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Lakers, and Eddie Jordan, believe Princeton offense is a cut above

Lakers Basketball

Lakers' new Princeton offense features more movement and backdoor cuts and will benefit Kobe Bryant, assistant Eddie Jordan says, with Steve Nash an ideal trigger man.

October 07, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan

That was weird.

The Lakers were dreadfully boring on offense last season, finishing a couldn't-be-more-average 15th in points per game (97.3).

Who could forget their excruciating January slump when they failed to score 100 points in 13 consecutive games? Actually, plenty of confused season-ticket holders could during a vastly unremarkable run.

After another early playoff knockout, Lakers Coach Mike Brown contacted out-of-work assistant coach Eddie Jordan with one request: Princeton offense, please.

Brown envisioned a spacing-and-timing concept, the NBA equivalent of football's spread offense where everybody gets involved, plenty of points are scored and everybody's happy.

Kobe Bryant was apparently curious about it too.

"He's the one that really inquired about it and thought it would fit even before we got Dwight [Howard] and Steve [Nash]," Jordan said in an interview with The Times. "With Dwight and Steve, it makes it better. Any offense is good with better players, right?"

Bryant was usually the one with the ball in his hands last season, uncorking countless mid-range fade-aways right before the shot clock burned double zeros. He often missed.

He averaged 27.9 points but shot only 43%, his lowest accuracy since his second NBA season.

The Lakers will still incorporate some sets from last season but, as Jordan tells it, adding the Princeton offense will help relieve pressure on Bryant.

Howard typically will be the one flashing from the baseline to the free-throw line to receive the entry pass that initiates everything.

"The offense revolves around the center," Jordan said. "But everybody has equal opportunity. Each player will find their niche and their strength in this offense.

"Metta [World Peace] is a great cutter, a great slasher. He's probably one of the most prototypical players we have for the offense. He can make a shot from the perimeter, he can post up, he can dribble handoff.

"The offense is mostly like the '60s Celtics and the '70s Knicks. It's that sort of movement and handoffs that this is about."

It sounds archaic. So did the triangle offense. That worked pretty well around here.

But more about the Princeton, where the jury has only begun deliberating. The Lakers begin exhibition play Sunday against Golden State.

"It's a series of three-man games on one side and on the other side it's a series of two-man games," Jordan said. "Every component in a traditional NBA offense is in our offense. You have pick-and-rolls, you have post-ups, you have isolations, you have dribble handoffs, multiple screening action, misdirection plays."

Jordan, 57, is an interesting character. He initially declined to be interviewed for this story, perhaps burned out by the media after a brief one-year stay as Philadelphia's head coach in 2009-10.

He changed his mind about the interview request two days later.

He has an idea of what sells in Los Angeles, having played on the Lakers' championship team in 1982. He averaged 3.8 points as a reserve guard and appeared in 58 games.

His introduction to this offense came when he played at Rutgers and went up against a Princeton team coached by the renowned Pete Carril.

Years later, Jordan was an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings alongside Carril when Garry St. Jean was fired toward the end of the 1996-97 season. Jordan was promoted to head coach, retained Carril and began running the Princeton offense.

Jordan was fired a little more than a year later but took a job as an assistant with New Jersey and eventually convinced coach Byron Scott to install the offense on Nets teams that went to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.

It was enough to get Jordan another head-coaching job. He was hired by Washington in 2003 and his offense was sixth in the league in scoring in 2004-05, third in 2005-06 and fourth in 2006-07.

He was fired after the Wizards started 1-10 in 2008-09. He got the nod to be Philadelphia's head coach in June 2009 but was replaced a year later, the 76ers opting for Doug Collins.

Jordan took the spot of John Kuester as the Lakers' No. 1 assistant. Among other things, he can't hide his delight in working with Nash.

"Everyone said Jason Kidd can't play in an offense like that. He's a one-man point guard that pushed the ball when he was younger," Jordan said. "Jason Kidd loved the offense. He manipulated how it would run and how to fit it for everybody's strengths.

"It's the tip of the iceberg right now [with Nash]. I had not even a one-minute conversation with him and said, 'Steve, there's so much more for us to do in this offense, especially you, because you see everything from the top.'

"This isn't the pure Princeton yet. Mike is meshing his offense from last year. Once you get to the purity of it, Kobe and Steve will trigger the offense, the forwards are slashers and the center is the post-up guy and the passer."

Whether Bryant thrives will be one of the more important indicators of the Lakers' season. He seemed unconcerned, perhaps even deferential.

"The more talent you have, the more imperative it is to have an equal-opportunity system where you let the flow of the game determine which shots come for me," Bryant said recently. "You just work to get the best shot possible. . . ."

At the very least, the Lakers should be able to erase last season's kingdom of boredom. They failed to break 100 points in 53 of their 78 games.

"I don't want to predict anything," Jordan said. "If we scored 95 points and won 13 in a row, that's fine. I don't want to predict how it's going to make us score but hopefully it makes everyone feel good about playing with each other and that's important."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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