Lakers reach deal in principle with Mike Brown

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mike Brown got fired a year ago for winning just about everything but a championship while coaching LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And that’s still just a fraction of the pressure he’ll face in his new job in Hollywood.

The Los Angeles Lakers have reached an agreement in principle with Brown to succeed 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson, the team said Wednesday.

Brown will get a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million, a person with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Lakers hadn’t yet formally hired Brown.

“We’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him,” said a statement issued by the Lakers. “In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

Brown certainly doesn’t shy away from a coaching challenge. After the Cavs dumped him following an otherwise successful five-year tenure, he’s moving to a storied franchise with a veteran superstar who’s only happy if they’re collecting titles in bunches.

Oh, and he’s replacing the coach with more rings than anybody in NBA history.

During an interview on ESPN during halftime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Brownsaid he already had exchanged text messages with Kobe Bryant, who had endorsed Jackson assistant coach Brian Shaw for the job.

Brown is “looking forward to getting to know Kobe and being able to work with him to go and get us a championship,” he said.

With a strong interview last weekend, Brown jumped to the front of the line of candidates for the daunting task of succeeding Jackson, who retired earlier this month, with one of the NBA’s signature franchises. Brown will be the 22nd coach of the Lakers, whose 16 NBA titles trail only the Boston Celtics’ 17 in league history.

The 41-year-old Brown led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA finals and went 272-138 with Cleveland, becoming the most successful coach in franchise history while compiling the league’s best regular-season record in each of his last two seasons.

It wasn’t enough to save his job, but it clearly intrigued Lakers executive Jim Buss, who is changing his franchise’s course after an abrupt end to its two-year title reign and Jackson’s long-anticipated departure.

Shaw was the favorite candidate among the current Lakers, with Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum joining Bryant in throwing their support behind him. Fisher tweeted his approval of Brown’s arrival late Wednesday.

“Will miss Phil but excited to start a new chapter under Mike Brown,” Fisher said. “Looking forward to a different style and energy!!”

The Lakers probably could use new energy after the prolonged farewell to the exhausted Jackson, who was persuaded to return for one last threepeat run after nearly quitting last summer. Jackson retired earlier this month after the Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers out of the second round of the playoffs.

Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president of player personnel and the son of owner Jerry Buss, appears determined to move past Jackson’s sizable legacy. The Lakers tellingly made almost no public fanfare this month about the departure of Jackson, who is dating Jeanie Buss, Jim’s sister and fellow Lakers executive.

Into this potentially messy transition steps Brown, a respected tactician with a strong coaching pedigree. Despite his youth, Brown has ample experience with big games and big stars, even if he couldn’t guide James to a title.

ESPN, which employed Brown as an analyst this season, first reported Brown had been hired.

Brown was the 2009 NBA coach of the year, but he got fired last spring following the Cavs’ dissension-filled exit from the second round of the postseason, and James left for Miami a few weeks later. Although James was critical of Brown’s strategies during their final playoff run together, the two-time NBA MVP strongly endorsed his former coach Wednesday.

“Mike Brown is a great coach,” James said in Miami, where he’s preparing for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. “He brought us success that we hadn’t had before in that city, and it started with his defensive concepts. He brought in a defensive mindset that we didn’t have. Fifty-plus wins, he was coach of the year, he got us to the (NBA) finals, won us the Eastern Conference finals … because of him and his coaching staff. I respect him. He definitely helped me become who I am today.”

Brown’s background in defense apparently intrigues the Lakers, whose last two title runs were built on sturdy defense led by Bryant and 7-foot shot-blocker Bynum, a favorite of Jim Buss. Brown is a former assistant to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who employedBrown as his defensive coordinator in Indiana when Lakers forward Ron Artest was named the NBA’s top defensive player in 2004.

Brown said the Lakers would be a “defensive-minded team,” saying “I thrive and I love that end of the floor because I believe that’s what helps you win championships.”

Bryant and his teammates apparently weren’t consulted during the coaching search, and Bryant declined to comment on Brown’s hiring Wednesday when reached by the Los Angeles Times. Bryant publicly supported Shaw, his former Lakers teammate, but the two-time NBA finals MVP also said the Lakers should find a coach who believes in hard-nosed defense.

“I don’t believe in building a championship team on offense,” Bryant said two weeks ago after his exit interview with Lakers brass. “It has to be built on defense and rebounding, period.”

Brown’s reputation as an offensive coach was savaged during his time with the Cavaliers, who often appeared to be running a 1-on-5 scheme for James.

Bryant, who will turn 33 before next season, has similar ball-dominating tendencies — but he also has more talent around him than James ever had in Cleveland, from 7-foot All-Star forward Pau Gasol to a bench led by Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.

During an interview with Sirius XM Radio on Tuesday, Jerry Buss said the Lakers “won’t continue exclusively with the triangle” offense championed by Jackson.

But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said the club is likely to return with largely the same veteran core that won the past two NBA titles before falling short this season. Los Angeles already has more than $85 million in salary committed to eight players for next season, likely meaning the Lakers will have the NBA’s largest payroll again next season.


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.