In the spring of 2012, after a disappointing second round ouster, then-Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown met with Kobe Bryant to discuss initiating a Princeton-styled offense for 2012-13. With capable big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol already on the team, Brown set to hire former Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, a noted Princeton expert and former Laker player, to be his lead assistant, with Bryant’s full blessing.
Things kind of fell apart from there.
The offense was thrown for a loop when the team acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash later in the summer, as the Princeton eschews the sort of ball domination that makes a player like Nash so effective. After a winless preseason and 1-4 start to the regular season, Brown was let go as head man. Former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, owner of offensive sensibilities that fly directly in the face of the notoriously slowed Princeton O, was then hired. Jordan, sent to the end of the bench, ended up taking a gig to help resurrect the flailing and failing Rutgers NCAA men’s basketball team.
And while Eddie appears happy at his alma mater, like a lot of people he seems a little frustrated at a Laker year gone sour. And with a front row seat’s worth of perspective, he talked to the Washington Post’s Michael Lee at length about how the whole experience soured him for the NBA:
“When I was hired there, there was no Dwight Howard and there was no Steve Nash and Mike Brown said, ‘I want you to help me with the offense,’ ” Jordan said. “We went through the preseason running principles of the Princeton offense that Kobe had asked about and that Mike Brown presented to Kobe and they agreed it was good for the Lakers. We lost eight games, but Mike Brown wasn’t concerned about winning. He was like, we have an older team. Kobe has nagging injuries and we didn’t want to wear our starters out. But our starters were very efficient and our bench was very short, so you saw that throughout the whole season. The 0-8 preseason, we weren’t concerned about winning, we wanted to get guys in tune. Then Nash got hurt, then Dwight got hurt, Mike Brown got fired and it was an outcry and frankly — I think a lot of people in basketball would know — Mike Brown and his personality and his style, is great for solid NBA teams, but the Lakers are different. The Lakers are different. It was even hard for Mike D’Antoni to get it going.”
“Mike Brown hired me. He was awesome. He allowed me to do a lot in a large role and when he was gone, Mike D’Antoni was gracious enough to keep me there and I really appreciate both those guys hiring me and retaining me. [Former Bullets/Wizards coach] Bernie Bickerstaff and I were reassigned to the back of the bench and we were okay. We were happy to be a part of it,” Jordan said. “It was a season of injuries, non-chemistry, getting to know each other as the season went along. Clashes of personalities and approaches and then it was more injuries. The injury factor and chemistry kept it dysfunctional to where you couldn’t have great success.”
Jordan went on to specifically mention the role that most had him pegged for in the absolute best-case scenario, that of a top offensive assistant in the mold of Basketball Hall of Famer Tex Winter, helping lead Brown and the Lakers to a series of titles. Instead, he’s off to Rutgers after just one season with Los Angeles, one that has him telling Lee that he does “not want to be a head coach anymore in the NBA.”
It’s easy to point to the Princeton as an offense unfit for a team with Los Angeles’ weapons, as most NBA fans recall it as a slow-down attack designed mostly to keep small scholarship teams like Princeton in with a chance against the giants, while putting up a 68-64 final score. And though the Lakers’ struggles with the offense were apparent early on, very sound basketball minds did find ways for the team to succeed using its hallmarks. And it’s important to note that the Sacramento Kings (featuring a ball dominating point guard and two great passing big men) used portions of the offense to great effect during Rick Adelman’s time in California, and Jordan worked well with another assist-heavy point guard in Jason Kidd while supporting head coach Byron Scott on the New Jersey Net bench.
It wouldn’t have been my first choice for the Lakers, either with the roster that was in place when Jordan was hired, or after the Nash and Howard deals, but at this point I’m also not sure what to make of these Lakers. Nash doesn’t look to be super-effective without the ball in his hands, but his advancing age leaves you wondering if he can even approximate his formerly super-effective ways with the ball in his hands. Bryant was amazingly efficient in 2012-13, but he faces quite the uphill battle in 2013-14 while recovering from a torn Achilles, and D’Antoni never really seemed like he knew what to do with that Gasol and Howard pairing.
None of us do, really.
These are just some of the many reasons that Jordan is in Rutgers now, never looking back. Save for the big interview he gave that talked quite a bit about the Lakers. There have been a lot of those, incidentally, in 2012-13. Pretty good exposure, for a 45-win team.