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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Will The Lakers Err? Pip or No Pip?

Note: Readers, I apologize for not posting a blog over the past two months. During that time, I dealt with some personal issues, sat back and observed, then decided that when I have something to say, I’ll say it. But I’m not going to write just to write. For those of you who have contacted me, I appreciate your interest and concern. Here’s a new post:

Scottie Pippen certainly needs the money, now that a St. Louis court has ruled that he owes an airplane finance company about $5 million in cash for a failed attempt to launch his Air Pip company.
But will his decision to attempt an NBA comeback at age 41 come to be known as Err Pip?
That’s what the Lakers are trying to determine as they ponder what personnel moves to make in the wake of mounting injuries. Their latest casualty is forward Vladamir Radmanovic, lost for up to eight weeks with a separated shoulder.
Actually, even before Radmanovic slipped on a patch of ice and injured his shoulder, the Lakers took note of Pippen’s comments last week to Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith.
“Phil has a very high regard for Pippen, as do I,” Lakers consultant Tex Winter said of coach Phil Jackson. “There’s no player who picked up the triangle offense faster than Pippen, nor one who understood it better.”
The Pippen of old was known for doing all the little things that took immense pressure off of Chicago Bulls teammate Michael Jordan.
That, in part, is why Kobe Bryant immediately spoke out in favor of the Lakers bringing in Pip.
Certainly the history is there. Pippen anchored the Bulls’ defense through six championships. Pippen ran the team’s triangle offense. Pippen was the regulator on the floor for Jackson. He controlled tempo perhaps like no other player in the history of the game.
In some respects, the Lakers picking up Pippen seems like a no-brainer. He doesn’t want a lot of money. He just wants to come in and help a team down the stretch to the playoffs.
Ideal for Los Angeles.
At 41, does he have anything left in the tank? Bryant and numerous others talk about Pippen’s exceptional conditioning, his healed knee, his freakishly low body fat.
Does he even want to play for the Lakers? To date, there’s been no official contact. As Winter explained, Pippen seems determined to go to work for a playoff/championship contender, and right now, the Lakers are fading fast from that category.
How do owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak feel about adding Pippen? There’s no clear indication they have enthusiasm for adding him.
Lakernoise conclusion: Running the triangle offense means the Lakers have limited personnel options, because so many players, especially veterans, struggle to learn the offense.
That’s part of the hesitation over Nets guard Jason Kidd. He rebelled mightily against the triangle when Jim Cleamons tried to run it as coach of the Dallas Mavericks in the 1990s.
“Kidd does like to have the ball in his hands an awful lot,” triangle guru Tex Winter observed.
Would Jason Kidd be the second coming of Gary Payton?
That could well be.
Which means Pippen could be all the more valuable to the Lakers, as someone who could help organize bench play and then jump into the mix with the starters for key runs of execution down the stretch.
This much is clear: The Lakers have to do something.
The coaches had a two-hour meeting Monday morning after the All-Star break to figure out how to stop the bleeding of a five-game losing streak.


The key to the team’s offensive production now is forward Lamar Odom, just coming back from injury himself, according to Winter.
The team is getting almost no fast-break opportunities, thus no easy baskets. So it’s up to Odom to snag the defensive rebound and power out on the break.
In that regard, and in terms of triangle execution, the team also misses Luke Walton, who should return from injury shortly.
Walton, too, has that ability to control the defensive rebound and to ignite the break.
However, the onus is on Odom, who is still rounding back into form after missing a couple of months with a knee injury.
The defensive woes, on the other hand, can be tied to two things: 1) Kwame Brown’s absence, also due to injury, in the post (“Peope don’t realize how important he is to us,” Winter says of Brown); 2) Kobe Bryant’s mysteriously lackluster defensive play.
Phil Jackson and Bryant are now tight, which means Jackson wants to control more of the coaching input with Bryant. That, in turn, limits what assistant coaches offer Bryant.
Jackson has raised the defense issue with Bryant, but those conversations remain between the two.
One theory: Bryant has an immense blind spot, aided by his considerable confidence, when it comes to the current state of his defense. He simply doesn’t recognize how bad things are.
Perhaps that’s the best reason for bringing back Pippen. He’s a fresh voice, one who has Bryant’s respect and attention, one who has mastered virtually every element of defense, one who could jumpstart a Bryant resurgence.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, an oral history of the Lakers published by McGraw Hill. Lazenby’s Phil Jackson biography, Mindgames, is set to be released in a special paperback edition from Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.