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Lakers' Mike Brown looks for answers amid the questions

Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Chris Paul, among others, have shifted focus from new Lakers coach to date. Brown's humor is working and he's getting along with Bryant, but fans will demand much more.

December 21, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers Coach Mike Brown speaks with Kobe Bryant prior to the start of Monday's exhibition loss to the Clippers. Brown has seen the Lakers go through a lot of changes in the last couple weeks.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown speaks with Kobe Bryant prior to the start of Monday's… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)

Mike Brown sat down for his first news conference after the NBA lockout ended.

What a perfect time to talk about Chris Paul.

A day later, the new Lakers coach fielded more pressing questions — where was Lamar Odom? — followed by another set in ensuing days: Why was Odom traded?

Not to be forgotten over the last two weeks were the Dwight-Howard-to-the-Lakers rumors, Kobe Bryant's divorce, the continual analysis of Pau Gasol's mind-set after the nixed Paul trade, and the growing buzz around town about the Clippers.

Brown's tenure has been about everything but Brown.

"Aw, man, I don't know where to start," he said when training camp started. "There's no handbook out there or anything like that. You just kind of deal with stuff as you go. … I don't know what else could happen."

Welcome to Los Angeles?

Brown accepted a four-year deal in June worth $18 million. He meticulously planned for a season during the NBA lockout, asking assistant coaches to report to the team training facility four days a week so they could pore over last season's game videos and create a playbook of his offensive and defensive theories.

A lot of that video became irrelevant after the surprise departure of Odom, as well as the loss of Shannon Brown, not to mention the addition of free-agent power forwards Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy.

"You see all the changes here and at times it can catch you off guard," Brown said in a quiet moment after a recent Lakers practice. "But first of all, No. 24 is still here and that's exciting. And I do like all the guys on this team. We still have a good opportunity to accomplish our ultimate goal at the end of the season, and that's why maybe I'm not in much of a panic mode as what some people may be around here. Let's let it play out."

He made a point of courting Bryant as soon as he was hired and, conversely, was not afraid to criticize the star guard after the exhibition opener Monday against the Clippers, pointing out to reporters that Bryant was one of many Lakers whose defense was subpar.

Brown called a timeout less than a minute into the third quarter that night after Bryant left Clippers guard Chauncey Billups open for a three-point attempt.

"That's his job," Bryant said. "I'd be upset if he was letting me skate through things. If you make mistakes, it's a coach's responsibility to point those out. If he can't point that out to me, he has no chance in pointing that out to anybody else."

Brown was out of basketball last season after getting fired by Cleveland in May 2010. He had a 272-138 record, a .663 winning percentage that was the highest for a coach in Cavaliers history, but it wasn't enough. He failed to win a championship with LeBron James and, in whispers surrounding his departure, failed to win over James.

Bryant knew about the rumors.

"What I heard about him was he was a pushover, he doesn't say what he's thinking," Bryant said. "I haven't seen that at all. He's been the complete opposite. He's been detail-oriented, upfront, open and honest. Praises guys when they do well, jumps on them when they mess up right away. He does that with me. He does that with Pau. He does that with Devin [Ebanks]. It's no different."

Brown, 41, has a self-deprecating humor that clicks with most people he meets. In a recent interview with reporters, he compared his lack of endorsement deals to the many that fell at the feet of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"I think they look at me as a junior or something like that," Brown said of advertisers. "I'm not in any commercial. I'm not getting paid big bucks like Phil."

Brown acknowledged he was endorsed by a sunglasses company that used to give him sets of frames when he was Cleveland's coach.

"Now that I'm the Laker coach, shoot, [they're] giving me the frames and the glasses and plenty of them for free," he said.

Brown also gets free use of a luxury sports sedan.

The humor is working. But Lakers fans want someone who is funny and wins games.

"Mike has just got to emphasize defense," Magic Johnson said. "He's got to get the Lakers to focus on that end of the court. The Lakers are going to be able to score. The problem with the Lakers is going to be on the defensive end. How will they be able to match up with quicker point guards? They have a big question mark at small forward. Who's going to start? Who's going to shut down small forwards?

"The game has changed. The game is now quick point guards and also tough small forwards, especially when you look in the West, so the Lakers are going to have to really concentrate on the defensive end."

Brown won't remain part of the backdrop much longer. The analysts will start to pick apart his defense, his offense and his team if the Lakers become a failure in a compressed NBA season.

A tight schedule for an older team lurks around the corner, but so might those ever-elusive endorsement deals if the Lakers win a lot more than they lose.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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