (World Peace) is not going to face you up and break you down. Drew (Bynum) is not, Pau is not -- they're post-up guys. So we have to execute by getting the ball up the floor quickly, not necessarily for a shot, but to get to a third or fourth option we have to space the floor very well, OK? And then the last thing is we have to make sure we're moving the ball and moving bodies. We get multiple ball reversals and the way we drive and kick is by throwing the ball into Kobe, throw the ball into Pau, throw the ball into Bynum and now against the double-team they kick it out. But our spacing and all that has to be good.
"That's how we can get an advantage. It's the way we're built.''
It's the way they won Wednesday. The Mavericks doubled Bryant (15 points on 15 shots), which forced the ball out of his hands and enabled Gasol (24 points and nine rebounds) and Bynum (19 and 14) to establish themselves early. Late in the fourth quarter, Bryant faked shots that turned into crucial alley-oop lobs to his two 7-footers. Throughout the game, both Gasol and Bynum passed out of double-teams to create open three-pointers for Fisher and other shooters, who were altogether a respectable 8-for-20 from that distance.
"I'll say this until I leave the game,'' Brown went on. ""You can take your defense from team to team to team, because defense is about will and want and effort and mental toughness. You could play defense in this league if you decided; I could.''
And so he had brought the same defensive approach he used in his previous job with the Cavaliers and was applying it to the Lakers, who came into this game ranked No. 4 in field-goal defense. They held the Mavs to 40 percent, which enabled the Lakers to survive their poor 18-for-31 free-throw shooting, 17 turnovers and the 20 second-chance points created by Dallas.
"But you can't take your offense with you,'' Brown said. "I had LeBron James in Cleveland. How's LeBron playing in Miami, what's he doing? He's got the ball at the top of the frickin' floor and he's playing pick-and-roll. When I was in Cleveland, people were saying you've got to post him -- it's not who he is, he's not a postup every-play guy. He wants the ball at the top of the floor, he needs it. He needs to be a point forward, and you need to play multiple pick and rolls with him. That's what he did in Cleveland.
"Here, we don't have that. We can't play middle pick-and-roll because we don't have a middle pick-and-roll guy. So what we have to do is what we're doing now. First big down on the rim-run, try to get deep post-up, let's get the ball into the post, space the floor, get it from one side of the floor to the other. Every once in a while, bring Kobe off a pindown. Every once in a while, post Kobe up. Every once in a while, play pick-and-roll, but try to do it from side-to-side after we move the defense
"It's as simple as that. You can't take your offense from team to team to team. You've got to build your offense around your personnel.''
Brown has also responded to the needs of this situation by deferring less to his assistants during timeouts. Early in the season, he said, he was focusing on the defense during timeouts while assistant John Kuester drew up plays to show the team after Brown was finished discussing defensive issues. "Early in the year I was trying to lock-in defensively because I knew that needed to be right,'' he said.
But in recent weeks he has realized that the team needs to focus on him and his voice. This is why he has usually been the sole voice during timeout huddles. The team has been struggling and he has been showing leadership.
"That's the one thing you feel, OK, hey, bring it right back here,'' he said, tapping emotionally at his chest. "Oh yes. Right now, that's where we are.
"But also there's a comfort level with what we're doing on both sides of the ball too. So it makes it easier for me to go in because I don't have to be as long-winded defensively. I can go bam-bam and then get right to what I need to offensively.''
With little training camp, limited practice time and a team that is not built to play the slashing dribble-drive and kick game that the new NBA rules have created -- amid all of this he has been pushing to install the new offense that he was hired to install. After a win like this, he was encouraged. He was insisting that his players were picking up the new style more quickly than he anticipated they would.
"There are some unique circumstances here,'' he said. "The one thing I know I can't do is overreact to anything here, because there's going to be a lot going on. That's why when people say, well, this guy said this, or this guy did this? I say, they're human. I'm OK with it. If it gets too bad, I'll deal with it.''
Not so long ago World Peace was complaining that he didn't understand his role. "The Metta thing, I thought it was going to get out of control. So I dealt with the Metta thing. Anything else that comes up that I need to deal with, I'll deal with it. But I'm not going to try to put out a fire every time, because in this city? There's a ton of fires. If it's bad enough, I'll step up and say something or do something.''