Winter: Bench Bryant And Push Odom
It’s a unique problem if you have Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan on your team. When do you run the offense, and when do you pass to the superstar?
That question will be critical for the Los Angeles Lakers as they try to develop team balance this season, according to Tex Winter, triangle offense guru and longtime assistant to Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
In fact, Winter says that’s the only real problem he’s seen with Lamar Odom’s newfound star status for the Lakers. How will he react now that Bryant has rejoined the team?
Will Odom defer to Bryant as he has in seasons past?
That’s a concern to the Lakers, said Winter. “After all, there is only one ball. Odom might defer. The whole team might.”
Chief among those concerned is Bryant himself.
“It’s not Kobe’s fault,” Winter said, adding that Bryant keeps encouraging Odom to be aggressive, to emerge as his own man.
Odom averaged 28 points over the first three games of this season, including one game in which Bryant returned to the lineup after a long layoff following knee surgery.
But in the fourth game, Odom and the rest of the team reverted to old form and deferred to Bryant, Winter said. Not surprisingly, the Lakers suffered their first loss of the season against Seattle.
The issue is critical for two reasons, Winter said.
First, the team needs to develop balance to grow and thrive.
Second, Bryant has returned too early from injury and does not have the physical conditioning to play, Winter said, adding that he sent an email to Phil Jackson, telling him to pull Bryant from the lineup so that he can condition until he’s ready to play.
Otherwise, Winter fears that Bryant will get injured trying to play his way into shape, especially if everyone on the team keeps deferring to him.
“Odom has an open shot but passes to Bryant. Luke Walton has an open shot but passes to Bryant,” Winter said of the loss to Seattle. “They all passed up good shots to get the ball to the superstar.”
The Chicago Bulls used to have the same problem when they ran the triangle under Jackson, Winter said.
But the one person who stood up and ran the system, who made the triangle work for those old Bulls, was Scottie Pippen, Winter explained.
Pippen was determined to move the ball to the open man, rather than Jordan. That open man might be Bill Cartwright or Luc Longley, it didn’t matter. Pippen was determined to make the offense work. That was the only way the Bulls would grow into a championship team.
Now, Jackson’s young Lakers team has to find the same determination, Winter said. They have to move the ball to the open man, not to Bryant every time.
And Odom is the key, in that regard.
For years, Odom has danced away from predictions that he would blossom into a star, Winter said. “Odom’s an exceptional player. Everybody has said he should be a superstar. What’s kept him from it is his own personality. He’s unselfish. He hasn’t had a real desire to score a lot of points.”
That changed with his numbers to open the season with Bryant on the bench. In the Lakers first game, a win over Phoenix, Odom had 34 points and 13 rebounds with six assists. He notched close to a triple-double in the Lakers’ second win with 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Upon Bryant’s return, Odom again scored 28, before falling into old habits against Seattle.
The team also rebounded poorly against Seattle, another bad habit the Lakers can’t afford, Winter said.
But the main chore for the Lakers coaching staff and players is to adjust to allow for Odom’s budding stardom.
“We need to structure the offense a little better so he can utilize his offense,” Winter said of Odom.
In particular, the team needs to look for ways to feature Odom in the post, where he has shown real effectiveness.
Another factor is to take even more advantage of Odom’s abilities on the defensive boards in igniting the fast break, Winter said. “We need to get guys filling the lanes quicker so we can get the ball out quicker.”
The 84-year-old coach loves seeing Odom go end to end “from the top of the foul circle at one end all the way to the basket.”
And when the game slows to a half-court triangle set, Winter would like to see Odom on the weak side, where he could get the ball from a quick reversal. From that point, Odom could really attack the defense, Winter said. “Not just get him in the pinch post, but get him out on the mid wing, where he could be effective.”
The Lakers’ solid start hasn’t surprised Winter. After worrying about what he saw in summer league play, the team consultant liked what the Lakers displayed during the preseason.
He’s also pleased with the considerable defensive improvement the team has shown.
Other key Winter observations:
• Consistency will be Rony Turiaf’s and Andrew Bynum’s challenge. How they respond will be a key to playing time. If they continue to develop, the Lakers are going to be quite qood.
• Luke Walton “is sometimes trying to over-pass. He’s got to look for his shot more. He has to be in the lineup. He makes us functional.”
• Mitch Kupchak is someone fans derisively label “Mitch Cupcake,” but the Lakers roster this season is proof that “he’s a good general manager. He deals with people honestly and straight-forwardly. What else can a GM do?”
• Mo Evans “is gonna help us. He’s a 3. He might develop in to a 2.”
• Smush Parker “offensively he doesn’t know how to utilize his physical abilities, but he’s learning. He definitely gives Phil what he wants, which is pressure on the ball. So does Sasha (Vujacic). Sasha played well in the preseason, but he’s played nervously to start the season. He has to lose that nervousness because he can help us.”
• Rookie Jordan Farmar is “gonna be good. He’s not quite ready yet. He’s got to get stronger and tougher defensively. As he gets more acquainted with the offense, he’ll be more effective. He has a good head for the game. As time goes on, he might really be important for us.”
Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive team history of the Lakers, published by McGraw-Hill.