Brown and Staff at Work
In the middle of August, Mike Brown and his newly assembled coaching staff gathered around the conference table in the coaches' office at the Lakers practice facility and began going through Brown’s offensive and defensive playbooks, page by page.
After Brown was hired on May 31, both Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Dr. Jerry Buss spoke of being impressed with the playbook Brown had put together throughout his previous years in coaching ... but the one currently sitting on his desk is quite a bit different.
“I want to make sure that every play fits our personnel," Brown explained. "If there are great plays I had in the past that don’t fit these players, then those plays go out the window. I try to be conscious that everything we do has a purpose for the personnel.”
The offensive book alone features over 200 plays, each of which must be fully understood by each of Brown's coaches.
Daily meetings with his staff – composed of assistants John Kuester, Chuck Person, Quin Snyder, newly-hired Darvin Ham and assistant to the head coach Kyle Triggs – typically begin at 10 a.m., and conclude anywhere between 6-8 p.m. These X and O heavy sessions have been particularly important as only Kuester has coached underneath Brown before.
“All my coaches are learning the whole package, and that’s part of why we have the playbooks,” he said. “In case a coach ever needs to clarify something and no one else is around, they can just pop the book open and it’s right there to help prepare them to teach or lead whatever drill they might be teaching. Until the season gets started, that’s what we can (focus on).”
Because even Kuester has spent the past few years away from Brown while serving as head coach of the Pistons, Brown’s office has been filled with new ideas.
“These other guys have all been with several other head coaches at various stops, and have been able to bring their own expertise to the table to make something better, or improve upon something that I thought of,” said Brown. “The fact that they haven’t been around me as long is helpful because they think differently.”
A closer look at what each assistant coach brings to Brown’s staff reveals a strong collection of basketball acumen:
JOHN KUESTER: The man Brown simply calls “Q” is the only other coach on Brown’s staff with head coaching experience in the NBA, which Brown has found quite helpful as Kuester had two seasons to develop his own ideas and concepts. It’s particularly advantageous that Kuester coached under Brown in Cleveland both in general and because he’s already quite familiar with the terminology in the playbooks, which hasn’t much changed.
Should Brown get ejected from a game, it’s Kuester who will assume head coaching duties for the Lakers … not that Brown’s planning on it. “I would like to create a culture of controlling our own destiny, and I feel like if I get on the refs and keep getting kicked out, it’s a double negative for me, because it’d then be hard for me to get on players when they are spending time and energy arguing with the refs," he said. "Furthermore, I have to go home and explain to my wife why my paycheck keeps decreasing.”
CHUCK PERSON: Aside from being a great defensive mind, Person is key to this staff as the lone holdover from Phil Jackson’s crew, which has been particularly helpful when tailoring the playbook to L.A.’s personnel. Person is already very specifically familiar with the players on Brown’s new roster, and has Brown’s trust from their days together in Indiana (Brown an assistant to Rick Carlisle, Person in basketball operations).
QUIN SNYDER: Brown has enjoyed listening to the knowledge Snyder gained for the bevy of basketball minds under whom he’s coached, such as Philadelphia’s Doug Collins and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Snyder was also able to develop several of his own concepts while coaching at the college and D-League levels, and apply what he can into Brown’s playbooks.
DARVIN HAM: Ham literally walked into the door just yesterday, but has had Brown's trust since 1996, when Brown was in Denver's basketball ops department. “The thing that excites me is that there’s a history of trust between myself and Darvin,” said Brown. “Starting when I was in Denver when he was a rookie, I saw first hand his daily work ethic, and his will and want to grind and get better. He could have easily not made any team he tried out or played for, but his determination and toughness, physically and mentally, helped him play many years in the league when he wasn’t your prototypical NBA player.“He was an undersized big that had to be smart, athletic and active and bring intangibles to the table just to survive in this league. Iwitnessed it first hand, and then year after year from afar, and through the time we’ve been in the league together, our friendship has grown.”
Also happy to have Ham on staff is Snyder, the former Dukie who is constantly outnumbered by UNC Tar Heels Kupchak and Kuester. Ham was famously featured on the Sports Illustrated cover after shattering the backboard on a dunk against North Carolina in the 1996 NCAA tournament, in which his Texas Tech squad eliminated UNC.
ETTORE MESSINA: Before returning to Italy, Messina spent between two and three weeks in Los Angeles with Brown and his staff. “To bring the European perspective to the table has been refreshing for us,” said Brown. “He’s a proven winner that has been in a lot of different basketball situations.” A healthy chunk of Messina’s time was spent discussing both zone defense and zone offense, since Messina has played andfaced so much zone in Europe, which was quite helpful to Brown. Messina will return to L.A. when it looks like training camp is set to begin.
Once the season gets started, Person, Snyder and Ham will split the responsibilities of scouting Lakers opponents, and alternate coming on LakersTV to discuss the respective matchups with us. Kuester will not be assigned scouting duties, as Brown wants him taking in the entire game in case he’d need to fill in.