Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register wrote:
From the desk of Philip D. Jackson, coach of nine NBA champions:
I’ve got to use up this old “From the desk of” stationary, because by the time this season ends, that clause about “nine NBA champions” is probably going to need amending to “10.”
I’m not one for putting the future ahead of the present, but my 2008-09 Lakers will have much more than Kobe Bryant: As Mitch Kupchak put it recently, this long and deep roster has me “challenged to get really creative.”
That makes this a big training camp for me, which is why I’m staying organized by writing this little memo to myself. I already feel as fresh as my four newborn and toddling grandkids after a summer without any hip-replacement surgeries.
Now we get to work Tuesday, meaning four full weeks before the regular season starts Oct. 28 vs. Portland (very young team, but an NBA Finals darkhorse in my book, by the way!) to figure some things out about our situation.
Summing up the key issues for camp: the Andrew Bynum situation, the small-forward situation, the rotation situation, the power situation and the “Aha!” situation. (“Situation” is my favorite bail-out word when I speak, and I can’t help but even overuse it here while in this writing sit- … hmm, this writing position.)
1. Bynum situation: Shaquille O’Neal is long gone but not forgotten. My plan for Drew, besides proving his left knee is sound, is what I preached annually to Shaq, another center who loved to score: Drew’s foremost responsibilities must be to defend, rebound and serve as the easy entry point for the triangle offense – things we need more than his points. If he does those things, he’ll make his teammates better – my true test for becoming a great player. And I’ll be sure to point out during practices that he is asking to be paid like a great player with the maximum salary he’s seeking in a contract extension by camp’s end.
If Drew doesn’t show he knows how to use his improved lateral quickness on defense, it could be a problem for a lot of guys. Pau Gasol hasn’t played that many face-up scorers in his career and will have to now – and he isn’t a really committed defender anyway. So if Drew isn’t great at clogging the middle, I might have no choice but to start Trevor Ariza ahead of Lamar Odom at small forward. Seeing what kind of elite defense the Drew-Pau-Lamar frontcourt can play together is the biggest thing I need to watch this camp.
2. Small-forward situation: We’ve got Odom, Ariza, Luke Walton and Vladimir Radmanovic there – and we know Kobe can and will slide up to that wing spot when Sasha Vujacic is at guard. Even though I call him a “toilet-tissue” guy for how easily he comes apart, Luke’s my guy and he’s going to play a decent amount to offer stability. Maybe it’ll have to be at power forward? Lamar and Trevor are both much better in the open floor than in the halfcourt, so whichever one doesn’t start might actually be better off getting his individual offensive opportunities with Jordan Farmar’s up-tempo bench unit. But both Lamar and Trevor have such huge upside that it’ll be awfully interesting how they work in camp.
Every time I see the “Philip” atop this stationary, I can’t help but think of J.R. Rider, who once told the writers covering the team: “Go ask Philip.” Loose cannon J.R. won a ring with us in 2001 – though I never played him in the postseason – and I guess it’s conceivable something like that happens with space cadet Vladdy, who like J.R. should be so much more.
3. Rotation situation: Vladdy, Chris Mihm and Josh Powell will have to earn anything more than bit parts, because our standard nine-man rotation shapes up as Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Bryant, Derek Fisher, Ariza, Walton, Vujacic and Farmar. I need to figure out how much center Pau should play and how much small forward Kobe should play in light of how I must limit their minutes after their Olympic summers.
To strike the match that gets that potent second unit to be an inferno is what I really want. We should be able to blow open a lot of games at the starts of the second and fourth quarters with Farmar running and gunning and everybody getting involved.
4. Power situation: Obviously we have good length, but do we have muscle when we need it? Hard to complain about Drew developing and Pau coming in trade, but we still don’t have the tough-guy insider that I longed for early last season. That manifested itself against the Celtics, who just stuck us in the basket and ate our lunch.
For us to be truly dominant, I’ve got to get Drew playing like a big man and not “Big Baby,” as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used to call him as a rookie in ‘05. Maybe in a twist on my splicing of movie scenes into postseason game film, I can use some violently powerful footage from Drew’s “Halo” Xbox play and fire him up. I guess giving Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” to Drew when he was a rookie didn’t really alter his course from being a video-game junkie to a connoisseur of great literature. (But man’s man Hemingway wouldn’t have let the Celtics push us around like that in Game 6.)
5. “Aha!” situation: Sometimes guys get stuff, sometimes they don’t. I wanted Kobe to be our “push guard” and lead fast breaks last training camp, and he tried but just couldn’t do it. Farmar, meanwhile, took to the role swimmingly, and I adjusted the entire offense to open up earlier for him. This training camp, someone’s going to “get” something – I call it the “Aha!” moment when the hard work finally creates clarity – and I’ve got to shuffle the deck to take full advantage whenever it occurs.
That’s why they pay me the big bucks … which reminds me that I need to check with my agent and find out what the championship bonus is in my Lakers contract this time around. All I remember is it’s six figures instead of the seven from last time. Is it still too much to donate to Obama’s campaign right now? If training camp goes well, I’ll be all set to see that bonus money in nine months!