As soon as Mike Brown was announced as the new Lakers head coach back in May, the first question of everyone's minds was how is Brown and his naked fingers going to tell anything to Kobe Bryant, a five-time champion who spent his entire career under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and his 11 rings?
We reported about it back in June when Brown and Bryant first met:
"Kobe and I talked about a lot of things," Brown said. "We talked about family. We talked about last year, the team. He wanted to know what I had in store, in mind, going forward on both sides of the ball and what my beliefs are. I thought that the meeting in person as well as the conversations on the phone went very well."
We reported back in December about how Bryant's initial impressions of Brown didn't match up with his preconceived notions about the coach:
"What I've heard about him (before this season) was he was a pushover, he doesn't say what he's thinking and all this other sorts of stuff," Bryant said. "I haven't seen that at all. He's been the complete opposite. He's been detail oriented, he's been up front and open and honest. He praises guys when they do well, he jumps on them when they're messing up right away."
We reported on Monday about the pair watching the tape of Bryant's 6-for-28 stinker against the Nuggets together on the plane ride back from Denver and Brown backed him up:
"No, no, no, no, no. Kobe can make shots. That's what he's done his whole career," Brown said. "He's got a (right index) finger that he kind of went through the same thing with and he made shots against us (when Brown was coaching Cleveland) with that finger and he's going to make shots for us. The one thing I don't want to do is to tell him to stop shooting because he's going to work his way through it, just like he did with his finger."
Brown and Bryant's relationship was back under the microscope Tuesday before the Lakers hosted the Houston Rockets and Brown found himself defending the fact that he defended Bryant on Monday.
"You guys can say I’m rolling over, you can say I’m deferring to him," Brown told reporters. "Look, Kobe’s a superstar. He’s been there, done that. He can score. You got to give him more freedom than I give [rookie] Darius Morris. I got to give Kobe more freedom than I may give Pau Gasol. I’m going to give Kobe more freedom than Derek Fisher. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it."
Brown said the leeway he is allowing Bryant is no different than the trust he instilled in Jermaine O'Neal and Metta World Peace when he was coaching Indiana, or Tim Duncan when the was coaching San Antonio or LeBron James or Mo Williams when he was coaching Cleveland.
"It’s easy for me," Brown said. "You know how in elementary school there’s that sign that’s less than or greater than and if something is greater than, I think the alligator’s mouth opens to it. Well, he’s got five championship rings and [Andrew] Bynum and Gasol have maybe one or two, so I’m going to go with the man that’s got five."
Brown addressed several other issues pertaining to his budding bromance with Bryant:
* He downplayed the significance of watching tape on the plane with Bryant 1-on-1, explaining that he did the same thing with Fisher, while assistant coaches John Kuester (Bynum), Ettore Messina (Gasol) and Quin Snyder (Matt Barnes) had the same personal film sessions with the rest of the starters.
"To me, that’s what you do," Brown said. "That’s coaching. It doesn’t matter who the player is. Especially with the season the way it is with game after game after game and nobody having a chance to be able to get on the floor and practice, you got to find ways to be creative to try to teach individuals and the team."
* He pointed out that he is not afraid of reprimanding Bryant for his mistakes in the middle of a game.
"I’ll blow a timeout in a heartbeat if Kobe’s not getting back on defense or he blows an assignment because I’ve done it already," Brown said, referring to the beginning of the second half of the Lakers' first preseason game against the Clippers.
* He shrugged off Bryant's 12-for-46 shooting total in his last two games (26.1 percent) and Bryant's overall shoddy shooting clip of 40.2 percent.
"Am I concerned about it at this point? No," Brown said. "Two months from now, if he’s shooting 34 percent from the field, OK, I’m going to have a lot of concerns, yes."
* He handled the first real blood-in-the water moment as Lakers coach with relative ease, confidently deflecting any questions about conflict brewing between him and his star.
"I think it’s pretty neat that everybody is making a big deal of it but it’s early in the process and I’m getting to know him," Brown said. "... I’m going to coach him. I’m going to coach him offensively, I’m going to coach him defensively, but in the same breath, I got to give him some freedom too because of who he is and what he’s done and I got to learn what he’s capable of doing within the framework of our offense right now."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.