Lakers guard Steve Nash believes the new offense will be an adjustment period… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The moment the doors opened to the Lakers' practice facility, the team showed on Tuesday a first-hand glimpse of what could mark a significant variable in the team's championship fortunes.
Sure, part of that included Dwight Howard's participation and admission afterward that he may have recovered enough from back surgery to play in a few preseason games. Kobe Bryant's dunk over Chris Douglas-Roberts partly explains why he didn't feel the need to receive another off-season procedure on his knee in Germany. Steve Nash's three made free throws at the end of practice spared the team from extra running.
But something stood out more. The Lakers' starting lineup in Bryant, Nash, Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace ran five-on-five shell drills mimicking aspects of the Princeton offense. So, too, did the Lakers' reserves. During this portion of the four-hour practice, assistant coach Eddie Jordan frequently stopped play and pointed out mistakes the players made in running the offense. He pulled Bryant and World Peace to the side, instructing them where to cut while off the ball. Jordan did the same thing to Howard as he established post position. Gasol misread one read that prompted him to miss an easy pass from Howard. Jordan often instructed Nash on how to run the offense before play resumed.
"It's going to be a big transition for me, but one I'm excited to take on and be open-minded about," Nash said. "We'll still see a lot of pick-and-rolls. But we have different personnel. The beauty of the team is we have a lot of guys who can make the defense pay."
Even with prolific scoring (Bryant) and two dominant post players (Andrew Bynum, Gasol), the Lakers struggled mightily last season in doing that. They averaged 97.3 points per game last season, a drop-off of more than four points per game from the 2010-11 season running Phil Jackson's triangle offense. The Lakers also went 7-6 during a 13-game stretch in January in which they scored fewer than 100 points in each contest. The Lakers' five-game loss to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals featured poor late-game execution partly stemming from Bryant's hero ball, frontcourt passivity and poor passes in the Game 2 and 4 losses.
Brown made it clear that his offense only features "aspects" of the Princeton offense and that his system still features sets from last year's team. But he also saw Jordan's system, which the assistant learned from Pete Carril with the Kings in the 1990s, as a way to provide better structure. Not to mention ensure more success in his second year as the Lakers' coach.
So Brown shuffled his coaching staff by hiring Jordan and reassigning John Kuester to an East Coast scouting position. After successfully coaching the Cavaliers against Jordan's Wizards teams in the playoffs from 2006 to 2006, Brown met with him in Las Vegas this off-season about possibly incorporating parts of his offense.
"I thought that game-planning defensively against all the teams out there, [Jordan's Wizards teams were] the hardest to defend," Brown said. "The floor was spaced great, there were a lot of cuts that were available. If you took one thing away, there was a counter to every one thing that you did. You don't have to verbalize a lot of stuff, so teams can't look or see a call and sit on something because they know it's coming.
"It's just hard to guard. And unless you have a good understanding of what you're going to do as a group defensively, at times it can be impossible to guard."
The Lakers could present that problem for other teams. They have elite scoring (Bryant), elite passing (Nash) and elite post play (Howard, Gasol). They have secondary scoring in Antawn Jamison, reliable outside shooting in Jodie Meeks and a dependable playmaker in Steve Blake. The Lakers have talked willingly about making sacrifices in order to fully maximize their offense.
But it remains to be seen how that plays out. Those looking for answers on the first day of practice would be disappointed. But it's not fair to judge by one day. Brown said the players learned some basics, and that he'll go into more detail later. The five-on-five shell drills didn't feature any live defenses, making the concepts of the Princeton offense difficult to follow.
"You have to read the defense," Jamison said. "A lot of guys like to get the ball, pass and cut. But you have to read what the defense gives us. So with that, take your time, wait for your guy to get to a certain spot and then pass the ball and move."