Los Angeles Lakers fans love a good conspiracy, and they love them some Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson loves Kurt Rambis, the Lakers’ newest assistant coach, a man that preceded Jackson as Lakers coach in 1999 and worked under Phil as an assistant for years following. The Jackson family (included fiancée Jeannie Buss) and the Rambis family are also especially tight. Conspiracy, theorized. Sorry, Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Jackson and Rambis are also quite tight, and fond of, the triple-post (triangle) offense, which both Jackson and Rambis have utilized as head coaches to varying degrees of success. While the triangle doesn’t exclusively have to be one of the league’s slowest offenses, it does fly in the face of the open-court work D’Antoni has attempted to push (again, to varying degrees of success) as head coach in Denver, Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles.
So when Rambis gives an interview with the Los Angeles Times that centers around his thoughts about the Lakers’ inability to run as the team’s aging roster heads into 2013-14, all the pretty purple and gold flags went right up. Rambis is buttering Laker Nation up for a return to Phil-dom, while undercutting his fast break-happy boss in the process!
Or, maybe not. From a chat with the Times’ Eric Pincus:
"The [Lakers] still have big people and I think you have to take advantage of the big people," said Rambis in a phone interview with The Times on Thursday. "You can't ignore them because they are an asset to your offense.”
"You need guys that can really get out and fill the wings because that pushes the defense down," said Rambis. "That's not necessarily the way that you would look at this team and describe them. You might say that with Nick Young, but it's not necessarily Kobe's forte nor was it Metta World Peace's forte last year."
Rambis further elucidated, quoted as mentioning that “it remains to be seen” whether or not Steve Nash can return to act as the sort of all-out transition demon that he made his hay as in pairing with D’Antoni some nine years ago. Kurt would be correct, in that regard.
The rest of the regards? Kind of fishy.
To begin, assistant coaches rarely go on record, as it is usually frowned upon by NBA teams. It’s just fine for Rambis to meet respected members of the press like Pincus upon signing with the team, especially considering Kurt’s record as a famed Laker contributor as a player during the championship years, his work as a former head and assistant coach, and former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach.
Still, Rambis was hired last Monday, this interview took place on Thursday and the guts of it were released on Sunday. That’s atypical, even for a assistant coach as famous as Rambis.
The problem here is that Rambis is right, and D’Antoni now has to figure out a way around an assistant coach that not only is openly discussing the limitations of D’Antoni’s forte and preference as a coach, but one who gives off the appearance of a hire made over his head. Rambis was more than available to join D’Antoni’s staff in the days between his hiring and first game as Lakers coach last fall, so it isn’t as if Mike was dying for Kurt Rambis to join the crew. And now this?
The Lakers played at the NBA’s fifth-highest pace last season, something that did Kobe Bryant’s wheels no favors, and something that had to hamper Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Nash as they attempted to play through nagging injuries. As Pincus points out, Gasol still hasn’t been cleared to resume his typical workouts some three months after his season ended, and Nash recently copped to not being able to take on a full sprint even after playing just two games in the final month of the Lakers’ season.
Toss in Mike D’Antoni’s strange comments about Dwight Howard from last week, and you have the Lakers, once again, looking awfully all over the place. This isn’t us scrounging for headline fodder during the dog days of the NBA offseason. There just aren’t many instances of famously (and possibly hand-picked as a usurper) NBA assistant coaches speaking out like this.
Even if they are telling the truth. The idea that a Mike D’Antoni-styled offense awaits 40-year old Steve Nash, recovering Pau Gasol, the lumbering Chris Kaman and the rehabilitating Kobe Bryant should make Laker fans worried. D’Antoni failed to find a proper half court mix last year, frustrating Howard, overlooking Gasol, and relying too heavily on Kobe – who was typically game, and efficient, but to disastrous results.
Rambis was badly outmaneuvered in his stints as Laker and Timberwolves head coach. He made poor personnel choices at both stops and looked to be overmatched as a head man on the sideline. Laker fans should not be giddy at the thought of Rambis taking over at some point, even if he has Phil Jackson’s blessing. And it’s not as if Jackson is a panacea, either – he was swept out of the playoffs in 2011 with a team that was far better than this year’s Laker outfit.
That doesn’t mean the onus isn’t all on D’Antoni. He has to find some way to make the Lakers more dangerous than the sum of their parts. And relying on stops, rebounds, and Seven Seconds or Less transition chances just cannot be counted on with this crew.