- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Lakers are in serious talks with former Cleveland coach Mike Brown about their coaching vacancy, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.

The person spoke to The Associated Press early Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the Lakers‘ coaching search wasn’t complete yet.

ESPN, which employed Brown as an analyst this season, reported later Wednesday that Brown had been hired. The Lakers made no announcement, and Brown didn’t immediately return a phone call.

Brown emerged as the front-runner for the daunting task of succeeding Phil Jackson after a strong interview last weekend with the Lakers, who apparently are looking for a new approach after an abrupt end to their championship reign.

Jackson, the 11-time NBA champion coach, retired earlier this month after the Dallas Mavericks ousted the defending two-time champion Lakers from the second round of the playoffs.

Although Kobe Bryant endorsed Jackson assistant coach Brian Shaw for the vacancy, Jim Buss _ the Lakers‘ executive vice president of player personnel and the son of owner Jerry Buss _ appears more interested in Brown. A respected young tactician with a strong coaching pedigree, Brown also has ample experience in big games, even if he couldn’t guide LeBron James to a title.

“I think it’s great,” James said in Miami, where he’s preparing for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

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

But the 2009 NBA coach of the year was 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.

Mike Brown is a great coach,” James said. “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 Andrew Bynum, a favorite of Jim Buss. Brown is a former assistant to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who employed Brown as his defensive coordinator in Indiana when Lakers forward Ron Artest was named the NBA’s top defensive player.

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.

During an interview with Sirius XM Radio on Tuesday, Jerry Buss said his club was “very close” to hiring Jackson’s replacement. Buss also said the Lakers “won’t continue exclusively with the triangle” offense championed by Jackson.

The Lakers also have shown interest in veteran coach Rick Adelman, who left the Houston Rockets last month, and Mike Dunleavy, the former Lakers and Clippers coach. Adelman is thought to be the Lakers‘ second choice after Brown because his experience could attract the attention of a veteran roster.

Shaw, a former Lakers guard and a top assistant coach during Jackson’s tenure, was the favorite candidate among the current Lakers, with Derek Fisher and Bynum joining Bryant in throwing their support behind their former teammate.

But the Buss family has a history of idiosyncratic coaching hires, often from outside the organization. When Jackson left the Lakers for a year in 2004, they replaced him with former Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who resigned midway through his only season because of health issues.

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.

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