Then-Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis yells from the bench as Coach Phil Jackson… (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)
Former Lakers forward Kurt Rambis, now an analyst with ESPN and Time Warner Cable SportsNet, spoke with The Times about the upcoming season.
In Part I of our interview, he noted that the team's offense has already started to make progress despite the 0-2 start.
The Lakers used most of training camp to learn a new offense, a hybrid of Coach Mike Brown's philosophies and the Princeton offense.
Consequently, the team didn't put in nearly as much time on the defensive end. Based on their performance through two games, the Lakers are clearly behind on that end of the floor.
"The offense was fine, it can get a lot better," said Rambis. "They certainly have got to get much better at the defensive end, offensively they did much better in the second game than the first game, but in both games the defense wasn't anywhere where it needs to be."
After losing all eight preseason games and the opening two, has Rambis changed his opinion of the Lakers?
"I have high expectations, and that has not changed," he said. "I still believe with [the Miami Heat] and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers are pretty close. You still have to give Miami the edge; not only are they the defending champs, but they improved their team with the additions of [Rashard] Lewis and [Ray] Allen.
"Oklahoma City is angry, and the Lakers made tremendous upgrades to their roster, so I would put them in order of Miami, OKC and the Lakers, but they are all really close," he continued. "Then maybe the [Boston] Celtics are a notch below those three teams, but in my mind they are all really close and have the opportunity to win."
Rambis also listed teams like the Clippers and San Antonio Spurs as possible threats in the West.
So why is he confident the Lakers will turn it around in time, given the competition in the conference?
"I believe with the intelligence of the players, I've always felt that it doesn't matter what system that you put talented players in. The talented, smart players will always figure things out, they will always figure out how to use a system, or new plays, new defensive concepts, they will figure out how to make them work," said Rambis. "I think that's what the Lakers are going through now."
He doesn't see the team's deficiencies on defense as a fundamental issue it can't work through.
"When I'm watching them play defense you can see there is some confusion, talking about pick-and-roll situations, it looks like sometimes the defender is forcing the ball handler to his left, when the help is on the right," said Rambis. "To me they are not on the same page defensively yet, and that will come with time as everybody understands what they are supposed to do in every situations."
Brown has a reputation as a defensive coach. The Lakers should improve quickly.
"It takes five guys to defend sequences and pick and roll, isolations, post-ups," he continued. "Everybody has to be on the same page. One person making a mistake can break everything down, and I think smart players like the Lakers have, veteran players like the Lakers have, talented players like the Lakers have ... they are going to figure it out."
"Losing the first two games of the season does not spell disaster," said Rambis. "If they haven't shown significant improvement within the first 20 games, then they are going to have some issues."
Twenty games takes the Lakers to the second week in December. Brown has said that he expects his team to really start clicking in January.
Naturally the Lakers need to climb from winless to just average. If that takes until 2013, home-court advantage in the playoffs can very quickly slip away.
Rambis is confident the team will pull up well before then; so is Brown.
Now the Lakers have to prove them both right.
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You can email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.