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What Can Mike Brown Do For The Lakers?

Mike Brown is will be the newest head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Color me surprised, yet pleased overall. But know that changes still have to be made.

Brown and the Lakers have agreed in principle Wednesday to a four-year, $18.25 million deal, according to league sources. The contract is a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth year. If the Lakers don’t pick up the option, Brown is guaranteed to receive $2.5 million. That money sounds about right considering the Lakers didn’t want to overpay for a coach after giving Phil Jackson more than $10 million per year recently. If Brown doesn’t win a championship within those first three years, that team option will become meaningless.

I’m surprised because I had put all of my money on Brian Shaw, especially after Kobe Bryant endorsed him. But when all was said and done, it appears that he wasn’t even among the top two finalists for this job. The Buss family wanted someone who would represent more of a departure from Phil Jackson and the triangle offense. Brown kind of fits that bill, but his offense can bring principles of the triangle at times. I hope Shaw finds his head coaching job soon. He deserves one.

Brown was relatively successful as head coach of the Cavaliers from 2005-10 and got a raw deal when he was fired one season after being named Coach of the Year. He won 66 percent of his games in Cleveland, including 60-win seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10. I say relatively because Brown didn’t get that ring. Many in L.A. will be wary of him because Brown never led his team to a championship, got swept out of the Cavs’ only NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and guided teams that were seen as playoffs busts in his last two seasons after winning 127 games.

But please consider the personnel he had to send out onto the floor. Here’s a list of the Cavaliers’ second-best player for each season Brown was head coach. The No. 1 guy ended up taking his talents — well, you know:

2005-06: Zydrunas Ilgauskas. It could have been Larry Hughes if he didn’t get hurt.

2006-07: Hughes. Ilgauskas is close and hey, Drew Gooden played pretty well at times!

2007-08:Ilgauskas. Notable mention: Daniel Gibson. And Delonte West made some big shots in the playoffs.

2008-09: Mo Williams

2009-10: Williams. And whom was supposed to be the guy to get this 61-win team over the top of the mountain? Antawn Jamison.

The point is, if Brown can coax 50-60 wins out of teams with that level of talent, he should be able to do more with likes of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant. The biggest legitimate concern with Brown is his offensive philosophy, which has been described as slow, unimaginative, isolated, boring, basically everything L.A. is not. But it’s funny how good players can make a coach look smart. In Cleveland, Brown had to lean on LeBron to do everything. He’s got options in Los Angeles, and I am sure he’ll find ways to use them all, even if I’m not sure how he will yet.

Back to Kobe: Of course, the Lakers need to make sure he’s copacetic with the new head coach. Right?

Well, let’s not go crazy about what Kobe thinks of Brown. Word is that Kobe respects Brown and is fine with the hire despite not being consulted before ink met paper. But what else is Kobe going to say? At this point in his career, Kobe has to understand that he is on the downside. Maybe he already realizes it. His team is coming off a playoff appearance where it got pantsed in four straight games against the Mavericks. He may have three seasons left of elite basketball. He doesn’t have the time left to run coaches out of town and wait for someone with whom he can get a better relationship.

Brown and Kobe will be just fine together, for better or worse, because they have to be. Brown knows the must-win expectations with this franchise. Kobe is aware of the same. They will need each other to fulfill those expectations. Plus, it’s not as if Brown comes to Los Angeles with absolutely no qualifications. He’s a guy who has coached LeBron with success and knows how to deal with a national star and the media in the national spotlight.

Brown’s strength as a coach is on the defensive end. The Cavs finished in the top-10 in defense from 2005-10 and held opponents to a league-low 91.4 points per game in 2008-09. People see that, look at the Lakers’ defensive indifference during the playoffs and say this good be a good match. But the Lakers already have a good defense according to the statistics. They held opponents to 43.7 percent shooting this season, fifth-best in the NBA. They had the league’s eighth-best defense during the regular season.

The Lakers aren’t the Suns; they can play defense. Unfortunately, they just didn’t feel like doing so in these playoffs. You can say that they were worn out and didn’t have the desire after winning back-to-back titles. In that lies Brown’s most important task — can he motivate all of these parts to reach a championship level again? I think so, but with what he’s working with, he won’t be given any sort of grace period. =

This can’t be the end of the Lakers’ offseason. Finding a new head man is fine, and I think it’s a solid move. It’s not Pat Riley, but Brown can work well in Los Angeles. But the Lakers still have numerous issues to address on their bench, at point guard and with their perimeter shooting. If they don’t improve those areas, a championship will evade the Lakers for another season, no matter whom is the head coach.

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