New Lakers assistant coach and former Real Madrid head man Ettore Messina won't be the first international coach to grace an NBA sideline as an assistant. Heck, in the wake of Igor Kokoskov's time with the Clippers (amongst other teams), he won't even be the first international assistant coach to work primarily out of the Staples Center. But he will be an integral part of new Lakers coach Mike Brown's team, with his Italian roots hopefully speaking directly to Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy and speaks fluent Italian.
Cynics can point to Messina's hire as some sort of olive branch, bent toward Kobe's hurt feelings following the hiring of Brown, and the team's dismissal of former Phil Jackson assistant Brian Shaw. Kobe wanted Shaw as his next head coach, and he wasn't even informed of the Brown hiring by the Lakers, so obviously there are some frayed feelings, in Los Angeles. Messina's no gimmick, though. He'll essentially occupy the same spot behind the Laker bench that both Tex Winter and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used to sit in. He's a consultant as much as he is an assistant, which in some ways gives him more responsibility than your typical assistant helper.
Yesterday, Land O'Lakers writer Andy Kamenetzky spoke with Ball in Europe's Os Davis, in a way to learn more about the man who may have as much say as to the function of the Laker offense in 2011-12 as anyone.
OD: Most coaches in Europe could be accused of micromanaging in general both in terms of actual practice and transactions. In that 2009-10 season with Real Madrid, Messina habitually traveled out of the country during the season to scout and/or woo players to his squad, though he seems to be on the lighter-touch side of the scale with regard to individual players in comparison. If given leave, you can figure that he'll still be a bit more extreme in terms of hands-on advice than the typical NBA coach; based on his European track record and NBA culture, I'd guess as a coach he'd be something of a combination of Scott Skiles without so much of the nervous energy and Doug Collins without the loquacity.
LO'L: How good a hire would Messina be, if Brown has plucked him for the staff?
OD: As a fan of both European basketball and the Lakers, it's tough to have any pretense of objectivity on this one. But the truth is that Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion bringing refreshingly little egotistical baggage to a team that expects to win. And once the more historically minded guys like Fisher, Kobe, and Luke Walton find out more about Messina's career, he's certain to earn a bit of cachet before walking onto the court for the first time. Laker Land may rest assured that they got a very good one here.
What follows from here, as it always is, will be Kobe's reaction. The Lakers whiffed on picking up Mike Malone to aid in developing Mike Brown's bench, so Messina's influence will be crucial. The problem is that Phil Jackson's influence was pretty crucial to Los Angeles' success, and Bryant often dismissed him, 13 rings (as a player and coach) and all. Can Messina's Real Madrid history serve as a breakthrough for Bryant, who is still obviously ticked at the hiring of Brown, or will 2011-12 serve as one season-long pout-fest?
It's up to Kobe. We can tell you, though, that Messina is up for the gig.