It has been a whirlwind in Los Angeles for the past week with the news of the Steve Nash acquisition and the up and down reports and rumors surrounding Dwight Howard’s destination. While we are still left in the dark concerning the possibility of trading for Howard for now, Lakers Nation is still on a high knowing that Nash is officially a Laker and will (most likely) finish his career in purple and gold.
Mike Brown definitely has a lot to smile about right now. After entering and coaching in an intense spotlight, which I’ll get into in a second, Brown has a little more room to breathe with Nash as the new point guard in town. However, while Nash’s impact naturally makes the game easier for everyone, already high expectations just got a lot higher.
When Brown was hired last summer as the heir to legendary coach Phil Jackson, the standard that he had to meet was extreme. Yes, at the end of the day he got his team to the second round of the playoffs, the same achievement as Jackson made in the previous year with essentially the same core players. Still, it did not meet expectations, which in Laker language translates to failure.
During the season many people, including myself, criticized Mike Brown for his coaching philosophy, style and methods. Throughout the year, Brown consistently changed and altered rotations, which only had a negative affect on an already struggling bench and frustrated the players and the fans. Despite being proclaimed as a “defensive minded” coach, the team’s defensive statistics were only slightly improved.
However, the area that was most affected with the changes made by Brown was the Lakers offense. Of course, there were going to be times of hesitation while running offensive plays since the core of the Lakers had been imprinted with utilizing the triangle offense. Many of the Lakers, including Kobe Bryant, stated to the media that the team was making corrections and still learning Brown’s set plays during the season and while on the court.
In addition, Mike Brown moved Pau Gasol to the high-post and changed him to a pass-first player, which was foreign to Gasol in a Laker uniform. Brown dramatically increased the number of touches that Andrew Bynum received per game and designated him as the second option. He also played Bryant too many minutes and gave him to much control of the offense, which certainly impacted his numbers and shot selection.
This is why Mike Brown can’t stop smiling these days. Nash’s presence will immediately calm the offensive struggles that the Lakers faced last season. Bryant, Nash and Gasol have outstanding basketball IQs separately, but combined they are more than enough to be able to run the offense at the highest level. Therefore, Brown can focus more on team defense and how to get it to run more fluid on a nightly basis.
On the basketball court, Brown is particularly eager to plot what Nash can do from a pick and roll perspective. Among the best to ever run the NBA’s most popular set, Nash offers myriad looks in screen/roll situations when paired with either of L.A.’s skilled seven footers. But as Brown explained, don’t sleep on how effective Nash could be in a ‘1-2 pick and roll’ with Bryant.
“That’s a great combination to play pick and roll, because if they mess up at all, Steve’s going to get a great look,” Brown said. “Or they may switch, and now Kobe’s going to get a great look rolling Steve’s guy down to the post. I’m looking forward to (that).”
However, because of the vast improvement Nash brings to the Lakers, the spotlight that has been fixed on Mike Brown since he was hired by Jim Buss last summer, will only get brighter. Regardless of the possibility of the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard, they are already being named the favorites to win the West, or at least give the Oklahoma City Thunder a very legitimate run for their money.
Remember how I said Mike Brown’s expectations in Los Angeles just got higher? His performance as head coach will be under the microscope this coming season. The good news for Mike Brown is that he will have a full and complete training camp and pre-season, which was sorely missed last year, to bring everyone on board and on the same page with each other and his strategies.
If for some reason things don’t go as planned for the Lakers in the beginning of the season, Mike Brown and his job will be on the hot seat. In professional sports, it is always the head coach to be the first one to go when expectations aren’t met. It’s part of the game. After receiving a bit of a pass last season, mostly due to the lockout, do not expect that to occur again. Next season will truly be the predictor of Brown’s merit in Los Angeles.