Recently, former Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson spoke with ESPNRadio in Chicago about the new-look Lakers building chemistry on the court this season.
Here’s what Jackson had to say:
“It’s finding a role that each player can move towards and be comfortable in,” Jackson said. “I think that’s how you want to feel. You want Steve to have the ability to have the ball with confidence that he is doing the right thing and feeling like he can run the team and getting the ball to Kobe in critical situations is important because that’s what his best role is standing out in the moments of crisis or the moments that are critical. And the inclusion that you have to have to make Howard feel a part of it. So all those guys have to find a little role.”
Reading this quote reminds me how much this current group of Lakers could benefit from having Jackson as their coach. One of Jackson’s biggest strengths coaching both the Bulls and Lakers was his ability to harmoniously mesh together larger than life personalities and egos, whether it was Jordan, Pippen and Rodman in Chicago or Kobe and Shaq in Los Angeles.
A starting lineup consisting of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace likely has Jackson licking his chops.
Enter current Lakers coach Mike Brown. Brown will not only be trying to lead what some already consider one of the best starting fives in league history to a championship, but he will continue trying to crawl out from under the shadow of Jackson.
Following oodles of scrutiny and head scratching amongst fans after being hired to coach the team following Jackson’s retirement, Brown received somewhat of a mulligan in his first season with the team. Due to the lockout, there wasn’t a full training camp and no consistent practice time, allowing Brown to escape some of the criticism he would have received under normal circumstances.
Thanks to the championship or bust expectations the Lakers are working under this season, Brown will be feeling more pressure than any coach in the league.
Whether it’s fair or foul, all of the blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Brown if the Lakers don’t live up to expectations. What if this season ends in disappointment for the purple and gold? The 2013-14 season, assuming Brown was still coach, would be even more pressure filled on the heels of a disappointing 2012-13 campaign.
Also, as I have written before, time is of the essence for this current group. Thanks to their age and respective contract situations, 2013-14 is realistically the last season the quartet of Kobe, Dwight, Pau and Steve will have to win a championship playing together, which means too many “growing pains” could result in a goose egg in the championships won column.
On the other hand, Brown is also facing less pressure this season for the same exact reasons he is facing more pressure. Remember, improving your roster as much as the Lakers did this off-season is a double-edged sword. Sure, there is great pressure to succeed, but there is also a great opportunity, in this case, a great opportunity to start crawling out from under Phil Jackson’s shadow.
Let’s pretend this group of Lakers live up to expectations and win a couple of championships. They would instantly be mentioned, and likely crowned by some, as being the best team in franchise history.
And who was roaming the sidelines during this special time in Lakers history? Mike Brown, of course.
When I think of Mike Brown trying to work his way out from Jackson’s shadow, I think of the late Al Davis’ famous saying: “Just win, baby.”
Mike Brown will never be as good of a coach as Phil Jackson was, and he still has plenty of work to do before he can even be considered a really good one.
But unless he starts winning big games, Brown will be coaching under the shadow of his predecessor, and the fans who were stumped at the announcement of Brown’s hiring will still be scratching their heads.