HANG TIME, Texas — You don’t have to warn Mike Brown about expectations next season with the Lakers. This is, after all, the guy who lived with the would-be championship burden of LeBron James sitting on his back in Cleveland.
Sure, the Lakers have added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, among others, to their roster this summer. Sure, he can feel those 16 previous championships staring down from the rafters and the record books.
But in an in-depth and quite interesting Q & A with Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Land ‘O Lakers blog, the coach says, in short, bring it on:
“That’s what I like about this job,” Brown said. “The level of expectations that we have as an organization doesn’t sit with just making the playoffs. Every year, ownership and management want to compete for a championship. As a coach, I don’t know why you would want to be put in any other situation, unless you’re just happy getting a paycheck or being a coach in the NBA. I want to be put in a situation where year in, year out I have an opportunity to win. You know? In my opinion, that’s my dream and should be the dream of anybody that’s a competitor. This situation warrants that.”
In his first season with the NBA’s most high-profile coaching job, Brown inherited a talented, but flawed, team that was never able to develop consistency during the post-lockout schedule and may have maxed out its potential just by getting to the West semis against Oklahoma City. That won’t fly this time around, especially when many have always dubbed the Lakers as the team to beat — ahead of the defending champion Heat and Western Conference champion Thunder.
“Everybody says that — expectations, expectations, pressure, pressure, pressure. Pressure to me occurs if you’re not prepared, and we’ll be prepared.
“Having said that, yes, you understand people’s thoughts and expectations, but I’m telling you this: I don’t think there was anybody last year that expected us and said it was OK that we got knocked out in the second round, or that we didn’t win the West. I don’t think there’s one person in L.A. that can honestly say they didn’t expect more.
“You look at other teams, there’s some other teams out there — Stan Van Gundy isn’t back for Orlando. You can figure some lesser teams, the coaches aren’t there. This business is about winning. So the expectations when you talk about last year and this year, to me our expectation last year was to win a championship. Our expectation this year is to win a championship, and if I asked you or anybody else, I think you guys would have expected us to win last year, just like you expect us to win this year. That’s no different.
“I understand why people say that, this year especially, with the addition of Nash and Howard, but at the end of the day the reality of it is we have to go through Oklahoma City. They won the West. We have to go through the Miami Heat, because they’re the NBA champions. We don’t have anything right now to say that we’re the team to beat except we do have a nice team that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak put together on paper. Now we have to try to go get it, but we have to go through the teams that were the Western Conference champion and the NBA champion.”
Until the Lakers get through those barriers, over the hurdles and claim their next title, the questions will follow, if not smother, a guy with a resume that seems to be glittering and hollow at the same time. At just 42, Brown has taken his teams to The Finals once (2007) and the conference finals twice. His career winning percentage of .658 trails only Tom Thibodeau (.757) and Gregg Popovich (.680) among active coaches.
Yet, so much of how Brown will be defined depends on what happens this season and how he can put together the new pieces of the Lakers’ offense with mainstays of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol there to make it all work.
The knock has always been that Brown is, uh, challenged at the offensive end. But it should be noted that the only All-Star season of Mo Williams’ career came when Brown gave him the freedom to flourish.
To that end, the Lakers have added assistant coach Eddie Jordan to bring in the principles of the Princeton offense, but Brown says that they won’t stray from Nash’s strength in the pick-and-roll.
“The way that we’ll put it together, Steve’s going to have an opportunity — he’s going to quarterback the team — and so he’s going to have an opportunity to come down the floor every possession and in early offense play pick-and-roll if he wants to. It’s up to him, based on where he decides to take the ball or a call that he makes or an action that he does, it’s up to him to get us into some of the looks of the Princeton offense.
“So again, with him quarterbacking, or making that decision, he’ll still have a chance to get the ball back after he moves or after bodies move. I don’t want to completely give away what we’re trying to do, but in a nutshell, he will have an opportunity to play pick-and-roll at the beginning of almost every play set coming down the floor in early offense. And if not, he can also choose to get to some of the looks out of the Princeton by making a pass or doing an action or doing a call or whatever.”
Big changes in L.A., no changes with Mike Brown. In both cases, it’s never enough.