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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Shaw Time: More Answers To More Comments

Thanks for your comments, kind and otherwise. It may disturb some Lakers fans to know that for five years I produced The Boston Celtics Greenbook (I also produced a similar guide on the Lakers for the ill-fated 1991 season when Magic abruptly retired). Reggie Lewis was one of my favorite people on the Celtics, a sweetheart of a person, always easy to talk to. I was always amazed by his mix of confidence and humility. Unfortunately, cocaine just about crushed the Celtics, beginning with the death of 1986 draft pick Len Bias and followed by the untimely death of Lewis in 1993.
I first wrote a story on Brian Shaw umpteen years ago when he was a young, unheralded guard faced with the job of replacing Celtics legend Dennis Johnson.Brian earned the trust of both Bird and McHale. “Dennis is the easiest guy I ever played with,” Larry Bird said at the time, then offered heady praise for Shaw. “He made things happen for me. Brian’s a little different because he looks to penetrate, looks to make things happen for himself out there. But Brian’s awful good. He does a little bit of everything. He rebounds, plays great defense. He's a total package.”
(Lakers fans love Shaw as the guy who ignited The Great Comeback against Portland in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals.)
Bird and McHale never broke out in petty fighting or public disrespect of one another. Yet their relationship was chilly and hardly extended beyond the court (not really all that unusual because there is as much competition within a team for status as there is with the opponent on the floor). There were times they said little to one another, except on the court. Bottom line, as Shaw pointed out, they maintained respect for one another. That respect brought them three championships and allowed them to compete together until their playing days were over.
Kobe and Shaq won three championships as the heart of the Lakers, but the pettiness escalated between them, as Lakers fans well know.
On the economics front, Jellybean Bryant did tremendously well as a long-term pro basketballer, eight years in the NBA (his top salary well exceeded $75,000) and eight years as the darling of Europe. Kobe Bryant was raised as a child of privilege and opportunity.
I suggest that that makes his drive and toughness all the more remarkable.
As for the Redd factor, I don't think excuses are in order. They got their butts kicked. Redd has made himself a superior NBA scorer. When a player of that caliber is hot, only a rough, snake-biting defender has a chance to slow him down (aka Bruce Bowen, someone willing to "get into" the shooter). Kobe is a good defender, but he's not gonna hack and chop and shove to stop Redd. When the two teams meet again, maybe he will.
K's modus operandi, of course, is to outscore and silence such opponents. He's in more of a team mode these days, so don't expect him to accept personal challenges. The other factor is the zone the Bucks used. The Lakers did not play well against it.
Then there's the officials. Funny that Dwyane Wade got all those touch fouls last year in the Finals, yet Bryant can't get a call in a physical game at home.
Bryant surely has been known for his various ploys for drawing fouls in recent years, but what athletic 2 guard doesn't know how to work the circumstances?
Just maybe the officials are tired of the Phil/Kobe combo and they're sending a message that they're not in a giving mood.
Funny, but as Rod Thorn explained to me over the summer, the new rules interpretation was to allow the truly athletic players the ability to perform free from hooliganism.
Tex Winter, meanwhile, has thrown up his hands in disgust with the officials. He sees no consistency whatsoever, new rules interpretations included.
Last, of course, and the least of any excuses would be that Kobe is still recovering from his knee surgery and simply unable to keep up with a smokin' Michael Redd. But that's lame, as are all the other excuses.
The Lakers didn't play hard enough and smart enough to win. Simple as that. They can't afford a whole lot of nights like that.
I'm eager to phone Tex Winter to hear his take on things. People sometimes say that he's fussing too much. But as I pointed out in a previous column, if you don't stay on top of a team, your players are prone to drifting.
The Lakers got caught in a full drift against the Bucks.
And everyone in Lakersville will be eager to see how they respond tonight against Utah.
If you can find it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Larry and Kobe: Brian Shaw's Study In Mythology

Brian Shaw knows all about high-powered locker rooms populated by huge egos.
The Lakers assistant coach was once a Boston Celtics rookie, back in the day when Larry Bird and Kevin McHale still ruled the NBA.
“When I first came in the league, I walked in the Boston Celtics locker room and saw Larry Bird and all these guys,” Shaw recalled. “They were mythical characters for me. Guys that I’d seen and watched growing up. Now I’m sitting in the locker room next to them, talking with them, playing with them every day. There’s a period where you see them do things on the court that you never imagined could be done. So you get caught in awe, like that deer in headlights.”
Now that he’s an assistant coach, he’s gotten to revisit those circumstances. Shaw watched last season as a roster of very young Lakers players sat in awe of Kobe Bryant.
It has become the job of the Lakers coaching staff “to get these guys past that.”
This season the team has shown signs of progress in growing beyond the situation. But it hasn’t been easy.
“You have someone like Kobe who is so competitive and so dominant,” Shaw observed. “When he senses that things aren’t going right he does everything in his power to take over and try to right things. In the process sometimes, some of the other guys become an afterthought. So they struggle. It’s difficult for them to figure out how and when to fit in. When they are so young, it’s difficult.”
Lakers guru Tex Winter has often expressed admiration for Shaw as a young coach. What makes him so effective for these Lakers is that he remembers clearly those days as a young Celtic trying to find his way playing alongside a fierce competitive nature like Larry Bird.
Larry and Kobe?
“It’s like comparing apples and apples,” Shaw says.
That’s because Bryant and Bird share something special.
“When Larry would maybe miss a shot that would have won the game for us, or something like that, he’d stay after and shoot,” Shaw recalled. “He’d be there first thing the next morning, shooting, working on his game at game speed. Kobe is the same way. He doesn’t want to lose in any thing. Cards, whatever it is he’s playing. Larry had it. Michael had it. Magic had it. All the great ones do. And Kobe’s right there with him.”
Dominique Wilkins once said of Bird: “Look in his eyes and you see a killer.”
Shaw sees the same thing when he looks at Bryant. “Basically, Kobe is a killer,” he said. “I say that, meaning that he’s not going to reach out and embrace you. He’s not going to respect you, if you aren’t true to your craft and you don’t show that killer instinct as well. To him it’s a sign of weakness. As long as you’re out there giving it your all, he’ll respect you, because he is, he’s giving it his all.”
Hearing Shaw talk about the two stars brings to mind the question, does Bird’s nasty streak run deeper than Bryant’s?
“Larry was nasty, and Kobe is nasty,” Shaw says. “Kobe’s only 28 years old, and he’s 10 years in the league already. He’s accomplished some things that most players haven’t been able to accomplish.”
Still, as Shaw himself pointed out, Larry Legend is, was and always will be a mythical figure in American basketball. Bryant’s never quite been allowed mythical status, despite his many accomplishments.
“Larry and Kobe came into the league under different circumstances,” Shaw said. “Kobe was 17 when he entered the NBA, playing amongst grown men, so there were a lot of things he couldn’t do. He couldn’t go out after a game and have a beer and hang out with the guys because he was too young. That isolated him from the rest of the guys in terms of the some of the social things they did off the court. I think you have to take that into account when comparing him to different people.
“Larry was more embraced by the public. He was more outgoing. Some of the reasons that Kobe still isn’t outgoing may stem from the fact that he was almost forced to be isolated because of his age.”
Age and status always made it easy for the fans and players of the NBA to accept Bird’s arrogance and super star confidence. Shaw concedes as much.
“Larry played three years in college, so people got to know him through his exploits and travels at Indiana State and get familiar with him before he got to the NBA,” Shaw said. “They got to see his run through the NCAA tournament and see him playing against Magic in the NCAA championship game. Larry had to overcome some other obstacles that Kobe didn’t have to. Being from Terra Haute, being poor from a small town and then coming into a sophisticated business world that he may not have been accustomed to. People made fun of the country twang he had when he spoke and his country mentality. That’s a different hurdle that he had to overcome.”
Bird has always had the toughness of a poor kid who came up the hard way with a father left alcoholic after serving his country in combat during the Korean War. Kobe, on the other hand, is a child of privilege, the son of a millionaire, able to enjoy wonderful opportunity.
How can a little rich kid like Kobe possibly have the same hard, hungry edge that poverty burnished into Larry Bird.
“He is a student of the game,” Shaw says of Bryant, without hesitation. “And it’s no accident he’s as good as he is. He’s the first person, when we get on the plane tonight after the game, he’ll want a copy, a DVD, of tonight’s game, as well as a copy of the tape on our upcoming opponent, so he can watch it and prepare for who he has to play next. He’ll watch what he did tonight. Not everybody in this league puts in that kind of dedication, that kind of effort. That’s what separates him from even the other superstars of the game, in my opinion, the Tracy McGradys, the Vince Carters, whoever else you want to name.
“Then there’s the time.” Shaw added, “that he takes tuning his body up, not just in the weight room, but working with our physical therapy guys to make sure everything’s adjusted, in alignment. The time that he takes stretching, the time that he takes studying his opponent, the time that he takes watching film of himself and studying how he can improve. That takes a lot of time. That takes a lot of discipline. That takes a lot of focus. Not everybody else has that discipline.”
What’s the chance of Bryant’s intense competitiveness rubbing off on his young Lakers teammates? Not much, according to Shaw. “His teammates, I know they see him doing this. But most people aren’t willing to dedicate themselves to putting in that type of time.”
If you ever got the opportunity to watch Bird work through his shootaround before each game, you get the picture of Bryant’s focus.
For a young team, such a leader is a blessing and a curse, perhaps.
Strong personalities need someone equally strong to stand up to them. “You have to discuss it with Kobe,” Shaw said of the challenge a coach faces in correcting Bryant. “And you have to tell him when he’s doing things wrong or things that you don’t like. Even if those things are sometimes miraculous. He respects those who will speak up, even if it’s against what he wants to do. He respects you more if you tell him about it.
“Kobe’s an alpha male.”
So are coach Phil Jackson and center Shaquille O’Neal, Shaw pointed out. That’s what it was so difficult having the three of them on the same team.
“That’s a lot of alpha males on one roster,” Shaw said. “When you have that, at some point, there’s a gotta be a breaking up.”
Bryant and O’Neal won three championships together but that run came to an end with an acrimonious parting after the 2004 NBA season. The Lakers traded O’Neal to Miami and decided to build their new team around Bryant.
“Even in my three years in Boston I don’t remember Kevin McHale and Larry Bird hanging out together,” Shaw said, acknowledging a well-known fact that despite winning three NBA titles together, the Celtic superstars weren’t close.
“The difference was, they respected each other and what they did on the court,” Shaw said. “So when they stepped between the lines, all that other peripheral stuff, it was on the outside. They said, ‘We’re going for the same goal between these lines. I’m gonna help you achieve what you want to achieve. You’re gonna help me. I’m gonna help you. Then when the game is over, you’re gonna go your separate way and I’m gonna go mine. And that’s okay.’”
With Kobe and Shaq “a lot of times some little trivial things are what caused problems,” Shaw said.
Because there seemed to be no basic respect, the trivial stuff grew into big problems.
After playing with the Celtics early in his career, Shaw got into a contract dispute with the team and retreated to Italy to play for a season. That’s where he met a pesky little adolescent named Kobe, whose father Joe Bryant also happened to be an NBA expatriate playing in the Italian League.
“I played against his father that year I went to Italy in ’89,” Shaw recalled. “That’s when I first met Kobe. I’ve known him for a long time.”
The fact that he goes way back with Bryant has given Shaw the confidence to address issues with the superstar that others might seek to avoid.
Their relationship is based on Shaw “knowing him for that long, but more than important than that, standing up to him when I know he’s wrong if he’s taking bad shots. He’s the kind of guy, he can take a bad shot and make it. It doesn’t matter if there are four or five guys on him, he feels like he can score on them. So as a teammate, I love to have somebody on my team like that, who thinks that way and feels that way and that no matter if we’re down 20 and there’s a minute left in the game he’s still thinking there’s maybe a way we can win. As a teammate you love to have somebody with that mentality on your team.”
Yet Shaw acknowledges it’s not a perfect world. Not every teammate appreciates the alpha male nature of a Kobe Bryant.
“If you’re a weak-minded individual, you look at it as if, ‘He’s taking all the shots, and I’m not getting to shoot.’ Well, that’s where you’re not gonna appreciate being on a team with a guy like that,” Shaw said. “You should look at it like, I know he’s gonna shoot the ball a lot, so I better go get rebounds and do these other things because I got to find another way to get my shot. Some guys he’s played with have understood that pecking order, like a Horace Grant.”
Now, Bryant is leading the Lakers through a third straight season without O’Neal, who went on to win a fourth championship with the Miami Heat last season. O’Neal’s success can only spur the hypercompetitive Bryant.
“He’s crossing ground that hasn’t been crossed before,” Shaw said. “With his competitive spirit, I’m sure he wants to show people that maybe he doesn’t need that 1-2 punch in order to succeed and win a championship. I think we have some pieces in place. It’s a matter of patience, waiting for a guy like Andrew Bynum to mature. I think he’s gonna be really good. Waiting for Lamar (Odom) to be more consistent. I think those things are on the way, as they get more familiar with Phil and the system.”
Maybe when that happens, Bryant will finally be accorded the mythical status that fans, teammates and opponents have given to Bird.
Until then, Bryant remains where he was as a young player trying to relate to his older teammates — a solitary figure left on the outside looking in.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the Lakers published by McGraw-Hill.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Imagine Tex Coaching With Riles

Longtime Lakers team trainer Gary Vitti likes to recall the Pat Riley regime with the Lakers.
Riles always had a way of keeping the pressure on.
Things were never going good enough.
If things did go well, then Riley began searching for the chink in the armor, the next thing that would bring the big letdown, the big disappointment.
There was never a break from his pressure. Never a chance to relax.
That, of course, is the real job of any coach in any league. To keep a team focused. To prevent slippage and failure. To make sure that no one ever naps.
That job is especially difficult in the NBA, where the games are physical and mental challenges, where so much of success depends on energy and focus.
To be all the guardian that he could be, Riley had his mental ploys.
And Phil Jackson has ... Tex Winter.
You could blame it on Winter's age. As he closes in on his 85th birthday, he deserves the right to be a contrarian, to be constantly questioning each of the Lakers players on every little thing.
Except it's not about age with Winter. (If you don't believe that, watch him work a jump rope.) He's probably been a contrarian since the days when he played junior college ball against Jackie Robinson.
Winter is one of the sweetest guys in the world. Unless he's dealing with basketball. He's usually politely pointed. But he can become a fire-breathing dragon, if someone isn't playing the game the right way. Just ask Luc Longley. There were some nights in Chicago when Winter had to be restrained from going after the giant center for lackluster play.
Even Lakers assistant Brian Shaw had a tangle with Winter when he was a player. (Shaw still smiles cautiously when asked about it.)
Just about all his players over the years have found a way to deflect the intense nature of Winter's scrutiny. Most do it with a scoffing laugh when reminded of something Winter has had to say about their games. Michael Jordan once snuck up behind Winter in practice and tugged his shorts to his ankles.
"There was Tex, with his bare butt hanging out of his jock strap," recalled longtime Bulls trainer Mark Pfiel.
Whether it's with an occasional pranks or a nervous laugh, players usually try to make light of Winter's assessment. But only the foolish ones don't take it to heart. And the very best of them find a way to respond.
For yesterday's blog, I caught Winter as he was preparing to leave L.A. today after many days of working with the team. He's headed to Kansas for an event (he coached for years at Kansas State) and will rejoin the Lakers later. He took the time out to offer a frank assessment of the Lakers, which I published Tuesday.
But his impact was seen all over the team later that night in the Lakers' meeting with the Clippers.
Kobe Bryant is not the Kobe of old, Winter had said frankly.
Bryant responded by scoring 40 points on just 23 shots.
The issue with Kwame Brown remains a question of competitiveness, Winter had said.
Kwame responded with a magnificent game off the bench.
Smush Parker needs to show consistency, Winter said.
Smush stepped up.
I roughly paraphrase the great writer Flannery O'Connor in her short story "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," who described one particularly annoying character by saying that she would be a good woman if she had someone to shoot her every day of her life.
That, of course, is what a great coach does. He shoots them every day of their lives. He stays vigilant against the worst inclinations of his players and constantly reminds them that they have to fight against those inclinations.
It's an exhausting job. Only a perfectionist like Riley could do it.
Or a guardian like Winter.
For years he has done that each and every game, each and every playoff series, for Phil Jackson.
As Steve Kerr and Longley and Scottie Pippen and Brian Shaw and numerous other Jackson players have told me over the years, Tex makes Phil's job much easier.
Because he does those things for Jackson so that the head coach doesn't have to worry and nag and confront his players constantly.
Why don't more NBA coaches get their assistants to do such dirty work?
Because none are as fierce about playing the game the right way, because none are as fearless as Winter in taking on the star players, because no assistant coach has the status of Tex Winter.
Jackson has asked Winter to take a lower profile this season, to not speak with the media so much. Winter actually talks little with the media, except for his weekly chats with me.
Winter, however, remains fiercely independent. He was hired years ago by the Bulls to be the "coach's coach," to train Jackson how to be a great coach. Tex is nine championships deep into that lesson. He knows that Jackson, like his players, is just like that woman in Flannery O'Connor's short story. Phil's got to have someone shooting him every day, too.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the team published by McGraw-Hill.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What's Up With Kobe?

Kobe Bryant is simply not the same old Kobe, Tex Winter says.
"He's having a tough time getting that speed of his back," says Winter, who has been one of Bryant's mentors for nearly a decade. "He's not as explosive as he used to be. Maybe he's protecting himself because of his knee (which underwent off-season surgery). Maybe he's doing it subconsciously. He says he feels ok, but you know Kobe. He's not one to make any excuses."
It's going to take time for the injury to heal, Winter said, adding that he hopes Bryant doesn't reinjure the knee trying to come back too soon.
Winter, a Lakers consultant who spends several days each month with the team, said he hasn't insisted that Bryant sit out (Bryant probably wouldn't heed that anyway), but Winter has urged him to be careful.
Meanwhile, Bryant is no where near the player who led the league in scoring last season. "He doesn't seem to mind distributing the ball to his teammates," Winter observed. "He knows he's not as explosive as he used to be. He really doesn't have the ability he used to have."
Winter said he hopes Bryant can regain much of his form over the next two to three weeks, as the season runs well into December.
With Bryant taking a slower pace, Lamar Odom has stepped up his energy and his aggressiveness, something Winter has called for.
"Sometimes he's too aggressive," Winter said with a chuckle, adding that Odom still doesn't fit well in the triangle offense.
"He needs to find a comfort zone in this offense," Winter said. "He still wants to take off on his own and attack the basket."
In a sense, Odom's ability to attack the basket outside the offense is important to the team, Winter said, especially with Bryant unwilling and unable to do so.
Actually, both Bryant and Odom need to continue to find some comfort with their new identities in the offense, Winter said, explaining that their comfort will be important to the rest of the team's growth in the offense.
All in all, Bryant and Odom "have done a very good job together," Winter said. "But now we're getting over the easy part of our schedule and things are going to get a little tougher. They've worked well together, and that will be even more important now."


Winter acknowledged that he and coach Phil Jackson have been caught unawares by the play of 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum. "The big kid has come along nicely. He's surprised me several times with his play. He's still inconsistent, but you expect that from a very young player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has encouraged him a great deal and given him some confidence."
Also deserving credit in Bynum's coaching are Brian Shaw and Kurt Rambis, who have really worked with the kid in terms of the triangle offense, Winter added.


Add Winter to the list of people who are pondering rookie Jordan Farmar's move to replace Smush Parker as the team's starting point guard.
"If we continue to start Smush, he's got to step up and give us more consistency," Winter said. "In spots, Smush does well both on offense and defense. It's a question of consistency. Somebody might beat him out if he doesn't get more consistent."
Winter confirmed that that somebody would likely be Farmar, who has played well.
Such a move wouldn't happen immediately, however, as Farmar is nursing a sore ankle.


With youngsters like Farmar and Bynum and with veteran players like Mo Evans and Vlade Radmanovich adjusting to the triangle, Jackson is taking a light-handed approach, as the coach himself still recovers from hip-replacement surgery.
"He's been very patient with these guys," Winter said. "His patience has run out at times in the past. But Phil hasn't been too tough, hasn't been too demanding with these guys."
That's a good approach, Winter said, because the team needs time to grow.
Evans and Radmanovich, in particular, are very much "in the learning process," Winter said. "You gotta have patience with them. It takes time. Both of them can go through the motions with the offense now. But to really be effective you have to know how to make it work. That takes time."
Evans' playing time is going to be limited because he plays behind Bryant, Winter pointed out. For Evans to see more playing time, the team will have to work him in at both the guard and forward spots.
"He's a good athlete, very competitive," Winter noted.
As for Kwame Brown returning from injury, Winter said, "He's gonna help us a great deal if he really gets out there and works at it and competes."
Brown hasn't done that yet, Winter said, and the coaches are trying to decide if it's the lingering effect of his shoulder injury or "just his nature."

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the Lakers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Home

This blog has a new home: You can find it at

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Questions To Answer; 10 Reasons The Lakers Wear Shades

My last post generated a few questions, so I’ll attempt to answer them, first with a general view of the team, then specifically addressing two questions at the end. Before I get started, let me thank those of you who leave comments on Lakernoise.
Two questions in particular came from my appearance Nov. 13 on AM 570, where the hosts hit me with some outstanding questions.

First, what a great time to be a Laker fan. Championships are fun, but Phil Jackson has always pointed out that it’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile.
If that’s the case, this might be the time you sit back and enjoy the scenery, even if it involves taking in an ugly loss like the one to Detroit in Staples Center.
There are many major things going on here, but I’ll highlight just 10 reasons things are good for the Lakers.
1) The emergence of Lamar Odom as a fantastic player; he’s got so much talent, and while his comfort level with the triangle has grown slowly, Tex Winter thinks the coaches need to adjust the offense for LO so that more great things happen; get him on the wing at the 3, Tex says; let him work behind the defense at the mid wing, and also in the pinch post; then move him down to the post where he can do snaky things to drive defenses crazy;
2) The maturing of Kobe Bryant, from Boy Wonder to Veteran Leader (which is really just about the time in life that Michael Jordan began to emerge from his cacoon as well);
3) Luke Walton establishing his game on a pro level as a guy capable of feeding the team and still getting 20 on any given night (admit it—he has stunned many of you);
4) Andrew Bynum finding his way with unexpected playing time and the guidance of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bynum’s emergence is a great tribute to the Cap, who, let’s face it, has been disrespected in his retirement years; now everyone understands just what a “special” coach is);
5) Phil Jackson regaining his health and vigor, which allows him to have a true enthusiasm for the game (this just might be item no. 1). I’ve had my differences with some of the games that Jackson has played in the past, but his coaching approach has always been liberating, not just for his players and teams, but for the game itself. Jackson’s biggest contribution just may be that he changes the way other coaches think about the game;
6) Tex Winter, at 84, remains ready and able to focus his brilliance and passion on the Lakers and the game itself, always playing devil’s advocate for Jackson, always willing to say exactly what he thinks, consequences be damned (I suspect this is the real reason the Hall of Fame gatekeepers won’t honor him with the admission he richly deserves; he has offended certain powerbrokers with his honesty). Jerry West could engineer Tex’s admission to the hall in a matter of months, but he hasn’t done so. Tex, meanwhile, will contribute more to the Lakers this year because his wife of many years has regained her health;
7) Jordan Farmar in his first weeks of NBA experience has goosed his many fans; they’re ecstatic with what he has shown to date;
8) Kwame Brown and Smush Parker remain notable reclamation projects, who will eventually find solid ways to contribute in a shifting team chemistry;
9) Mo Evans with his bountiful talent dancing at the edge of the picture, slipping into sight just long enough to blow people’s minds with something strong around the basket. He’s just learning the triangle, but as he does, look out. He’s got something for the NBA, and won’t people think Mitch K. is smart when Evans gets to show it;
10) The Running Game, long the heart of Laker lore, was put on the shelf while Jackson and Shaq walked their way to three championships. But now the Running Game is back baby, a tip of the hat to Mitch and Ronnie Lester and Jerry Buss; they found players that both fit the triangle and the running game; and as Tex always points out, the triangle is always ready to be morphed into what works best for the given talent on any team; that’s clearly the case with these Lakers; they just have to work out the kinks. Tex wants them to find ways to get out faster, to go, go, go, because that’s when they truly strike some terror in the hearts of their opponents.

November 13th, 2006 20:27
Heard you on AM 570 today, great insight. Keep up the good work.

Question- do you think that we will see more games like that against the Bucks where Kobe and Odom are both signifficant? Do you think that was a “fluke” or a sign of things to come? I realize that it was the bucks, and they are in serious trouble right now, but I nonetheless saw finally Kobe and Lamar both being big contributors as Tex talked about.

Your question fits my list of 10 things so well, Elyse. Kobe and Lamar and the coaching staff long for that growing chemistry between the two, indeed with the rest of the team as well. Kobe and Lamar know that as their on-court work becomes more balanced, things will only get better. You hate to say that just as Pippen matured in Jordan’s shadow, then stepped out of it in absolutely brilliant way, that’s the way K. and LO will grow. They are not the same people as MJ and Scottie. But the circumstances are somewhat similar. This coaching staff has been here before. They know how to grow a team. The journey of it truly is our fun, to watch the progress, the backsliding, the adjustments. Let’s hope the basketball gods are with them on this one.

November 13th, 2006 20:39
I also heard you on 570 am this evening and really enjoyed your insight regarding Phil, Kobe, Shaq & the Lakers. I wonder if you could expand on your comment regarding Shaq not allowing Phil to have a meaningful relationship with Kobe? I find that very interesting and believe that Laker Nation is finally now ready to understand fully the problems Shaq caused with team chemistry.
Laker Larry

Shaq is a great guy, great wit, huge sense of humanity. He also propelled the Lakers to three championships. You gotta love the guy. But he ain’t perfect. Did he have shortcomings in regard to Kobe? You betcha. But Kobe contributed to those as well. As Tex says, “There was just always this thing between them.”
Phil needed that primo relationship with Shaq to coach the team. When Phil arrived, the way he won Shaq over was by showing allegiance to him, not Kobe. Phil did what he had to do. Phil’s critics said he did more than he had to do, perhaps tormenting Kobe too much to please Shaq and certain others. But the trophies are shining in their cases as we speak. They sparkle brightly for a Laker future. Hope is alive. Shaq and Kobe can eye each other from opposite sides of the continent, finally able to let some of the old conflict die down.
In fact, there’s the scent of real competition in the air. Shaq now bathes in the glow of his fourth championship ring.
In getting it, he told everybody that Pat Riley was the best coach he ever had. Phil is so competitive. And Kobe?
Those guys ache to answer.
To do that, they have to get all the Laker ducks in a row. That’s the journey.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Note to Readers

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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.