Jim Buss (left) says he has "no problems" with Mike Brown, who has drawn criticism this season. (Jon SooHoo/Getty Images)
By Ben Golliver
Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss, who earlier this week promised "100 percent" support for embattled coach Mike Brown, delivered less than that after a loss to the Jazz on Wednesday.
Thanks to a weekend win over the hapless Pistons, the Lakers no longer possess the NBA's worst record, but losing to the Jazz dropped them to 1-4, bad enough for sole possession of the Western Conference's basement. The mighty Lakers, 16-time champions, are looking up the standings at the Jazz, Timberwolves, Thunder, Blazers, Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers, Kings, Suns, Spurs, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Hornets and Rockets.
Enter Buss, son of owner Jerry Buss, to clarify the standing of Brown, whose Princeton offense has drawn criticism since his team's opening-night loss to the Mavericks last week. In a postgame statement to ESPNLA.com, Buss said the following:
"You don't start 0-3 for the first time since we've owned the franchise without being on top of it," Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "No matter what, you have to be aware. That doesn't mean change is coming. That just means you have to be aware."
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all," Buss said. "He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening.
"So either the system is flawed or something's going on. Or, like the Triangle, it's very hard to pick up and understand. I'm not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient."
OK, that wasn't clarifying Brown's status so much as dousing his chair in kerosene.
There's an unmistakable shift here from Buss, who just two days earlier offered a blanket defense of his coach to the Orange County Register.
"I'm a hundred percent behind Mike Brown. Mitch is. My dad is. We as a collective soul are behind him 100 percent."
The two statements are incompatible. On Wednesday, intentionally or not, Buss did three things that fell short of the "100 percent" standard.
First, he directly and openly wondered whether Brown's system was "flawed," a big no-no for ownership in general and especially in a tense situation like this. Always -- always -- leave any basketball talk that isn't glowing optimism to the basketball operations department unless a change is imminent or being seriously considered. It sounds obvious, but avoiding situations in which you openly admit that you don't know what you're talking about is a good idea.
Second, in defending Brown's work ethic and intelligence during the tough stretch, Buss opened the door for speculation as to other explanations for L.A.'s slow start. Is Brown working hard on the wrong things? Is poor communication between coaches and players undercutting the work? Do the players respect him? Does he have control of his locker room?
Third, Buss expanded on his emphasis on "awareness" by specifically noting "that doesn't mean a change is coming." Of course, the implication between those lines, intentional or not, is that a change could be coming, something that was categorically ruled out earlier this week. "I'm not going to fire him right now, but ..." is how that reads. That's totally different from Tuesday's statement, which essentially read: "I'm not going to fire him, period." Buss also subtly separates Brown the man -- with whom he has "no problem" -- from the unacceptable results that he is producing. This should be a time to come together rather than a time to add distance, and yet space is being added.
Buss accomplished nothing on Wednesday unless the Lakers are actively considering a coaching change. If such a move is in the works or being discussed, Buss' statements effectively lay the groundwork without fully committing the organization in case the ship does right. If not, though, and Brown is still their guy, through thick and thin, Buss' statement draws unnecessary attention to a coach who is already in the thick of it and accelerates questions about Brown's approach. What happened to that "100 percent" support again?