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Why Brown will be better head coach after Warriors stint

NBC Sports

At some point, possibly this month but more likely next year, Mike Brown will leave the Warriors and become the head coach of another NBA team. Consider this unsolicited advice to that franchise and its fans.

They won’t be getting the man who in his second season as a head coach, at age 37, guided 22-year-old LeBron James and a motley crew of Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals.

Nor will they get the man who took over the Los Angeles Lakers at the dawn of their dysfunctional spiral from the elite and was fired after 71 games.

They’ll be getting a Mike Brown who, having absorbed the Warriors Experience, is more up to the task by a margin too wide to measure.

Brown retains many of his obsessive ways, detailed as the motor of a Rolex, constantly making lists, dotting all the “i’s” and crossing every “t” and slipping each button into the proper hole. All of which is why he reportedly was impressive in an interview last week with the Los Angeles Clippers.

But his old reputation of being pedantic and relatively stiff, didn’t really connect with players, particularly the stars. He’s the only man to coach both Kobe Bryant and James, posting winning records with both, and still was sent packing.

Brown’s formal approach, however, has been greatly mitigated by his four years as Steve Kerr’s lead assistant with the Warriors. He has learned to loosen up and unveil his humanity. 

 

“When I first started coaching, most of the coaches were Type-A personalities. I was, too,” Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “You coached differently 15 years ago. The players were different. The league was different.

“To be around Steve, to feel and see and smell and taste the richness that he brings to the table, but also the respect he gets, is a beautiful thing to watch.”

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The Warriors under Kerr never want to stray far from the joy of basketball. They inject copious amounts of humor into team video review. They play a wide variety of music -- rap, R&B, salsa, rock and more -- during practices, a routine that initially had veteran forwards Kevin Durant and David West, as well as Brown, wondering what kind of weird world they’d walked into as new Warriors back in 2016.

Nowadays, an evolved Brown often nods and bounces to the beat.

This was altogether different from what Brown experienced in seven seasons as NBA assistant, working under Bernie Bickerstaff, Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich. Two fine coaches and one legend, but joy was not among the primary elements of daily operations.

Brown had to absorb that new environment. He saw how well it worked. Saw how it gave the players a voice. Realized how this was one more thing that players appreciated and that provided a sense of freedom without sacrificing performance on the court. Might have enhanced it.

Sure, there was an abundance of talent on those teams. But Kerr recognizes that managing talent is more important than anything he can scribble on a white board. Most NBA players, certainly the veterans, comprehend tactics and strategy and plot out X’s and O’s. What they need is a staff to regulate the personalities.

Brown’s X’s and O’s always have been solid. His improvisation and flexibility needed work. Now 50, he considers it part of the maturation process gained from being in the company of such smart and affable veteran players, from Steph Curry and Draymond Green, to Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, to Kevin Durant and David West, among others.

“You learn a lot from those players, especially from guys that have been around for a long time and been with a lot of different teams, been in losing situations and winning situations,” Brown said. “You learn a lot about how to coach them. Those guys have all been very instrumental in my growth, not only as a coach but also as a person.”

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Brown has interviewed with the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Clippers. New York hired Tom Thibodeau. The other two jobs remain open.

Considering the baggage in New York, the vacancy in LA is vastly more appealing. There is talent and team chairman Steve Ballmer, by far the wealthiest owner in sports, is eager to win. Tyronn Lue, the former Cleveland coach who spent last season as Doc Rivers’ top assistant in with the Clips, has the inside track, according to league sources. But Lue also has interviewed with the Pelicans and arrived Sunday in Houston to meet with the Rockets.

 

Word out of Indianapolis is that Brown is a longshot. In addition, some players and coaches around the league question the dismissal of Nate McMillan. Oklahoma City remains vacant, as does New Orleans. The sense around the league is that once Lue lands a gig, other contenders will follow. 

Maybe Brown will be hired soon. Maybe he won’t. He’s not restless and says he still enjoys his role with the Warriors. But if the right team calls at the right time, he’s more rounded and ready than ever.