By Rob Mahoney
Only a day has passed since Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss veered off-script in his assessment of Mike Brown's offensive designs, and already we get our first anonymously sourced report that Brown's job may be on the line. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has reported that the fate of Brown and the Lakers' head coaching position could hang on L.A.'s performance in its upcoming six-game homestand:
Sources told ESPN.com that the Lakers, while having publicly expressed support for Brown in the wake of a 1-4 start, have privately grown sufficiently concerned about the state of the team to the point that management is prepared to look seriously at a coaching change at this early juncture if L.A. can't take advantage of what looks to be multiple winnable games in the upcoming stretch.
The Lakers have had a healthy Steve Nash in the lineup for only 1 1/2 of their five games so far thanks to a leg injury, while fellow newcomer Dwight Howard has acknowledged that he's still recovering from the back surgery that brought a premature end to his 2011-12 campaign and knocked him out of the London Olympics. Kobe Bryant has also been playing through a foot ailment.
Yet sources maintain that patience in the organization is starting to erode as the wait continues for signs of improvement in the Lakers' play.
This all escalated rather quickly. The preaching of patience has quickly given way to a last stand on the Staples Center floor, and even if Brown makes it through the next two weeks, there's no guarantee that the backstage whispers will subside. The stakes are high, and apparently Brown's strategic grace period is now over. That kind of accelerated schedule may not be entirely fair to Brown as he installs a completely new offense, but then again grounded expectations have never exactly been a staple of the Lakers as a franchise. This team made moves and signed checks with the intent to win immediately, and pretty clearly won't allow Brown or Princeton-style cuts to get in their way. The Lakers' defensive disarray alone warrants added scrutiny on Brown and his staff, but a change in the first 15 games would register more as premature than decisive. No coach, no matter how brilliant, could conjure up depth where there is currently none, heal Steve Nash's fractured leg, or hurry along Dwight Howard's recovery. The Lakers' problems are far too glaring to be solved just by waiting around, but there are also issues inherent to the roster that won't be cured by installing another coach mid-stride. The pressure builds with every Lakers loss, but tossing Brown would be no quick-fix firing; a coaching change only brings more strategic shifting and an entirely separate period of adjustment -- one no doubt filled with its own growing pains. Brown is hardly the perfect candidate for this job, but at this point, the Lakers have to consider the costs of making such a drastic decision based on only a handful of games.