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Mike Brown's no-win new job as Lakers coach

Steve Kerr, who played for San Antonio when Mike Brown was a Spurs assistant, says Brown is tough enough to follow Phil Jackson as the new Lakers coach.

May 27, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Mike Brown barks instructions to the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game against the Boston Celtics.
Mike Brown barks instructions to the Cleveland Cavaliers during a game… (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images )

Congratulatory messages must have been choking the in-box of Mike Brown's phone the last few days, offering best wishes and, at the same time, varying notes of caution.

After all, what can you possibly say when someone is hired for one of the highest-profile jobs in sports, and is also replacing a coaching legend?

Talk about what must be the ultimate in no-win situations, trying to follow the glided path of someone named Phil Jackson and his 11 NBA championships.

"It's funny you say that because I texted Mike Brown last night," remarked TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr. "I played for Mike in San Antonio.

"And so, I texted him, 'Congratulations. At least you don't have very big shoes to fill.'"

Pun intended?

"He got a kick out of that," Kerr said, laughing.

The Lakers this week reached a deal in principle with Brown to replace the retiring Jackson. Kerr played for Jackson in Chicago, part of Jackson's second three-peat, and Kerr later added two more NBA championships with the Spurs.

Following Jackson in Chicago — post Michael Jordan — was tough enough in the late 1990s. But that was long before Jackson turned into a legend with a capital "L." And Chicago then, unlike Los Angeles now, wasn't a marketplace with an almost singular focus on one NBA franchise.

One NBA executive, who was not authorized to speak publicly, equated the coaching position in Los Angeles to that of a movie executive, saying: "The Laker job is 30% coaching and 70% running a movie studio — dealing with egos."

When Jackson left Chicago, and the Lakers (the first time), there weren't late-night twitter outbursts (Ron Artest), reality shows ("Khloe and Lamar") or TMZ.

Brown, the former Cavaliers' coach, had to deal with one larger-than-life personality: LeBron James, in a much-smaller market in Cleveland. Jackson, in L.A., coped with modern media by remaining well above the fray and crafted a message his own way, offering his take with a book or two.

"You can't really follow Phil Jackson," said Clippers point guard Mo Williams, who played for Brown in Cleveland. "It's almost like when Michael Jordan retired. Let him retire and stop comparing the new guys that come in to Michael Jordan.

"That ruined a couple of guy's careers."

And the coaching comparisons didn't do much for the NBA coaching careers of previous Jackson successors, Tim Floyd with the Bulls and Rudy Tomjanovich with the Lakers.

Tomjanovich, who earlier won back-to-back NBA championships in Houston, lasted a mere 43 games in the 2004-05 season with a retooled Lakers team, after the departures of Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Fox and Gary Payton and the retirement of Karl Malone. Tomjanovich left the bench, citing health issues

Floyd, for his part, went 49-190 in the three-plus tumultuous post-Jordan seasons with the Bulls.

Still, there are some differences in this particular succession. Kobe Bryant, unlike Jordan, has not followed Jackson into retirement. The Lakers' core remains intact, and Brown arrives with an NBA coaching resume, which includes a trip to the Finals, a .663 winning percentage and a coach-of-the-year award in 2009.

"He has his own identity," Williams said. "He's a completely different coach than Phil. Phil has his championships. Phil has his own philosophy. Mike Brown comes from [Gregg] Popovich, from that coaching staff. All those coaches that come from that [line], they perform and do a great job wherever they go."

Said Kerr: "He's obviously well aware of what he's getting into. But the way I look at it: You'd rather have pressure and talent than no pressure and no talent.

"It's a glamour job — one of the best jobs in sports. You just go into it knowing that you're going to get hit hard. There's going to be a lot of criticism and scrutiny. If you can't handle that, then you're probably not right for the job anyway.

"Mike's got guts. He's not afraid of anything like that."

The conversation turned back to guts, eventually.

Could Kerr offer a specific anecdote to that point, maybe going back to their days in San Antonio or more recently, in Cleveland? Kerr got even more present day with his observation about Brown.

"Just taking the job, in and of itself, shows that he's got guts," Kerr said.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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