With the acquisitions of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks, the Lakers are poised to be an offensive powerhouse (or at the very least, a far better offensive team than last year) that could test even the toughest defensive team in every way possible.
But it isn’t just because the Lakers infused themselves with more scorers. Nash is expected to make everyone better and more efficient on offense while providing his still deadly perimeter shooting. Howard may have replaced a more skilled post-player in Andrew Bynum, but he’s a vast improvement in every category on both sides of the floor. We all know that at 36, Jamison can still put up double digits in points as a starter or as a bench player in every team he’s played for. With the level of talent surrounding him in L.A., he’ll be seeing more open looks like he’s never had before. Meeks might not be impressive enough to some, but he got into the NBA with a reputation of a shooter. Like Jamison, he’ll have his share of unobstructed panoramic view of the basket. That’s all any shooter needs to flourish in any offense.
Add recently-signed assistant coach Eddie Jordan‘s Princeton offense, there’s plenty of reasons for Laker fans to get pumped for the new season.
But if last year taught the Lakers anything, their defense has to improve a lot more than their offense in order to return to the Finals. With the addition of former Magic assistant coach Steve Clifford to Mike Brown‘s staff, Laker fans should see just that this season.
With his direct relationship to Howard and Orlando, most people might think that Clifford’s addition to the Lakers is merely to help Howard’s transition from the Magic go smoother by having a familiar face on the sidelines. But in fact, the Lakers brought him in for his background on defense.
Clifford spent 12 years in the league as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks (2000-03), Houston Rockets (2003-07), and then the Orlando Magic after that.
So what exactly is so special about him?
Well if you know your NBA enough, then you should know that those Knicks and Rockets teams also had an assistant coach by the name of Tom Thibodeau. And Thibodeau’s defensive mind is the very person Clifford had modeled his own Xs and Os after.
But isn’t Brown a defense-first kind of guy already? How will Clifford help him out?
Just like any superstar in the league when it comes to winning a title, head coaches can’t do it alone. In theory, Clifford will lay the blueprint on maximizing Howard and Gasol’s defensive abilities by having the perimeter defense force their man, whether a penetrator or spot-up shooter, to drive into the middle of the paint and into the shot-blockers.
The key word there is force. And we all know in this league, that is a monumental task to begin with given the quickness, speed, and dribbling abilities players have these days.
With Brown and Clifford, the Lakers will get plenty of lessons on how to make their man go where they want them to go by playing defense the right way — with their feet.
Yes, bringing in someone who can teach this team to defend better might be easier than actually seeing it happen. However, the signing of Clifford alone indicates that the Lakers aren’t satisfied with what they can do offensively.
Hiring another defensive coach to compliment Jordan’s Princeton offense means that Brown understands what is expected out of him and his staff this upcoming season. With Bryant already publicly hinted at his retirement timetable and the necessity of showing Howard that the team can win titles with him as the centerpiece post-Bryant, the Lakers’ mantra of nothing-but-a-championship as their measuring stick of success hasn’t been looming over Laker nation this ominously as in the past.
Given what a lot of pundits, other players, and Mitch Kupchak‘s “on paper” view of what this new-look Lakers can do, Brown knows it’s up to him to make everything work that will only result in nothing but bringing back the Larry O’Brient trophy back to Los Angeles.
Not to say that the pressures of expectations rest soley on the shoulders of Brown and his coaches, the players might not end up being on the forefront of pointed fingers if everything fails but they’re certainly on the same boat of make-this-happen-or-else.
Judging that the veterans that have been added to the roster have come here to win their first title, it’s hard to say other than health stopping them from doing what needs to be done to get to the Finals and celebrate down Figueroa.
Then again, you can say that about any other team in the playoffs this year — even if they don’t like to talk about it.
In the end, the team most prepared defensively and have the most talent is usually the one left standing in June.
Right now, the Lakers are looking like that team.