Despite angst on Lakers bench, Brown insists he's in total control
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Another day, another drama for Lakers coach Mike Brown.
First it was the audacious fourth-quarter benching of Kobe Bryant against Memphis on Sunday, when Brown sat his star with 5:45 left and the Lakers trailing by 14 and didn't bring him back until there was 1:51 remaining and Los Angeles was down nine in an eventual 102-96 loss. Then came the Andrew Bynum experience in the Lakers' 104-101 victory at Golden State on Tuesday, when the All-Star center launched a three-pointer early in the shot clock with 10:05 to go in the third quarter and played just three minutes the rest of the way as a result.
The back-to-back benchings were enough to make you wonder yet again where Brown stands with his players, not to mention what his Buss bosses would think of such bold tactics. But anyone who thinks the first-year Lakers coach is fretting over his handling of the team or his job security would be, well, as wrong as Bynum's acting as if it's a good idea to keep launching from long range.
In a postgame chat with SI.com, Brown -- who signed a four-year, $18.25 million deal to replace Phil Jackson and has the Lakers in third place in the Western Conference despite the endless fits and starts -- discussed the relevant dynamics of his position and made it clear that he's acting with confidence.
"I have to make tough decisions all the time," he said. "That's what the head coach does. I listen to a lot of people, but at the end of the day, every decision that is made is my decision.
"Yes, at times, I may say, 'Dang, I wish I would've done that.' But I'm also a guy who understands that that was in the past, and I can't sit and dwell on it. It's easy to be that Monday morning quarterback and say, 'Dang, I should've done this or that.' "
It wouldn't be unfathomable if Brown were being pushed from behind, though, with those above him offering advice and applying pressure to the new guy in the group. Owners and executives aren't typically the patient and quiet sort, especially when we're talking about a storied franchise where the men of influence above the coach -- i.e., owner Jerry Buss, vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak -- have many more years invested than the man controlling the rotations and playing time. And when your predecessor was a my-way-or-the-highway type like Jackson always was, a shift toward the collective approach would seem natural.
But Brown, who was never known as the hard-line sort during his days with LeBron James in Cleveland and may be trying to change that perception now, insisted that he has autonomy.
"Nobody has told me to do anything with [players], just like, for the most part, I haven't said, 'Hey trade this guy or trade that guy,' " Brown said. "That's not my area. Mitch has made it clear, too -- that I'm the coach and I've got to coach this team to win.
"No pressure is coming from Jimmy. ... I'm coaching this team how I see fit, and nobody is putting pressure on me to do this or do that. I'm making all the decisions. And at the end of the day, if the decisions don't work -- when it comes to coaching the team on the floor -- it's because they were all my decisions. If that happens, I'll be able to sleep at night no matter what happens. That's how I look at it."
Bynum told reporters after Tuesday's game that he didn't know what was "bench-worthy" about his three-point shot, his eighth attempt in seven seasons. The 24-year-old Bynum, who made his first career three-pointer Sunday against the Grizzlies, said he would continue to shoot them.
While forward Pau Gasol made it clear he backed Brown on the Bynum issue, Bryant seemed to see it differently.
"I understand where [Bynum is] coming from," he said. "The first thing you want to do if you want to get the best out of somebody or if you want to get the best out of your players is you have to understand what they're feeling. You have to understand where they're coming from, what they want to accomplish. That's why it's not that big a deal to me. You don't see me sitting here tripping or sweating or anything like that. I've been there."
Bryant, not shockingly, saw shades of his younger self in Bynum's defiant reaction.
"It's somewhat amusing to me, because in some ways the edginess and the chippiness of him makes it very easy for me to relate to him because I had some of that when I was young," Bryant said. "It's easy for me to see where he's coming from."
Asked if he thought the coaching staff overreacted to the Bynum situation, Bryant said, "They have a lot of youth [on the roster], and they're not used to dealing with players of Drew's ambition, I'm sure -- and at this stage of his career. I was in that position. Obviously, I have a lot of experience in dealing with myself and playing with Shaquille [O'Neal] when Shaquille was young and being mentored by Phil and things like that, so nothing really rattles me."
Yet, as Brown made clear, the latest drama didn't rattle him either.