Kurt Rambis is now the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Will the Lakers miss his defensive knowledge?
Rambis helped the Lakers make a jump last season as their assistant coach in charge of defense -- their defensive coordinator, if you will.
They allowed 99.3 points a game, 13th in the league, an improvement from their No. 19 ranking the previous season.
They also clamped down in the playoffs, allowing only 95.2 points on the way to their first championship since 2002.
They lost Rambis but added Ron Artest, a second-team all-defensive selection last season, and will pair him with Kobe Bryant, a first-team all-defensive selection.
"We hope that the ability is there to stop people, but we're going to try and play an up-tempo game, so I don't think that we're going to try and keep people to 92 points a night," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We do want to play defense, though."
"It's one of our goals," Jackson said. "Last year we were a good defensive team and hopefully this year we'll be better. We have the potential to be that. We'll see if we can't make it happen."
The Lakers figure to be stronger down low with a healthy Andrew Bynum, who was improving defensively and averaging 1.9 blocked shots a game before hurting his knee in January.
The key will be the Lakers' defense against penetrating point guards, a problem spot last season.
Derek Fisher, now 35, is the unquestioned starter, though his playing time will be reduced after averaging 29.8 minutes a game last season. The rest will be taken mainly by Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar, depending on which guard gains the confidence of Jackson.
Bryant, for one, is happy to see Artest on his side after so many seasons of being guarded by him. Bryant likes the possibilities on defense.
"It frees me up to kind of roam a little bit, which is something that I enjoy doing with my long arms and quickness," Bryant said. "I can get out in passing lanes a little bit more, be a little more disruptive. He can take more the responsibility of kind of being a lockdown forward, but we'll alternate."
With Rambis gone to Minnesota, the defensive responsibilities will be divvied up on a game-by-game basis. The Lakers' three assistant coaches -- Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons and Brian Shaw -- have each been given nine or 10 teams by Jackson. When the Lakers play a particular team, that particular assistant coach will be in charge of a game plan on defense.
Kissing the ring
The Lakers had an unexpected visitor at Saturday morning's practice.
Hamblen went over and hugged him. Sasha Vujacic jogged over to him after finishing up some extra shooting. Bryant walked over and hugged the visitor. Artest, with a big smile, wandered over to talk to him, followed by Luke Walton and several of the Lakers' scouts.
It was like they were lining up to see the Godfather.
It was actually Magic Johnson, the team minority owner who still draws a crowd whenever he attends practice.
The Lakers completed two-a-day practices Saturday and were given Sunday off by Jackson.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.