The Lakers’ front office does not do knee-jerk, so news Friday that Mike Brown has been fired as coach after a 1-4 start is a strong signal that management has been considering the drastic move for at least a few days, knowing that a replacement would have to be lined up. This isn’t the usual situation of a bad team that can promote an interim guy to get through the season. The Lakers still want to — need to — win this year.
This also has to mean Brown began the season wounded and that the Buss family – owner Jerry and his son, Jim, the head of basketball operations – has had doubts about Brown at least since the second-round loss to the Thunder in May.
Five games — with Dwight Howard still not at 100 percent after a serious back injury, with Steve Nash sidelined by a leg injury, with Kobe Bryant playing on a very sore foot, with the entire organization knowing this was going to take time — is not enough time to judge what Brown could have done with this title contender at full strength. The most heated Brown detractor in the panicking fan base — and there is about a million-way tie for the lead — could not disagree. The offense has labored badly, but Nash’s absence obviously slowed the development. The defense has regressed, but Howard had a limited preseason and is still recovering.
If the Lakers were going to fire Brown now, they might as well have done it in the summer and avoided the in-season mess and transition. Nothing was going wrong (except for Nash going down) that the front office didn’t know could go wrong.
There is no way Jim Buss meant it when he gave Brown the dreaded vote of confidence after 1-4, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com that, “I have no problems with Mike Brown at all. He just works too hard and he’s too knowledgeable for this to be happening.” The Buss backing was either a historic level of non-truthing or there was a startling change of direction that would likely come only with the red phone ringing and Jerry Buss (who leaves day-to-day basketball ops to Jim and general manager Mitch Kupchak) on the other end. Indeed, TNT’s David Aldridge has reported that Brown’s people believe the decision came directly from Jerry Buss.
The timing is curious and filled with twists. One of the strangest is that Brown may ultimately have done himself in with the lone win.
Sunday night, the lid of Staples Center is about to be pushed off by the angst of an 0-3 start. The Lakers are up on the Pistons by 36 points. The lead is cut to 24 and Brown rushes Bryant, Howard and Steve Blake, Nash’s replacement as the starting point guard, back in with 8:55 left in the fourth quarter. Bryant had already been playing big minutes — and remember, only three players in the league put in more time than he did last season. His foot was an obvious problem. But in he went. It was 0-3 talking.
The rest of the Lakers were thinking about June, but Brown’s moves were being dictated by the first three games of the season. With a 24-point lead, with 8:55 remaining, against lottery-bound Detroit. That could not have sat well with management.
It’s as if the Buss family was willing to give Brown one last chance to see if the 108-79 win over the Pistons would spark a turnaround. But when that one last chance ended in a 95-86 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday, Brown was done. The announcement came Friday, even though it could have come in May.