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Mike Brown talks the talk

The Buss family is impressed, and the Lakers' new coach sounds good at his introductory news conference, but will the players buy into a new system?

May 31, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Lakers Coach Mike Brown shares a laugh with some acquaintances following a news conference in El Segundo on Tuesday.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown shares a laugh with some acquaintances following… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

He grabbed the side of the lectern as if it were a life preserver. He shouted and gestured like someone thrashing in deep water.

Mike Brown bounced across the Lakers' horizon Wednesday afternoon as if fighting for his life and, you know what?

He is, and the whole thing sort of worked.

"I'll define the culture, I'll define roles, and I'll hold people accountable," the new coach intoned across the practice gym, each syllable echoing off the gold championship banners that will hold him accountable.

From Zen to zealous, from meditation to perspiration, the Lakers have gone from the son of a preacher to, well, a preacher himself.

"I was impressed," owner Jerry Buss said after Brown's introductory news conference. "Weren't you impressed?"

Actually, yes. While I still think Brown was not the right choice to replace the legendary Phil Jackson, the new guy came out spewing the sort of fire and brimstone necessary to handle a tenure that could turn into a living hell.

"I'm not sure what size shoe he wears, but I'm not here to fill his shoes," Brown said of Jackson. "I'm here to help this team and organization carve our own path to success."

Just like the trail that led him out of Cleveland after five seasons amid reports that he couldn't get along with star LeBron James, his new path will initially be also bit of a lonely one.

Only one Lakers player, Matt Barnes, attended the news conference, and even though most of the others were either reportedly out of town or headed that way, aren't these guys rich enough to change their plans?

While several members of the usually background-dwelling Buss family sat in the front row in a unique show of support, even patriarch Jerry Buss acknowledged that Brown wasn't his initial choice, saying, "I didn't think he would be the man."

Then there were Brown's fingers. While most of the attention was on his expressive face, it was difficult not to notice that he is first Lakers coach in 11 years to address the media without fingers that have worn head coaching championship rings.

"But we took all the championships," Buss said with a grin. "Very few other coaches had a chance."

What everyone heard Tuesday was what convinced the Lakers to hire Brown even though he was only the third coach they officially interviewed and a far different coach than player favorite Brian Shaw. The new guy was forceful, he was focused, and he was full of warnings.

"I gotta preach it, I gotta talk it, I gotta teach it," Brown said. "In time, if [the players] haven't bought in, they will … if they don't, there'll be a problem, because I'm holding everybody accountable."

He talked about dumping the triangle and installing a tougher defense. He talked about turning the emotionally inconsistent Lakers into "15 angry men." At one point, he even offered to take the media out on the court and coach them too.

"I liked his Xs and O's and his vision for our future," Buss said.

Buss' son Jim, who was the catalyst in pushing for Brown, also liked his feistiness when it came to DVDs that Brown has compiled to display his renowned defensive philosophy.

Brown brought the discs to his job interview with Lakers officials. But when Jim Buss had to leave the interview early and asked to borrow them, Brown refused. When asked about the key to Brown's hiring, father and son mentioned this resistance as a turning point.

Said Brown: "It has something to do with some DVDs that he really wanted to look at that I wouldn't allow."

Said Jim Buss: "I hired him to get our hands on those DVDs."

While the DVDs were not showing at the news conference, Brown's reference to their workings sounded like a broken record.

"Defense wins championships," he said, again and again.

"You've got to play defense," he said, louder and louder.

While the message is a good one, this day was about the arrival of a new messenger, and questions about whether the Lakers will pay him any heed.

He was smart enough to meet with Kobe Bryant on Tuesday morning, but if he couldn't get through to LeBron , how he is going to reach Kobe? He will try to create an inside game for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that imitates the one used by Tim Duncan and David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, where Brown served as an assistant coach during their 2003 championship team, but will the precocious big guys listen?

"As long as the group is willing, which it sounds like it is, we'll get it done," Brown said.

As long as the group is willing. That's an assumption that will undoubtedly become a hurdle that will require every bit of the energy that Mike Brown showed Tuesday.

The guy talks a great game. But applause — and breath — will be held until he shows this town he can coach one.

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