The Princeton Review: What Eddie Jordan Would Bring to LA
Written by Suki Thind
As Phil Jackson sat out back of his laid-back Montana summer retreat during an interview with Andrea Kremer of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in mid-June, Jackson revealed his distaste for the way the game in which he had dominated for so many years as a coach, has evolved:
Watching the NBA–not that easy for me. There’s very little passing offense that goes into the NBA where everything’s done off the dribble, where everything’s a screen-roll to a screen-roll to a screen-roll; so the innovation is very limited in what’s going on.
Similarly, he commented on the team in which he most recently coached–the Los Angeles Lakers–and their offensive troubles as well:
Jim [Buss] saw Andrew as a kid and thought Bynum was going to be a great pick for our team. But in the process he’s wanted to have Andrew to have a bigger and bigger role, and I think he’s hired his coach to have Andrew have a bigger and bigger role. And that kind of disjointed the symmetry of what the Lakers were really about.
Andrew is an All-Star Center, he did a wonderful job. But what happened was it took Pau out of his game and it took the team away from some of their game. They changed the style dramatically.
Obviously, with Andrew Bynum gone, that changes everything. However, under Mike Brown’s offense last season, newly acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard would’ve likely had just as large, or an even larger role than Andrew Bynum.
Fast-forward to early July, and apparently Kobe Bryant–who is perpetually searching for an edge or advantage over his opponents–shared his former coach’s sentiments. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Bryant brought up the idea of implementing a system similar in principle to the triangle offense to head coach Mike Brown: the Princeton offense.
The Princeton got it’s name, not surprisingly, from Princeton University, where Pete Carril implemented and perfected it on his basketball teams.
Anyway, apparently Mike Brown was intrigued, and the two (Bryant and Brown) sat down with former NBA head coach Eddie Jordan in Las Vegas during Team USA’s training camp. Jordan knows the Princeton offense–an offense predicated on constant motion, passing, back-door cuts, and disciplined teamwork–as well as anybody at the professional level.
All of this took place before the Lakers brought in future Hall-of-Fame point guard Steve Nash, but that didn’t dissuade Bryant’s high praise for the complex offense as Kobe told Yahoo! Sports:
It’s a great offense. It’s exactly what we need. It takes us back to being able to play by making reads and reacting to defenses. It takes a great deal of communication, but that’s where we’re at our best: Reading and reacting as opposed to just coming down and calling sets. Calling sets make you vulnerable.
There’s so many threats, so many options, it’s very tough to defend. Against the type of defenses that teams play nowadays, they load up on one side and are constantly coming with help from the weak side. The Princeton offense makes it very, very tough to lock in on one particular player.
From my experience, those types of principles – ball movement, changing sides on the floor, everybody being involved – those are championship principles. That’s championship DNA.
Kobe had one player in mind particularly when it came to this offense–Pau Gasol, as he continued to express his fascination with the Princeton:
Steve is going to make it easier for Pau, because he’s an incredible distributor, but the system is perfect for [Gasol]. His ability to pass the ball, to make plays from the high post–to shoot–is the perfect system for him.
I’m excited for Pau because this is right in his wheelhouse.
Perhaps this is why Kobe continues to declare that Pau Gasol is here to stay as long as the Black Mamba is in a Lakers uniform.
Similarly, Bryant likely realizes that he can no longer keep up with the young superstars of the league on a daily basis, but he believes he can out-think them as he has one of the highest–if not the highest–basketball IQs in the league today.
The Princeton offense, coincidentally, is a slow-developing offense that is used by teams to counter opposing teams that have faster, more athletic players; a similar situation in which these aging Lakers often find themselves in (although the addition of Howard changes that a bit).
Upon Quin Snyder’s departure from the Lakers’ bench as an assistant coach, it appears as though the Lakers are extremely interested in bringing Eddie Jordan aboard as an offensive coordinator of sorts. In all likelihood, Eddie Jordan will be on the sidelines along with Mike Brown come late October, implementing the Princeton offense.
However, with Steve Nash–and now Dwight Howard–set to debut as Lakers this fall, is this the correct offense?
Additionally, Kobe has only won championships under a read-and-react style of basketball in which a true point guard was never needed–just as Michael Jordan did under the same triangle offense led by Phil Jackson. More than likely, at the time of the initial meeting, Kobe was probably thinking he would never play with a true point guard and would be doomed trying to be the team’s sole screen-roll play-maker under Mike Brown’s offense.
However, Steve Nash arrived shortly after, which raises a few questions:
1. Is Mike Brown still open to this new system now that he has a prototypical point guard at his disposal to run as many screen-rolls as he wants?
2. Will Steve Nash take a liking to an offense that takes the ball out of his hands, and lessens his bread-and-butter style of play?
3. Are the rest of the Lakers ready to go back to a read-and-react style offense instead of the free-flowing, let-Steve-Nash-do his-thing-and-get-everyone-else-the-ball-in-their-sweet-spots offense that everyone anticipated?
Only time will truly be able to answer these questions, but I’ll try to analyze them a bit here.
As for the first concern, it seems as though Mike Brown, to his credit, is very open to suggestions. He respects and can appreciate the knowledge that someone such as Kobe Bryant has, and wants to allow him to be as effective as possible.
Kobe obviously has had success under this style of offense, and would seemingly benefit from it once again. Additionally, he is convinced that it would help him, as well as his teammates, deal with defenses better. With this, I agree. Last season, it simply wasn’t working out by giving Kobe the ball and having him make a play, nor was it effective watching Mike Brown call out every single play. Players need to be able to switch up the offense their own, and feel out the game.
However, Steve Nash would have solved many of those issues as soon as he stepped on the court, which brings us to the second question.
Would Steve Nash have signed with the Lakers if he had any feeling that he wouldn’t be able to play his brand of basketball? Possibly, but he likely anticipated still having control of the ball, but also working in tandem with Kobe to dominate the back-court offensively.
At the same time, Nash is an extremely intelligent basketball player, and may actually appreciate an offense like this at this stage of his career; as long as he’s not just bringing the ball up the court on every play to simply initiate the offense.
When comparing this style of offense to the triangle offense, we have never seen a true point guard be successful (in terms of winning a championship) at the professional level. However, that’s not to say it won’t work. Phil Jackson tried to get Gary Payton to play within the offense, but it didn’t work out (the Lakers still made it to the NBA Finals that year, however). But, Steve Nash isn’t Gary Payton either.
As for the Princeton itself, Pete Carril helped Rick Adelman implement it onto his Sacramento Kings team–the same team that took the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the 2002 Western Conference Finals and was one of the most lethal offenses in the league (thankfully, the Lakers won that series…”Horry!”). So, in that sense, the offense can definitely be successful with a prototypical point guard much like it was for Mike Bibby in Sacramento.
The third concern is the rest of the players reverting to a think-it-out style of offense. I don’t see this as much of a problem as Pau Gasol will likely love it just as he loved the triangle offense and Kobe is already in love with it. Metta World Peace will probably benefit either way; and Dwight Howard will be able to make quick moves to the basket and finish strong off of pinpoint passes–which is his strong suit.
Prior to Howard, Andrew Bynum was a solid post-player that needed the ball to isolate and go to work in the paint. Howard, on the other hand, finishes quickly and easily when given the ball against single coverage. This, in essence, could be the perfect offense for him as well; and another reason why management, the coaching staff, and the players should all fit perfectly together next season–something that hasn’t happened in a while.
The Lakers don’t have many athletic racehorses on the wing either, so nobody was really drooling over the anticipation of catching over-the-backboard lob passes from Steve Nash.
Overall, if the Lakers do end up hiring Eddie Jordan, I think it will work. The player who it will most likely affect will be Steve Nash. However, Nash knew coming into this that his role may be a bit different, and he seems to be only concerned with winning a championship.
Having said that, Mike Brown has been extremely flexible. Some consider that to be a bad trait, but given everything that’s been put on his plate so far as the Lakers head coach, I see it as a good thing.
As long as Brown finds a way to let Nash freestyle his own offense as he’s so comfortable doing, as well as adds some structure that allows his other players to create plays too, the Lakers should be just fine. Not only that, but if they manage to find the correct balance, they could introduce the world to an incredibly high-powered offense that nobody in the basketball world has seen before at this level.
Individually, Gasol will be able to utilize all his skills–shooting, posting up, and passing–which will in turn create easier opportunities for everyone on the floor–including Nash. Nash–as selfless as he is–will be encouraged too shoot more, which will in turn spread the floor; and I personally predict that Nash will score more points next season than he did last season because of all the open looks he will get.
As for Kobe, he will still be able to get into the post instead of just catching and shooting along the perimeter as many anticipated with Nash’s arrival. Dwight Howard will be the recipient of plenty easy looks from Nash and Gasol, which will also allow him to focus on defense. Metta World Peace may even find easy paths to the basket with opportunities to “throw it down” over the opposition (watch the elbows, Metta).
In conclusion, if the Lakers end up hiring Eddie Jordan, it might be just what they need to get over the championship hump. For anybody wondering if coach Brown and coach Jordan would have any conflict, I seriously doubt it. As stated before, Mike Brown has been extremely open minded when it comes to the Lakers, and appears to be a willing student of the game. Even Phil Jackson allowed Kurt Rambis to take over the defensive side of operations in 2009 while he focused on the offense, so this would just be reversed.
Nobody questions Mike Brown’s stingy defense, but plenty have labeled his offense as suspect. This, in essence, would negate all of that. Typically, when players feel more productive on offense, they tend to be more enthused to play defense as well.
Hopefully next season we will get to see a clinic on both ends of the floor by the Lakers, and this offense might just be the perfect system to mesh all of the talent together.