Kurt Rambis, shown coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, has returned… (Jim Mone / Associated Press )
Kurt Rambis has been a part of the Lakers organization for longer than he can remember.
"It's been quite a few years," said Rambis to The Times in a phone interview on Thursday.
Now he's back on the bench, as an assistant to Coach Mike D'Antoni.
"Mike asked me if I wanted to do it. I said absolutely," said Rambis. "I didn't say I'll get back to you in a few days. I said absolutely, I'd love to do it."
Dating to his days as power forward for the Lakers during the "Showtime" era, Rambis has spent about 22 years with the franchise, in one capacity or another (head coach, assistant coach and front office).
After a head coaching stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rambis joined Time Warner Cable SportsNet as an analyst, a role in which he was often critical of the Lakers last season.
"I always felt that what I tried to do as an analyst was try and point out things the team was doing wrong -- things that I thought they could be doing better," he said. "When you look at a veteran laden team that was very talented, on paper, they did not play up to their potential."
Rambis isn't coming to the Lakers to be a "yes man" to D'Antoni. He hopes to challenge him constructively, which he sees as the role of an assistant coach.
"We as a coaching staff have to continue to challenge each other [with] different ideas," he said. "I believe Mike feels the same way -- if you hire assistants that think exactly the way that you do, you really don't need the assistant."
Working on Phil Jackson's staff, Rambis was primarily responsible for defense. He hopes to have a positive influence on that side of the ball under D'Antoni.
"In talking with Mike, he knows that that's kind of my focal point," said Rambis. "Last year, it was almost as if they were trying to out-score their opponent rather than try to win the battle at both ends of the court. In order to give this team a great chance to win they're got to figure out how to be productive at both ends."
The Lakers lost two former defensive players of the year this offseason in Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace. On paper, the Lakers have a lot of ground to make up.
"That's going to be our challenge, is to make it a good team defensive team," said Rambis. "Even if you had Metta and you had Dwight on your team, you saw from last year ... it still doesn't mean the defense is any good, just because you've got a couple of good defensive guys out there. It all comes down to five guys who are willing to make those sacrifices."
The issues last season were complex, such as D'Antoni's late arrival after the firing of Mike Brown, injuries that decimated the team from the second game of the season all the way through to Kobe Bryant's Achilles tear in April and even into the playoffs.
"When you look at D'Antoni not having a training camp and multiple players having injuries ... [the team] needs time on the floor together to figure out how to play with each other. I know that for a fact. It does. It takes time," said Rambis. "When you look at where they were playing since about the third week in January, they played .700 ball to end the season. So they were starting to figure it out before Kobe went down with his Achilles injury."
Rambis can't say the forecast is necessarily brighter for the season ahead, at least until Bryant's status becomes clear. Pau Gasol underwent knee procedures over the offseason as well and Steve Nash is still trying to get back to 100% after hamstring, hip and back problems.
"There's a lot of ifs to this season. Pau's got issues he's got to deal with. Nash has got issues he's got to deal with. Kobe, obviously they're still not going to be able to really assess where he's at and get any sort of predictor about when he could possibly come back until the end of this month," said Rambis. "It's going to interesting to see what his progress is. Every indication that I have, everything looks great will him, but they still won't know until the end of this month."
D'Antoni, Rambis and the reset of the Lakers have a lot to figure out for the 2013-14 season.
Rambis hopes he can make a difference, especially defensively.
If the team can get (and stay) injury-free the Lakers should be able to score at a high level. If they actually find a way to play together as a team defensively, they might even improve upon last season's 45-win total.
Certainly, as Rambis noted, a lot of ifs.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.