One of the three new faces on Mike Brown’s coaching staff is Eddie Jordan, whose NBA head coaching career was headlined by a six-year stint in Washington (2003-09), where he coached current Lakers Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake.
Known best for his use of the Princeton Offense, Jordan will help head coach Mike Brown integrate parts of that system into what Brown already has in place, the collective idea to maximize the skills of a diversely capable roster.
We spoke to Jordan prior to the start of training camp to discuss his coaching philosophy, how players like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard will fit into the offense, why he came to Los Angeles and more:
MT: What brought you to the Lakers, coach?
Jordan: No. 1 is that Mike (Brown) is a terrific coach, a top notch coach in the league. No. 1 A was that it was the Lakers, and this was before Steve Nash and Dwight Howard (were acquired). I was here talking about things for two or three days, and Mike and I both got excited, and then on the third or fourth day the Nash trade came about. We started to tweak the offense to Steve’s strengths, and Mike had a terrific way of blending the principles of the Princeton offense to what he’s done in the past. Mike has an excellent mind offensively and defensively, and the way he’s putting it together are some things I haven’t seen. With a starting five on paper like we have, (the system) is very beneficial for everybody. I’d like to say to them as a coaching staff (that) we’re all responsible for each other’s success, and our success equals a championship. That’s the principle of it: help your teammate first.
MT: It’s no secret that you’re one of the foremost experts on the Princeton offense. As you just stated and as Coach Brown has alluded to, it’s only going to be part of what you do. With that understood, how would you describe the offense?
Jordan: It’s a system that’s been used through the time when the Celtics won their championships decades ago, then the Knicks as well as part of what Chicago and Utah did in the 1990′s. It’s old school basketball in a sense, a series of two-man games and three-man games with constant movement and spacing that offers all the traditional sets of the NBA: pick and rolls; pinch post; multiple screening actions; isolations. Everything that traditional NBA teams use, it’s within that system, it’s just that you don’t call plays as much. It’s more read and react, and Mike recognizes that it’s stress free. You don’t fight the defense, you go away from it. Everyone has to see where the next pass, where the next cut is, where the next screen is.
MT: What’s the most critical principle to a successful offense?
Jordan: Most of it is just being a willing passer. It’s how you think. If you think to help your teammate first, you’ll get great results. If you understand movements and the options, you’ll get a lot out of it. If you know how to use your individual strengths, you’ll get a lot out of it.
MT: Whether it’s the Princeton or the triangle or what have you, it sounds like many of these principles are the same?
Jordan: That’s right. We categorize our positions as two guards, two forwards and a center, and you can play on either side of the floor. A three man can run to either side of the floor, and the two guard can initiate the offense just as easily as the point guard can. It started with Butch van Breda Kolff with the Lakers, and that’s where (Princeton coaching legend) Pete Carill realy learned most of it. It’s just basketball. If you cut hard and want to help your teammate, then it’s going to work, and now it’s even better because there is more spacing with three-point shooters.
MT: You alluded to tweaking the offense for Nash, and I’m sure you will for Howard as well. That has to be sorta fun…
Jordan: No question. Getting more good players, guys with high IQ’s will just help us execute everything better. This offense is tailor made for five terrific players. We used it when we went to the Finals with the Nets, two years in a row, and people didn’t think Jason Kidd could share the ball because he pushed tempo so much – but yet he did. The offense tilted towards his pick and rolls and post ups because that’s what he did well. Kerry Kittles was a great cutter so he got a lot of layups. And even a guy like Kenyon Martin, who isn’t a typical forward who can make shots on the perimeter, utilized the offense to get to the post, to run pick and rolls and get slashes to the basket. It works for good players.
MT: I know you and Coach Brown have met with Kobe Bryant to discuss things. How did that go?
Jordan: He was way ahead of the game. He knew, when we started to go through how the offense works, what was going on. He said, ‘We could do this, this option is available.’ I said, ‘Sure, that works Kobe.’ He already knows the movements, where to get his shots from, where dribble hand offs occur, pin downs and so on. He understood that there has been more stress on him getting his shots off in the last few years, but this offense should make it easier.
MT: How does Pau Gasol’s skill set fit in with what you want to do?
Jordan: It’s awesome. He’s a terrific player, a great passer who sees the game, a very unselfish and flexible player in the offense who will learn both the forward and center spots. He’s going to get his post ups, his assists, his pick and rolls, his pick and pops and his two-man games with everybody. It’s going to be tough for defenses to prepare schemes to handle all of those varieties. It puts a lot of stress on opponent’s preparation.
MT: And that center position is particularly important in this offense…
Jordan: The offense revolves around the center, and if he’s a good scorer, it’s going to be great. When basketball was invented by James Naismith and Bernie Bickerstaff, the center was named as such because everything revolved around him, and that’s what this offense is about. Players would give the center the ball and then cut off him, feed off him. If he can catch down there and be a passer, it helps everybody. The more you pass, the easier it is to score in the post.
MT: What can you do with Howard and Gasol interchanging positions and spots on the floor?
Jordan: You can tweak it however you want. You can go to a triple post strong side, a two-man game attacking from the front and move the center from the low post to the elbow to the top of the key on both sides of the floor. The flexibility of the center is enhanced. I was just watching the 1985 Finals (Lakers vs. Celtics), and how Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) would catch it in the post and first look around for James Worthy, then Magic (Johnson’s) cut, then check if Michael Cooper was open from three before he went to work. He looked to pass and that opened everything else up, while also setting himself up for easier looks. The most prolific scorer in NBA history was looking to pass first.
MT: Getting back to tweaking the offense around Nash, what does he enable you to do with his combination of elite ball handling, passing and shooting?
Nash: Mike’s the first to say: we want Steve to initiate the fast break, run our early offense and manipulate the possession with the ball in his hands. This is where Mike’s offense is integrating with the Princeton. We don’t want to be in the offense at first, we want to get a stop, a rebound, an outlet and get an easy shot in early offense. We want the ball to be pushed at high tempo at Steve’s discretion. If we can’t get anything from there, that’s where you can flow into the Princeton. Read the defense and deliver the play. Steve will be the catalyst. And Steve will get perimeter shots not just off pick and rolls, but off flares, dribble hand offs and coming off screens.
MT: There have been questions about Kobe and Nash since both have had the ball in their hands a lot in the past, but it would seem to me that Kobe in particular would prefer to have the rock less, allowing Nash to set him up for easier looks.
Jordan: It’s something we’re going to look forward to, and learn about as coaches. There’s a basic shell that we will play out of, but the players will show us how it works. I believe that both Kobe and Steve are looking to do more by doing less, and if that’s what they’re looking for, this is perfect.
MT: Does it help your transition to L.A. to have a former player you trust in Antawn Jamison on the roster?
Jordan: Yes it really helps. Antawn is, first of all, an awesome pro. He’ll come every day and work. He’s terrific in the locker room and is easy going off the court. He’s easy to smile and laugh with. Just a great pro. But he has a different game with terrific, uncanny post up game and he can make threes. He’s a terrific rebounder and has a knack for put backs. However you match up with him opponent wise, he’s going to find a way to take an advantage even going into his 16th year.
MT: Orlando spaced the floor with three-point shooters around Howard, but were there elements they ran you noticed could work well in L.A.?
Jordan: Believe it or not, Orlando ran a generic part of the Princeton. Their high pick and roll was our play out of the Princeton, and Dwight is going to be familiar with it. I told Mike, there could be 100 things to do in the Princeton, but we may just do 10. I believe in milking something that’s going to be good for you that’s very high percentage, because the object of any offense is to get a quality, high percentage shot. And even through my years as a head coach, we always said, let’s have some basic direct NBA plays. A simple side pick and roll, simple screen downs and so on that just work.
MT: Coach Brown is among the many coaches that says that good offense leads to good defense.
Jordan: Absolutely. If you take high quality shots out of the offense, our floor is moving the defense from side to side and is balanced. Then we’re built for transition defense. Of course, you still have to run back and stop the ball and defend the ball and match up, you still have to build a wall against a player like Russell Westbrook. But it can be done. The fact that Dwight is a great athlete really helps there, as well, having your (biggest player be so mobile).
MT: With so much focus on L.A.’s top four players, some might forget that Metta World Peace is coming into camp in fantastic shape, and can pose a lot of problems for opponents…
Jordan: Metta World Peace is the prototypical forward in this offense. He can make perimeter shots, he’s a slasher, he’s a willing passer and he can post up. And when he’s doing that action, maybe Kobe or Steve is getting a flare. Maybe Dwight’s rolling in on the other box. All the misdirection in the offense is supposed to benefit there. He’s tailor made more than anybody there is on the team. Kobe’s tailor made for any offense and Nash can run any offense, but it’s made for a guy like Metta. He’s the guy that can play with everybody. His physicality on cutting and slashing should get him a lot of easy chances. That’s why you don’t want to only run pick and rolls, because you want a more balanced offense, and you get better chemistry when everyone is a part of the success. And that makes them play harder on D.
MT: Again – that all sounds fun for a coaching staff. Last thing, coach: why are you so specifically optimistic about this team?
Jordan: What makes a champion in the NBA is talent, and that’s always No. 1. Then it’s toughness, experience and character. That’s what we have.