Brown: It’s still Kobe’s team

Mike Brown covered a lot of ground today in his first press conference as the Lakers’ new coach. He said he met with Kobe Bryant after they talked on the phone and swapped text messages last week. Brown said he anticipated no conflict with Bryant.

“This is still his team,” Brown said. “Kobe is Kobe. He has five titles and is one of the great ever. His role will not change. We’ll make sure he’ll have the ball in the sweet spots he likes to have it. He has a great understanding of my vision and he’s on board.”

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak also had no concerns about a clash.

“I think that it’s incredibly important to have a really solid relationship with your best player,” Kupchak said. “I think (Brown) is about winning and Kobe is about winning. If we win, I don’t think there’s going to be a problem.”

Bryant was not consulted on Brown’s hiring and had campaigned publicly for the Lakers to hire longtime assistant coach Brian Shaw as Phil Jackson’s replacement. Brown was hired over Shaw and former Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman.

Brown showed he had a firm grasp of the Lakers’ culture when he said: “We don’t play for second here, simple as that. I’m excited about this roster. I still believe this core group of guys can go get it done. Now it’s up to us to go do it.”

Bryant did not attend the press conference and has not commented publicly.

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Brown press conference live

Mike Brown will be introduced as the Lakers’ new coach today at 3 p.m. Fox Sports West and foxsportswest.com will carry it live from the team’s HQ in beautiful downtown El Segundo.. Norm Nixon and Michael Eaves will do the post-press conference analysis. It’s sure to be a lively session with Brown. You’ll get all the details here this afternoon, too.

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Final grade: Johnson

Trey Johnson, backup guard:
He played only one game for the Lakers, the regular-season finale against the Sacramento Kings, so it’s hard to say what his contribution was beyond that one appearance. He definitely displayed some skills while averaging 25.5 points in 35 games with the Lakers’ developmental league affiliate in Bakersfield, however. He also played seven games with the Toronto Raptors this season and had a limited impact.

Stats (Lakers and Raptors): 8 games, 4.3 points, 0.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists.

Grade: Incomplete.

Next: Lamar Odom.

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Final grade: Gasol

Pau Gasol, power forward/center:
Eventually, everyone will forget about his lackluster play in the playoffs and remember that he is one of the best and most versatile big men in the league. Only a handful of players can shoot and pass and dribble and rebound as well as he can. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks outplayed him in the playoffs. So what? He’s outplayed a lot of dudes. The Lakers’ ugly playoff exit overshadowed a All-Star season for Gasol, who has been remarkably consistent since his trade from Memphis in 2007-08. He has averaged 18-plus points in each of the last four seasons. He also led the Lakers in scoring 16 times and rebounding 35 times in 2010-11. With the possible exception of Kobe Bryant, no one looked as fatigued as Gasol during the final days of the regular seasons plus the playoffs. A summer of rest could be just what he needs to bounce back.

Stats: 82 games, 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists.

Grade: A.

Next: Trey Johnson.

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Final grade: Fisher

Derek Fisher, point guard:
Everyone says he’s too old, too slow and should be sent to the bench. Perhaps the Lakers would be better off with a younger, faster point guard to run whatever offense they run under their new coach next season. Fisher might be an ideal backup in the years to come, filling a role as a capable contributor who can keep things together while an aging first unit gets its rest. OK, that’s the best-case scenario. It’s also possible Fisher’s career is all but dead with the Lakers. There’s no discounting his leadership skills, durability and big-shot making abilities. He has played in 495 consecutive games, the league’s longest active streak, but a new coach could decide he’s too old and slow to keep up with the game as it’s now played by younger and faster point guards. Fisher’s scoring average has dipped in each of the last three seasons, a sign he doesn’t have the impact he once did. The Lakers are likely to seek guard help in the offseason.

Stats: 82 games, 6.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists.

Grade: C.

Monday: Pau Gasol.

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Final grades: Caracter, Ebanks

Derrick Caracter, backup forward:
Retiring Lakers coach Phil Jackson made it clear over his 20-year Hall of Fame career that rookies were “lower than whale” doo-doo. Caracter fit Jackson’s stereotype to the letter, accomplishing little of note in his first season. The next move is up to him. Can he shed more weight and emerge as a useful player? Or was that all there was to see?

Stats: 41 games, 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.2 assists

Grade: Incomplete.

Devin Ebanks, backup forward:
The rookie from West Virginia hardly made an impression during his first season with the Lakers. He does have some skills that could come in handy for the future. It will be interesting to see whether the Lakers keep him around and give him a chance to take the next steps in his career. He is extremely athletic and could be a player who fills a void that’s been glaring since Trevor Ariza left as a free agent after the 2008-09 season.

Stats: 20 games, 3.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.1 assists.

Grade: Incomplete

Next: Derek Fisher.

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Kupchak interview

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spent 10 minutes with Dan Patrick on his radio program this morning. Among the highlights, Kupchak revealed the choice of Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach was a unanimous decision. Kupchak, team owner Jerry Buss and his son Jim Buss made the decision together. Kupchak also indicated the “right was not right” to give assistant coach Brian Shaw his first job as an NBA head coach. In addition, Kupchak said Jackson told him he might have made a mistake by returning to coach one final season in 2010-11. Here’s more:

Why not promote assistant coach Brian Shaw?
Kupchak: “It’s not so much that we chose not to hire Brian because he’s not qualified. I think our feelings going into it were we felt we needed a new voice with this team. The old staff had been with us for almost 11 years. We didn’t end the season as strongly as we hoped. We just felt it was time for a change. Brian is a very, very qualified individual. He’ll be in the NBA for many, many years and he may end up being the Lakers coach one day. But we didn’t feel it was the time right now.”

Was there any discussion of Jackson coming back for 2011-12?
Kupchak: “Phil made it clear two years ago that he was at or near the end. He chose to come back one more year. After the season ended this year, he and I kind of looked at each other and he indicated to me, ‘You know, I felt I had to come back. Three in a row was too much to pass on, but maybe I did the wrong thing.’ I’m glad he came back, but it was clear he came back for one more year and only one more year. He has no desire to coach next year and I think he’s very happy with his decision. Certainly, we all would have liked the season to end on a better note. We’ve been to the Finals seven or eight times with him in an 11-year period and won five championships. That’s pretty good.”

What was it you liked about Brown?
Kupchak: “A new voice was something we felt was important at this time for our team. He certainly has great experience at the NBA level. We feel we got somebody who has a great pedigree and is experienced at the head coaching level. The interview itself was very upbeat. You don’t judge a candidate on an interview. You look at the whole body of work, but I will say in the interview he came across as a very energetic and enthusiastic person. I read some things in the last day or two that the triangle is gone. That’s not true. A lot of stuff that Mike runs is a derivative of the triangle. Those are the things that jumped out at us.”

Who had the final say on hiring Brown?
Kupchak: “Ownership always has the final say, and that’s Dr. Jerry Buss. The three of us that make these decision regarding players and coaches, etc., obviously Dr. Jerry Buss, Jim Buss and myself, I wouldn’t say wouldn’t say one person. If there’s a tie, they always defer to the basketball person. … But all of us agree on any major decision. I wouldn’t say one person has more input than the others. Having said that, obviously, at the end of the day, the owner would make the final decision.”

Was hiring Mike Brown an unanimous decision?
Kupchak: “Yes, he was.”

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Officially, it’s not official yet

The Lakers just emailed the following statement about Mike Brown:

“In response to rampant speculation and reports about our head coaching position and Mike Brown, we’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him. In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

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Lakers pick Mike Brown

So, who is Mike Brown, who appears to be on the verge of replacing Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach? Well, this Mike Brown shouldn’t be confused with the NFL owner of the same name. Or the NFL player. Or the MMA fighter. Or the astronomer. Or the motocross rider. Or the thousands of other Mike Browns. Mike Brown is a common name, and it remains to be seen whether he can stand out as the Lakers’ next coach.

What we know about this Mike Brown is that he coached the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers for five seasons until he was fired in 2010. He is the man credited with turning the Cavaliers’ franchise from laughingstock to league power. Many believe him to be the one who got James to focus on playing the sound defense you saw him play on Derrick Rose at the end of Game 4 of the Miami-Chicago playoff game Tuesday.

What’s more, Brown, 41, is the coach who led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 and to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 and ’10. He was named the coach of the year in 2009 after the Cavs went 66-16. They went 61-21 the next season, but he was fired after they were knocked off in the conference finals for the second straight season.

Brown was 272-138 with the Cavs for a .663 winning percentage, best in team history.

“I have truly enjoyed working with Mike Brown,” then-Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry said last year when Brown was fired. “Mike has played a huge role in turning around the Cavs organization. Over the past five years, Mike established a work ethic, defensive identity and culture of winning that was not here previously.”

By all accounts, Brown swayed Lakers executive Jim Buss during his interview with his focus on defense, something that was sadly lacking at times this past season, especially during the playoffs. Brown’s reputation as a defense-first coach lines up with what the Lakers want and need for the next few seasons. If he accepts their offer of three seasons plus a team option for a fourth at between $4 million and $4.5 million, then so much the better as far as the cost-conscious Buss family is concerned.

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Buss: Lakers very close to finalizing coaching candidates

Team owner Jerry Buss said the Lakers are “very close” to finalizing a list of candidates to replace the retiring Phil Jackson as coach. Buss was short on providing specifics about when a new coach would be hired, but he said during an interview on Sirius/XM Radio, “I don’t know exactly when, but a week is a long time. I should say that.”

Buss and his son, Jim, met last week with GM Mitch Kupchak to compile a list of candidates, which is believed to include Rick Adelman, Mike Brown, Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Van Gundy and current Lakers assistant Brian Shaw.

Several players, including Kobe Bryant, have lobbied openly for Shaw.

“Obviously, we have to select somebody who has a reputation that the players would be happy with,” Buss said. “But to ask a direct player to select a particular coach, that’s general manager territory. That’s out of the player domain.”

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