Mike Brown Transitions to the Season
Mike Brown is more than ready to spend a lot less time in his office at the Lakers practice facility, and a lot more teaching his newly-designed offense and somewhat-tweaked defense on the actual practice court.
It was an ever so long summer and fall as we head into December, but in time spent, Brown and his staff were able to fully preparewhat they intend to implement for the 2011-12 NBA season, set to commence with an abbreviated training camp in advance of preseason games on Dec. 19 and 21 against the Clippers.
We sat down with Brown in his office on Thursday afternoon to discuss his specific plans for camp, his thoughts on several Lakers, the team’s personnel wants and needs and more:
Brown: Actually on Wednesday, we started going through the training camp schedule, and we’re putting on paper what we want to teach, how we want to teach it and when we can best teach it. We’re still waiting to figure out how many two-a-days we’ll be able to go through, and that’s important to get more stuff in. We’re in the process of putting our first few practice plans together before camp starts, but since we will meet an hour before and after every practice as a staff, we won’t plan the next several after that as it will depend upon how much we’re able to accomplish with the first few.
MT: What does the first practice look like on paper?
Brown: First, once guys get in, we’ll have a discussion – either before or after practice – in which I give guys the lay of the land. Normally you’d have a team meal for that, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to with limited time. After the players get warmed up, it will be a lot of teaching. That first practice will be mentally more than physically challenging, a lot of standing, talking and demonstrating. We’ll touch base on our main warm-up drill, and then we’ll hit individual defense including close outs and stance on the ball, individual post defense prior to and after the catch and transition defense, whether it’s 5-on-5, 3-on-1 and so on. We’ll also talk about a few things offensively, like court orientation, which is basically our spacing. Then we’ll put in a couple of generic plays just so we can start defending against those things, and also understand the different spots on the court. The last thing for the day to hopefully get done is introducing our shell defense. If we can get all of that done and not overwhelm the players, I think it will be a successful morning.
MT: That’s just in one session? Well, you mentioned the defensive shell, and as I don’t trust my high school varsity recollection of putting it in, can you detail it for us?
Brown: It’s a way to explain your defensive positioning in a 4-on-4 environment, and it breaks it down and helps you teach a number of things: positioning for when the ball moves from one side of the court to another; when the ball is driven baseline, where the ball is coming from and how to get your help; if the ball is in the middle; if guys pass and cut; or if the ball is exchanged on the weak side and how to deal with it all in a basic, structured environment, one that’s already scripted. It’s one of my favorite things to use, and I’m sure our guys will enjoy it … if they don’t, they’ll at least learn something from it. I’ll have to measure how much we can put in all at one time based on how receptive the players are. You don’t want to beat a dead horse if they don’t get it right away, but you also may be able to push forward faster than you’d thought.
MT: You were asked about what you expected your relationship with Kobe Bryant to be quite often after taking the job. What do you anticipate from No. 24 in the coming days?
Brown: One of the many things I took away from (Spurs coach) Gregg Popovich when I was with him was, regardless of how successful he’s been as a coach, he always tells me that Tim Duncan allows (Popovich) to coach him. That’s an interesting way to put it. In this business, if you want to succeed at the highest level, you have to be able to work together, as opposed to somebody working for somebody else. We’re all in this thing together because we have one common goal. I know Kobe’s going to bring the work ethic, I know I’m going to bring the work ethic, and that’s where the respect level will increase. That’ll lead to more trust. We’re both competitors striving for the same goal.
MT: How much does having veterans that generally understand the game like Bryant, Pau Gasol or Derek Fisher mitigate the difficulty of putting in a new system in such a short time?
Brown: You do feel from watching games, coaching against these guys and having the luxury of (Phil Jackson holdover) Chuck Person on staff that these guys are an intelligent group. Not only do they have a great feel of the game, but they’re also very hungry. With the way their season ended last year, it’s almost like they have a point to prove. That’s exciting to be around.
MT: Do you anticipate the memory of being swept by Dallas to have lost any immediacy with the longer layoff? I suppose you could always pop Game 4 on the screen, in a pinch…
Brown: I don’t think that competitive juice always flows with everybody, but with this group here, specifically starting with Kobe Bryant, I think it still resonates in the player’s guts. When talking to the guys after I was hired, all I spoke to were very upset about how last season ended. That in itself is a motivation tool that I couldn’t even come up with myself. And yes, I do have last season’s game film.
MT: The core of the roster returns from last season; what kind of conversations have you had with GM Mitch Kupchak about adding to it?
Brown: You continue having discussions, and there are a lot of different variables that come into play when you talk about putting your team together. A lot of times, someone may offer you a talented player whom you may not need, but you have to weigh whether or not he’s better than the ones you have and if he fits your system. So you have to entertain it. But when I look at our roster, I like what I see. We obviously have some roster spots open, and with a shortened season, I think you have to utilize your depth. And so, the spots you have open you want to fill with guys that you think can give you minutes. We’re trying to see if there are guys out there that can help us, that can add to the depth we have.
MT: How much have you thought about minute distribution at this point?
Brown: I have a tool that I call my “minutes sheet.” It’s something I got from (Mavericks coach) Rick Carlisle, which allows me to script what my rotation will be like through the course of a game. I’ve already done quite a few of these with (Lakers personnel), and I just did my last one two days ago. While it will be a work in progress, I’ve definitely been thinking about it.
MT: Last season, Kobe’s minutes dropped down to 33.9 per game from 38.8 in 2009-10, while his production per minute largely increased. Have you thought about an ideal number for him?
Brown: I look at Kobe as right around a 34-minute per game player, give or take a few minutes. It could be a little less or a little more. It’s thinking about the given game, but also factoring in the back-to-backs, his age, where we are in the course of a season and so on.
MT: And for the big man rotation of Pau Gasol*, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom?
Brown: Those three will be rotating at the 4 and 5 positions, and will all be roughly around the 30-34 minute mark, based on who’s playing well, matchups and so on.
*In 2010-11, Gasol played 10 more minutes per game than Bynum (37.0 to 27.8), while Odom played 32.2, his average up due to the 28 games Bynum missed.
MT: The history of the league has revolved largely around big men, with some notable exceptions, and the aforementioned trio has obviously been critical towards two championships already. How do you best utilize the bigs in 2011-12?
Brown: For the most part, you do have to have a special guy down on that low block in order to get it done. Looking at Gasol and Bynum, it allows you to do a lot of different things with their combination of length and skill. That means the opposing defense is probably going to be scrambling a lot more than they normally will because our bigs demand double teams, and that creates so many options on offense.
MT: Given the attention the bigs and Kobe draw, does this team need more shooting? Or can certain guys on the roster improve considerably from last year to become more threatening?
Brown: It’s a combination of both, where guys on roster can get better at knocking down shots, and we can look at bringing in more shooting. Particularly with this team and how many open shots come out of the offensive threats wehave. But I don’t think there’s a single team out there that doesn’t want more shooting. You can always ask for that.
MT: The bench was a strength for L.A. to start the season before Matt Barnes hurt his knee in January, just a few games after Andrew Bynum made his debut in late December, but struggled to contribute down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Brown: I’m interested to see what Barnes will bring to the table. It was harder to get a great feel last year because of his injury. Hopefully he spent the offseason working hard, and we can see what that means for what role he will play, just like the rest of our guys.
MT: The Lakers did not get typical production from the point guard position last season, but how much of that has to do with the triangle/role within the offense and all the mouths to feed? How much was simply not shooting the ball well enough?
Brown: I think first of all, in the triangle system, the point guard spot is different from what you typically see from traditional points like Derrick Rose or Chris Paul, who are asked to make plays for teammates or themselves. And if not, at least they have to get guys in the right position and deliver the ball to initiate the offense. But in the triangle, sometimes your small forward or shooting guard is initiating, and they don’t need the point guard to play a typical role. It doesn’t make the position as sexy, so, some of the criticism may be a little too much on Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Both guys are going to do exactly what you ask them to do on both sides of the floor, both are professionals and can be very productive as a combination. (Our) offense will be similar in some aspects to the triangle in that the pressures won’t be there for the point guards to make plays. But with that said, if our point guards are capable at different times, they’ll definitely be able to go make a play. With the spacing and some of the sets we’ll have, it will allow the point guard to go create. So we’ll have the flexibility to do a little of both at that position.
MT: Is Ron Artest still an elite perimeter defensive player, as he’s been for the Lakers since arriving?
Brown: Yes. Now, on defense, if you’re a perimeter player, you may lose a step or two as you get older. I haven’t coached Ron since 2004, so I don’t know exactly how much lateral quickness he’s lost since then, but you do know he has an intelligence and understanding of the game on that end of the floor. That’s hard to teach. A lot of times, having that intuition on what to do in certain times against certain players is something you gain over time. And on top of that, he has physical attributes that will help him continue to defend at a high level: the length of his arms, his strength, his size, his hands, and that intelligence/intuition.
MT: Have you enjoyed thinking about how you want to utilize the ever versatile Odom?
Brown: Really watching tape of Lamar closely, as I’ve done of late as opposed to scouting him as an opposing coach, you can see that he has the ability to post up. We all know he can shoot the three, handle the ball and take his guy off the dribble, but he’s really a pretty good post up player that can turn off either shoulder. We want to get him the ball more on the block. That said, what makes him unique is his ability to take other bigs out on the perimeter and take them off the dribble. Defensively, with his agility, athleticism, length and intelligence, plus his ability to cover power forwards and many small forwards, he should be one of our top defenders. He can even defend some guards and centers.
MT: Odom has been the key “locker room guy” for this team, keeping guys loose, happy and together. Is that something you can anticipate? How much does the team vibe vary each year, depending on the coach and situation?
Brown: A lot of different guys bring different things to the table, and one of the things I want to preach to our guys early on is having a bunker mentality. Even though it’s 66 games, it’s still a long season, a long time for us to be together, and I feel very confident that this team is together for one goal. If that’s the case, we have to make sure no outside influences penetrate our locker room, and if we do that, we’ll have a lot of success and reach our goal this year.
MT: What have you gained personally since shaking hands with Dr. Jerry Buss and Kupchak in late May?
Brown: The time has allowed me to come down from my high of having a job like this one coaching the Lakers, which is a dream job for a lot of people. It’s helped me get to know my coaches much better, like Quinn Snyder, Darvin Ham and Ettore Messina, whom I didn’t know as well, and even getting to learn about Chuck Person as a coach. Just allowing us to go at a pace to get to know one another, that helped continue with our preparation for this year. And it’s been more than just basketball, as it’s allowed me to spend more time with my wife, my two sons Elijah and Cameron as well as the young lady that's staying with us, Nirra, in our transition to life in California. That’s been a big positive.
MT: What’s the plan with Messina, when is he coming back from Italy? And how about hiring some further staff like on theplayer development side?
Brown: He’s scheduled to be here at the beginning of next week. Full time, every day, he’s here. For the rest of the staff, we’re still in the process of hiring two player development guys, and I have an idea of who those guys will be. They are positions you don’t necessarily need when players aren’t around, but we’re in that process now. While our coaches will also develop players, there will be times that my staff (Kuester, Person, Snyder, Ham and Messina) will be meeting preparing for practice. Players may get here early, and if they do, we want to make sure there’s somebody that’s always on the floor waiting for the players to get here. That’s the job of player development.