The last time he stepped foot in Staples Center, Mike Brown pleaded patience with the Lakers’ slow start and their learning curve with his Princeton-based offense.
The Lakers’ front office didn’t listen.
Instead, they fired Brown following a 1-4 record last season and brought in Mike D’Antoni in hopes that would boost a Hall of Famer roster toward a championship. It didn’t happen.
Endless infighting and overlapping injuries contributed toward the Lakers losing in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs. But Brown returned to Staples Center as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coach refusing to question whether the Lakers gave him a fair shake.
“That’s a question for the Buss family and Mitch [Kupchak]. I appreciate the opportunity they gave me,” said Brown, who replaced Byron Scott at Cleveland after going 64-166 through three seasons. “I have no ill will at all toward this place. I enjoyed my time here.”
Brown led the Lakers to the 2012 Western Conference semifinals before losing in five games to Oklahoma City, a one-game improvement from the previous season despite various obstacles. The lockout shortened season. The nixed Chris Paul deal. The Lakers trading Lamar Odom. And, of course, succeeding Phil Jackson, who won five of his 11 NBA titles with the Lakers.
“Whether you’re filling Phil’s shadow or going back to Cleveland and filling Byron [Scott’s] shadow, you expect to win,” Brown said. “It’s all the same.”
Not necessarily. The Lakers hired D’Antoni despite interviewing Jackson and suggesting he was the favored candidate.
“Anytime you follow a great coach, expectations are way high,” D’Antoni said. “Every situation is different. In reality, you just deal with it and do the best you can do.”
Brown showed sympathy.
“Mike D’Antoni is a good coach. It’s great they give him an opportunity here,” Brown said. “In time, he’ll get this thing headed in the right direction.”
Did Brown receive enough time?
“Everybody would love to have a ton of time to come together,” Brown said. “Yeah, I would like time just like Mike would like time.”
Plenty of Lakers players tired of Brown’s long practices, film sessions and morning shootarounds. The Lakers also felt information overload when they tried learning Brown’s Princeton-run offense last season.
“I like Mike as a guy and his discipline and dedication to the game and his job,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “That didn’t quite fit here.”
Brown’s struggling with Cleveland, who hasn’t lived up to pre-season expectations as a playoff team. The Cavaliers also traded All-Star center Andrew Bynum, who had behavior issues both with the Lakers and Cleveland.
“I love Kobe [Bryant], but Kobe and I got into it too,” said Brown, who once benched him late in a game. “Andrew wasn’t the only one I had a disagreement with on a guy on the roster. When you coach an NBA team, you have disagreements with guys on your roster. That’s part of being a head coach of a basketball team.”
Brown acknowledged he hasn’t kept in touch with plenty of Laker players. Gasol admitted he likely wouldn’t greet him at pre-game warmups.
“I don’t really talk to coaches or players,” Gasol said, “unless they’re really close to me.”
Yet, Brown said he’s still forged enough of a connection with Bryant.
“We don’t talk all the time, but we communicated a couple of times,” Brown said. “The respect is there I think from him to me. I know the respect from me to him is there too. To be around him, I felt like I learned a lot in the short amount of time. We didn’t always agree, but I don’t think he always agreed with Phil neither.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org