SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Lakers hired unknown Mike Dunleavy to coach a contender, went with green Pat Riley in a similar situation, scored a coup by choosing the very available Del Harris while all others passed and let Magic Johnson take a test drive. There is no such thing as predictable with that job on that team.
Mike Brown succeeding Phil Jackson is a surprise, though, and not because Brown has a history of playoff flameouts or owner Jerry Buss loves flash and Brown definitely is not that.
The real issue in the critical moving-forward moment for the Lakers is the sudden absence of continuity that players had desired and maybe even needed, knowing the roster needs to stay in win-now mode and cannot afford a season of transition. That familiarity, that consistency was the biggest selling point for the Brian Shaw candidacy and why the Buss family might turn to a rookie head coach in the latest sideline gamble. Rick Adelman, another contender, at least had run a similar offense that would have reduced the 2011-12 learning curve, and he has extensive experience. (Lakers fans respecting Adelman and maybe even wishing for him as Kings fans miss Adelman: Hello, bizzaro world.)
Brown in another freeze frame could make sense – the Lakers don’t play a speed game anyway in one important synchronization of roster and coaching style, he has been under the heated lights of working with (for?) LeBron James and he stresses defense. He has worked in the glare of great expectations. It’s easy to see the Buss case. But timing is everything and L.A. needs this to work right away, if not sooner.
The window-of-opportunity thing would be a big deal no matter what, except that it becomes a monster deal if the lockout hits and then drags on long enough to where the 2011-12 schedule goes into the wood chipper like the last work stoppage. That resulted in a 20-second timeout of a training camp and a 50-game season with occasions of three games in three nights, a move away from the usual policy of nothing more than two in a row because so many contests had to be crammed into so few dates. Now imagine the Lakers jumping into a lightning round while switching to a new system as the coach learns to work with them, and that’s apart from whatever adjustments could come from roster moves.
“We’ll worry about that one then,” Derek Fisher, one of the leaders of the pro-Shaw camp, said when the potential scenario was suggested a month ago, before the Lakers had been swept out of the second round by the Mavericks. He added: “I would hope we largely have the same team” and, “It would be a pretty smooth transition with Brian.”
The lockout, if it happens and depending on how long it lasts, means this is no ordinary Lakers’ coaching change. It could be that there has never been another like it, as strange as that sounds, with Kobe Bryant and Fisher, in particular, in no position to swallow hard through a lurching 2011-12. They need something that feels seamless.
They just got bold.