TEX’S WISH LIST FOR LAKER IMPROVEMENT
Many of the teams in the Western Conference have made moves to get better over the off-season. That, in turn, has put pressure on the Lakers.
“I don’t think we can be sure of making the playoffs without considerable improvement,” Laker consultant and longtime Phil Jackson assistant Tex Winter offered in a phone interview.
Specifically, Winter calls for four areas of improvement that will be key for 2006-07 success.
• Guard improvement. “We have to find some leadership in the backcourt,” he explained. This is not a dig at Kobe Bryant. Rather, Winter says the team needs a strong guard, which can take some of the pressure off Bryant and allow him to move to small forward. “That’s where he can be more effective,” Winter said. That’s because working at the 3 spot allows Bryant to operate behind the defense on the underside of the triangle. It could create more opportunities for quick-opening isolation looks like the Bulls used to get for Jordan.
With Bryant at the 3 spot, the Lakers will have an open-floor look that allows them to use more of the options from the triangle.
Bryant at the 3 also might make Phil Jackson more comfortable with the running game. “Phil’s got a lot of confidence in our flow game,” Winter explained. The “flow game” allows the team to use a limited break to “flow” into the triangle sets.
Winter has encouraged Jackson to look for more pure running opportunities, something that owner Jerry Buss has wanted for years.
The running game would take advantage of what Lamar Odom does best, which is rebound on the defensive end and power out on the break with the ball (like Magic Johnson so often did for Showtime in the Laker days of yore), Winter said.
Rookie Jordan Farmar, of course, is perhaps a key to improved guard play. He knows the game and has shown a knack early in summer league play for the offense, Winter said. “Farmar will help because he’s got some savvy. He knows how to complement Odom on the break. The break will help because it will allow Kobe to get up the floor and attack the basket before the defense sets up. If Smush Parker learns how to utilize all that speed he has, he can be a factor in the running game, too.”
The running game, of course, requires tremendous defensive effort, rebounding the ball, forcing turnovers, etc. It might also be the format which allows Odom to realize his potential.
• Boost post depth and play. “I don’t know how much we can depend on (Andrew) Bynum,” Winter said. He pointed out that the young center’s play in summer league’s first game is extremely encouraging. “He’s got great potential. If he gets fire in his belly and learns to compete, he could help us tremendously,” the coach added.
The coaching staff likes Chris Mihm as well. Winter has envisioned Mihm as having great potential at power forward, but both Mihm and Kwame Brown seem to prefer the center position.
Regardless, Bynum’s improvement will be a big factor in how the Lakers do. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on an 18-year-old with no college experience. “That’s why I think the summer league is important. Very important,” Winter said. If it can advance the play of Bynum and Farmar, the summer league will pay dividends this upcoming season. That, however, is a huge IF. Is it realistic?
Winter likes the fact that assistant Kurt Rambis wound up coaching the summer league team with help from Brian Shaw and Craig Hodges. All three have a solid understanding of the offense, not to mention great teaching ability, he said.
• Much better shooting. All of last season, Winter bemoaned the Lakers’ lack of consistent perimeter shooting. Bryant’s presence creates so many open looks for teammates in the triangle offense. The Lakers needed someone to take advantage. Their acquisition of free agent Vladimir Radmanovic, the 6-10 perimeter threat (and Clipper free agent), has him excited.
“In this offense, he’s gonna get some shots,” Winter said of Radmanovic. “He’ll get more open shots than he’s ever had in his life. That’s if we get the ball movement we need. Radmanovic can do other things besides just shoot. He has an ability to go to the hole off the dribble. Yes, he’s more of a perimeter player, but that will open the floor for Kobe and our other players to drive.”
• Improvement from Bryant. “Kobe has got to continue to lift his game, particularly from the standpoint of team play,” Winter said, repeating a refrain that he sends Bryant’s way on a constant basis. Bryant’s play on Team USA in the World Championships in Japan in late August will help tremendously, Winter said. “He won’t feel he’ll have to go out there and dominate. He’ll have so many other good players on that team, he’ll be able to relax a bit and enjoy his teammates.
“He’ll play differently on that team than he’s ever played before,” Winter predicted.