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LAL Camp Q&A: Eddie Jordan

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.

2012 Media Day Round Up

The type of media horde that assembled in El Segundo for Lakers media day on Monday morning usually only converges for the NBA Finals, but with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their fresh purple and gold outfits, a massive contingent of journalists was to be expected.

Yet with each one having been the media’s go-to guy on an NBA roster, being just one of four was a piece of cake, producing a bevy of interesting story lines.

Here’s what stood out from our first chance to hear from the Lakers ahead of what promises to be an intriguing season:

- Kobe Bryant carried a pleasant, chill demeanor at his 17th NBA media day. And who can blame him, as he comes in feeling as healthy as he could be physically, and now has Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to flank him on his quest for a sixth championship. It’s hard to think of two players better equipped to do just that, All Stars whose games fit in such a complimentary way around Bryant, who is still best at simply scoring the basketball. Bryant suggested in many different ways that he’s thrilled to cede ball handling duties to Nash; there is no conflict in terms of who’s going to run the offense. That’s the Canadian’s job now, and Bryant can’t wait to benefit from Nash’s brilliance and in doing so push the team to more wins.

- Pau Gasol is fully healthy coming off a great individual performance at the Olympics, and in excellent shape mentally after a season full of trade rumors and uncertainty. The Spaniard did well to try and keep all the noise from affecting his play in 2011-12, but it’s fair to expect a boost on the court for the coming season. Gasol said it’d be hard to believe that he’d stay with the team in addition to the acquisitions of Howard and Nash — shout out from Gasol to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss — but couldn’t be happier with how things worked out. New assistant Eddie Jordan can’t wait to get his hands on Gasol, still the NBA’s most skilled big if you ask the guys drawing up the plays, to work on the offensive additions that he and Mike Brown are putting in for the season.

- Dwight Howard stressed that his rehabilitation process is going extremely well, and he fully expects to be back at 100 percent soon enough. Howard, as the Lakers have suggested since his acquisition, will not put a direct timetable on his return, but he has had no setbacks and has now fully integrated his program with L.A.’s training staff. You can expect daily Dwight updates on, but everything has been pretty positive thus far. His teammates and coaches are universally thrilled with what they’ve seen from him, especially in on-court drills with L.A.’s assistants. As far as his comments in interviews, Dwight directly stated that he and his teammates all need to sacrifice their individual goals to unite towards the lone goal of winning. Given his unique on-court impact and level of energy, if he buys in to that degree the Lakers will reap tangible rewards.

- Steve Nash was asked whose team it is: “I think this is Kobe’s team,” he responded. “But anyone who’s ever played on a basketball team, it’s also our team. The team needs to share in that responsibility. Kobe can’t do everything. He’s going to be great at what he’s great at, and the rest of us got to pick up the pieces that get to us … (Kobe’s) been here his whole career. He’s won championships. And he’s the best player on the team. We (have) to be there for him every day, so it’s essentially our team as well.”

A big part of what you get when Nash is on your team is a real sense of unity and common purpose, and the positivity he doles out is equal from Kobe down to the last guy on the bench. That intangible element, that leadership, is a massive boost to the Lakers locker room. Nash simply makes guys feel good with his words and his body language, then physically rewards them by setting up easy baskets. He’ll high five you whether you make or miss, every time. All of that, and we haven’t mentioned that his skills made him a two-time MVP. That’s why everyone is excited to play with Nash.

- Metta World Peace is, by all accounts, in fantastic shape. He’s about 256 pounds, by his accounts, after coming in around 271 last season. That’s the first thing that his teammates and coaches in particular have noticed. The nature of MWP being in such great shape gives L.A. an advantage, because he’s going to be the starter paid the least amount of attention on the offensive end, and the one initiating the perimeter defense on the other. Being in peak shape allows him the best chance to take advantage of that additional time and space.

- Head coach Mike Brown’s certainly excited to have those five players in his starting line up, and mentioned how much deeper his team promises to be this season thanks to the offseason acquisitions of guys like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. But he’s most excited to simply have a full training camp with which to put in his system and establish a culture that was difficult for a new coaching in the lockout shortened season. For a guy that loves the practice floor and the film room, it’s the difference between high school junior varsity hoops and the NBA.

- This training camp promises to be the most competitive in recent seasons for the Lakers, due to the depth on the back end of the roster. Certain spots have already been won (the starters, Jamison, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake); others like Jodie Meeks and Deven Ebanks look like favorites to earn addition back up minutes. From there, it’s less clear.

Chris Duhon and Earl Clark came over with Howard in the Orlando trade and have shown respective reasons for backup consideration; Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre were all second round picks from the past two drafts, and each has a specific skill set the Lakers like; Chris Douglas-Roberts has had scoring success in the NBA and just signed with the team today; Greg Somogyi and Reeves Nelson had some bright spots in the Vegas summer league; and Ronnie Aguilar is another recent signing who’s been working out with the team the past few weeks.

At least five of those names won’t be on the roster come opening night. NBA teams can keep as many as 15 guys on the roster, but the Lakers have trimmed things down to at most 13 or 14 in recent years to help keep the already massive payroll a bit more lean. Needless to say, training camp practices and preseason games are going to be a battle for many guys on the current roster.

Being an NBA Strength Coach

Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco is about to embark upon his second full season with the team, with his ultimate goal not only to get L.A.’s players as strong as possible without losing functionality on the court, but also to keep them healthy.

As head athletic trainer Gary Vitti likes to point out, DiFrancesco is uniquely qualified to do both since he owns a degree in physical therapy on top of his strength and conditioning background. He’s also no amateur in regards to nutrition.

DiFrancesco took some time to discuss his approach to his craft, the balance between building muscle while not pushing too far, why Kobe Bryant is who he is, the incredible care Metta World Peace takes with his body, what it’s like shopping for groceries with an NBA rookie and more:

MT: How would you define your approach to being an NBA strength and conditioning coach?
DiFrancesco: My overall approach is to try and keep everything as simple as possible. In our industry, there is a lot of crazy, YouTube training going on. An exercise becomes popular because it looks cool, and it spreads on social media and trainers decide to try it with their athletes. But for me, I need to know why I’m doing every single thing I’m doing. There is always a risk/reward. Anything you do in the weight room poses a risk of an injury if you do it wrong, if it’s too much or too heavy, but can also benefit an athlete if done correctly. If I can’t immediately find an answer for why I’m doing a certain exercise, I won’t do it. Fundamentally, with my background in physical therapy, I’m always looking at basic movement patterns. Can they do a basic squat? Can they do a basic single-leg dead lift patter? That gives me a road map with every player I’ll work with, and I’m not going to do anything extreme until I really figure out the movement patterns.

MT: You hear stories about athletes squatting absurd amounts of weight, only to injure themselves in the process. Where’s the balance?
DiFrancesco: That’s back to the risk/reward. Do we blow out a guy’s (back) because he wanted to squat 400 pounds? Congrats, but you won’t be able to do half of that for the rest of your life. We’d have to take a huge risk to get there, and an injury could result. Typically there aren’t bad exercises, there is just bad application of exercises. Especially at the NBA level, I cannot afford to injure players on my end. If a guy gets really sore on a given day and all he did was lift and shoot, then that could mean I (pushed too hard). What I do or don’t do can either protect the players or make them more susceptible to an unnecessary contact injury. I’m very cognizant of players improving performance wise and physically, but just not at the expense of an injury.

MT: Anybody watching these players glide and explode up and down the floor can see that they’re among the world’s most impressive physical specimens; but what is it like to specifically train an NBA athlete versus a football player, for example? Aren’t they doing different things in the weight room?
DiFrancesco: NBA athletes are really, really good at making their body do amazing things … within the scope of basketball. That’s what they love to do, what they crave doing. They want to play, on the court. Football players are very different, because they play only once a week. They do what the sport requires to build themselves up from a strength standpoint. Now, NBA players are of course genetic freaks, but doing basic level functional patterns is not typically as easy for them. They struggle with that at times. When you can clean that piece up for a player, it only enhances their already off the charts athletic ability. In other words, someone may have a great vertical and great speed, but what would happen if we added really clean movement patterns to that and got a guy stronger? Well, your career gets extended and you perform at a higher level. The levers of basketball players are a lot longer, and strength training isn’t as ingrained in professional basketball players as it would be in football players. Especially if some of our guys only went to one year of college and just started lifting there, that’s hardly any experience practicing such a skill, which takes time to develop like anything else.

MT: We know how manically Kobe Bryant has attended to his physique and fitness over his 16-year career. Is this an ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ situation for you?
DiFrancesco: With a situation like Kobe’s, I never came in saying I want to get my hands on him and mix things up and put my stamp on it. The stamps are already there, and we all know the results. I don’t need to mess with something that’s being done so well at such a high level. That being said, at certain times that allow for my expertise to assist in what’s already there in his foundation, I enjoy that opportunity. Just from having been around him, a word that comes to mind regarding his approach to taking care of his body is ‘obsessive.’ I think it’s important that using the word obsessive doesn’t need to have a negative connotation. Most people that are exceptionally great at what they do for a long period of time are obsessed with what they do, and to me there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. He understands as well or better than anybody what it takes to fine tune, to maintain or improve the function of his body and he’s constantly obsessed with that. He knows more than anybody that his weapon is his body and he maintains and cares for that weapon fanatically. That’s why he does what he does.

MT: Darius Morris has been a constant presence in your weight room since last training camp, and he’s gotten quite noticeably stronger and bigger. What’s been the key?
DiFrancesco: Darius bought in. He said, ‘You tell me what you want and I’ll do it.’ For example, contacted me at 8 a.m. on the day of Game 5 at (Oklahoma City) last year in the playoffs. He knew he most likely wasn’t going to play in the game, and it would have been easy to take the attitude of, ‘The offseason is coming soon, I don’t need to lift today.’ Instead, there we were getting an early work out in.

MT: Morris is clearly a gifted athlete; how has he developed since the first day of training camp last season?
DiFrancesco: Darius came into the league with pretty decent movement patterns, which saved me the time of cleaning much of that up, and let us get after it right away. Since he’s a point guard, we really focused on putting some additional lean mass on his already athletic frame. That can help at a position where you take a beating going into the paint, with that lean mass being bulletproof. So we got his weight up while adding in the right amount of protein to help him recover, and he really did a great job. I never had to follow up on him; he did everything I asked for.

MT: How much does nutrition come into play, using Morris as an example?
DiFrancesco: It’s generally a matter of being able to get away with not paying much attention to one’s diet thanks to being athletically gifted. But at some point, a player realizes that if he’s trying to put a puzzle together of being the best player he can be — and he takes care of his skill and lifting workouts — the other piece is nutritional. Many NBA players aren’t doing as well as they could there. Darius, this offseason, has started to realize that. He and I actually went grocery shopping the other day.

MT: Please, tell us more…
DiFrancesco: He showed me what he normally gets, and I tried to provide some better options.
For example, in the produce section, he said, ‘I don’t usually get much from here.’ I said, ‘OK, if these were in your fridge, what would you eat?’ We determined that he’d eat oranges, some mixed veggies laid out on a platter and pre-packaged salads. But he just hadn’t thought about having that stuff available. Moving on in the store, he said he likes honey mustard, so he showed me the kind he usually gets, but sugar was the first ingredient: high fructose corn syrup acts as sludge in the blood stream and makes everything less efficient. It’s never a malicious intent to eat badly, it’s just a habit, and it’s my job to show him the kind of mustard that’s more healthy.

MT: Still enjoying this. What else did he buy in the past to which you gave him a more healthy alternative?
DiFrancesco: He loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches*. Many of the ‘classic’ peanut butter like Jif or Skippy is nothing but saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup, and one of the last ingredients is peanuts. If you can instead get a whole wheat bread, a peanut butter like Justin’s (which has three ingredients, peanuts, salt, small amount of unprocessed sugar) and a better jelly, the PB&J can be much more healthy for you. So Jif to Justin’s is a simple change, but it makes a big difference.
*Editor’s Note: Show me an NBA player that doesn’t love PB&J and I’ll call you a liar. It’s definitely the most consumed item on the Lakers team plane every year.

MT: How about the things we drink? There’s Mountain Dew (my personal favorite) and other soda, Snapple and so on available on the team plane after every road game…
DiFrancesco: I’ll have a Diet Coke once in a while because I want the carbonation, but I try to keep it to water as often as possible. There’s no way for me to justify drinking calories. I want calories to make me feel full by eating them. It makes a big difference, especially in athletes, who don’t realize the impact that the nutrition piece has. It’s one thing that I can really bring to these guys to help them perform at their best, the knowledge when it comes to nutrition.

MT: Won’t Steve Nash help you push that nutrition mission, based on what we’ve heard about how great he takes care of himself?
DiFrancesco: Second hand, the information I have suggests that nobody gets that more than Steve Nash, so I’m really excited about it. Somebody that has that much credibility makes my job a lot easier when I’m trying to create good habits for Darius. It’s one thing coming from me, and another coming from a two-time MVP in this league.

MT: Apparently, nobody comes close to Metta World Peace in how to take care of one’s body?
DiFrancesco: He was extremely helpful for me last year because he does a great job with his nutrition and recovery habits. He takes that stuff very seriously, and younger guys in our locker room started to see that. (CLICK HERE for more on MWP’s fitness habits).

LAL Scrimmage Notes: 9/21/12

With training camp rapidly approaching, more and more Lakers players have been working out at the team’s facility, going through individual drills, lifting and now getting some 5-on-5 run in.

On Friday morning, veterans like Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill and Steve Blake joined youngsters such as Darius Morris and Darius Johnson-Odom for a full court scrimmage.


We took some notes:

- Metta World Peace is in absolute peak shape. Much was made last season about how MWP came in out of shape and didn’t find himself until halfway through the season due in part to injuries he wasn’t able to treat during the lockout. But he says he’s 15 pounds lighter than he was last fall, and from watching him play, he’s not lying. We interviewed Antawn Jamison after the scrimmage, and he couldn’t stop raving about how great MWP looks and is playing. With attention focused on Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, this could spell trouble for opponents.

- Speaking of Antawn Jamison, you can see almost immediately why he’s averaged 19.5 points per game for his career. The guy just has a knack for the bucket, whether it’s utilizing his unique array of floaters and leaners, or finding the space in the half court to get himself open for a jumper. He told us how excited he is about the team vibe he’s already feeling, with new/hungry blood from himself, Nash, Howard and Jodie Meeks* joining the likes of Bryant with a championship in mind. Jamison can’t stop smiling as he walks around the facility.
*Meeks was also in the building, but did not scrimmage.

- Steve Blake looked good for the Lakers late last season and in the playoffs, earning many of the crunch time minutes over Ramon Sessions, and earning the trust of his coaches and teammates in the process. Several assistant coaches mentioned how consistent Blake has been in workouts this summer, and noted that he played for Eddie Jordan his first two seasons in the league for Washington. That he and Jamison are familiar with Jordan’s system is a nice benefit for the Lakers.

- Darius Morris has improved his jumper over the summer, not to mention his physique, thanks to leading all Lakers in time spent at the team’s facility. His hard work looks to be paying off so far, with the test to come in training camp when he’s matched up against Nash or Blake.

- Jordan Hill looked very good in the scrimmage. While watching him dunk, rebound and even hit some face up jumpers, assistant coach Darvin Ham said he expects Hill to have a fantastic year off L.A.’s bench, backing up Howard and Gasol with his constant energy and activity at both ends that earned him playoff minutes last season.

- Darius Johnson-Odom was described by one coach as “bouncy,” and you’ll agree when watching video of the scrimmage. The rookie was flying all over the court, even treating us to a version of J.R. Rider’s “Eastbay Funk” afterwards. DJO is the type of player that plays better when those around him are better (Las Vegas Summer League wasn’t his type of atmosphere), and his defense and athleticism stood out in the run.

- Derek Fisher, a free agent, was in the building to work on his game, permission granted by GM Mitch Kupchak. Fisher is of course not on the roster, but it’s not uncommon for free agents or players on different rosters* to play at other team’s facilities before camp starts.
*Thunder guard Lazar Hayward was also in mix, often chatting up his college teammate at Marquette DJO.

- Big men Robert Sacre and Jeff Somogyi showed themselves capable of playing with the more experienced bigs on L.A.’s roster, and will have a chance to show what they can do in training camp. Each 7-footer did some scoring, some boarding and some blocking in the scrimmage. Making the roster isn’t going to be easy for any of the younger players, but the opportunity will be there.

Brown Undecided on Starting SF

Lakers Coach Mike Brown has definitely decided to bring Metta World Peace off the bench this season, empowering his best defensive perimeter player towards a leadership role from the pine.

“It’s going to be good,” said Metta. “I get a chance to come in with extra responsibility … it’s going to put the other team off balance.”

That leaves an open spot in the starting line up, which we’d at first think would go to Matt Barnes, who was very effective for L.A. last season before hurting his knee in January. But Brown said after Sunday’s practice second-year wing Devin Ebanks has impressed enough in camp to warrant a look himself.

“There’s a good chance I’m going to start Matt (Monday) and Devin (Wednesday),” said Brown. “Or I may start Matt (Monday) and Ebanks at halftime, and then flip it the next day. I’m not sure, I’m going to give both those guys a look.

“They’ve been playing very well for us, and they both deserve to play. They’re going to get an opportunity to continue getting looks.”

Both played well at the team’s open scrimmage on Friday at USC’s Galen Center, with Barnes scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 FG’s (two 3-pointers) with three boards and Ebanks putting in 12 points (four FT’s) without a board.

“It’s open right now,” said Barnes after the scrimmage of the starting slot. “(Coach Brown) wants to bring Ron (Metta) off the bench. I’m going to continue to play hard and hopefully get that spot.”

An early indication in Barnes’ favor is that he’s essentially fully recovered from the knee injury, moving strong and free doing the things that make him fit: rebound, defend one-on-one, run the floor, move the ball and knock down open shots.

“My knee feels good,” he said. “I’m running well. I think the last thing to come back is my explosiveness and it’s coming back. My shot feels good, my lateral movement feels good.”

Ebanks has two extra inches on the 6-7 Barnes and has been showcasing his athleticism in transition, but regardless of who starts, Barnes likes how hard the team has been playing in camp.

“Everyone is locked in,” he explained. “We didn’t really need too much motivation to get back and want to play strong this year after the way we were embarrassed last year. We’re very motivated, very focused.”

Josh McRoberts Beaming in L.A.

CLICK HERE to watch video of McRoberts being interviewed.

With a big grin on his face, new Lakers forward Josh McRoberts — who arrived at midnight and had his physical in the morning before practice — expressed his excitement to be in L.A., detailed what he hopes to bring to the fold and more:

Q: On learning Coach Mike Brown’s new system quickly:
McRoberts: I think I’ll pick it up. A lot of it is just basketball. A lot of the NBA stuff is the same, it’s just like learning a new language. Everything is called something different and has wrinkles to it. I’m going to get with the coaches today and before practice tomorrow to try and pick it up as fast as possible.

Q: On if he spoke or met with other teams, and deciding on the Lakers:
McRoberts: My agent talked to a lot of teams before the decision was made; the great players that have been here, the great players that are here now, it’s a privilege to put on this jersey. We talked about it a lot. I had options to go right away when camp opened, but we wanted to wait to see what the best opportunity was going to be. The Lakers are a great organization, a great opportunity. The Lakers had expressed interest, and I talked to Coach Brown before and after.

Q: On half of his field goal attempts coming at the rim last year, and if he get there easier with defense focused on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol:
McRoberts: I think so. Obviously guys have to focus on them, those are big, long, athletic guys. It takes a lot of attention to keep them off the boards, so I think that’ll create lanes and opportunities for me to get to the rim for put backs and offensive rebounds.*
*Google McRoberts dunks from last season, you’ll see a bunch with him flying in for put-backs.

Q: On what he thinks Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak saw in him:
McRoberts: I think he knows I’m going to play hard and bring my best effort every night. I like to play winning basketball. I’m not a stat guy. You’re not going to be too blown away if you look at my numbers from high school, college, the NBA … it doesn’t matter, I’ve never been a numbers guy. I just want to win basketball games and do what it takes to get wins, whether that’s passing or rebounding … whatever it takes.

Q: On the key to his improvement last season:
McRoberts: Playing time. Just getting an opportunity to play. I got a chance in Indiana to start at the beginning of the season and continue to find a role towards the end of the season coming off the bench that I could excel in.

Mike Brown revealed that he’s actually known McRoberts since his sophomore year in high school at Carmel in Indianapolis, as Brown’s sons looked up to the forward and would have gone to Carmel themselves had the family not moved. Brown was the associate head coach under Rick Carlisle with the Pacers, and used to take his kids to Carmel games. He’s quite familiar with the game of McRoberts, who spent the past three seasons in Indiana.

“I like his size, his length, and that he’s a tough son of a gun,” said Brown. “He brings an added energy to this team when it comes to getting offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, running the floor, getting put backs, diving on the floor for 50-50 balls. He brings those intangibles that can be infectious on the group.”

With Andrew Bynum being suspended for the first five games, Brown said that, who knows, McRoberts might even have to start at the four as Pau Gasol moves over to the five. Either way, Brown expects him to get some “serious minutes,” adding that he can even play a little bit of five if need be.

“He’s a young guy that has established himself as an NBA player, maybe a starter but definitely a rotation guy that can get better,” Brown concluded.

RELATED: Press release and some additional info on McRoberts: Lakers Sign Josh McRoberts.

Gasol to Shoot Some Threes?

Yes, he’s a seven footer with perhaps the best skill set around the rim of any big man in the NBA, but Pau Gasol can consistently hit three-pointers.

While being interviewed after Tuesday’s practice session, head coach Mike Brown couldn’t help but notice Gasol draining three after three from the left wing (Brown thought seven in a row, to which Gasol said, “at least”). The Spaniard said that he can actually hit somewhere between 15 and 20 threes in a row, and when you watch him shoot from range so naturally, it’s not hard to believe.

In fact, Gasol’s three-point shooting was a major benefit to Spain’s run at EuroBasket in September, where he drained 7-of-11 triples (63.6%) en route to the championship when his country defeated France in the final.

“I feel good about taking a couple of outside shots,” said Gasol. “It’s another weapon that I think I can add to my repertoire that the team could use if (Coach Brown) decides to. I’m really comfortable with it. I shoot, usually, a very good percentage.”

Lakers 105, Warriors 102: Preseason in Ontario

62092703Below is a running diary of L.A.’s preseason contest against Golden State from Ontario, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Brown*, Bryant, Artest and Gasol
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Reggie Williams**, Vladimir Radmanovic, David Lee and Andris Biedrins
*Brown started in place of Lamar Odom, taking the night off to rest a sprained left thumb, swollen nose and stiff back. Odom did say that he’d be “fine” for Tuesday’s season opener.
**Williams started in place of Stephen Curry, who sprained his ankle in Thursday night’s loss to L.A.

10:31 The Lakers forced Golden State into four fouls … in the first 1:30 … but the Warriors earned a 7-4 lead thanks to jumpers at the other end from Monta Ellis and Reggie Williams, plus a pretty transition layup also from Ellis. Though he had two of those fouls, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a big evening from Ellis, since he barely played the evening before (three fouls in the first two minutes) and would be without Curry in the backcourt.

621213817:02 With Odom out and Brown in the starting line up, Bryant moved up to the three and Artest the four, meaning Artest matched up with G.S. power forward David Lee. That proved a difficult matchup for Lee, often quick enough to get open looks again opposing fours, but certainly not Artest, who stripped him twice and also was too strong to allow a back-in. Fortunately for the Warriors, however, L.A. had no answer for Ellis, who nailed two more field goals to help G.S. to a 15-6 lead.

3:22 Easing his way in offensively and looking a bit sluggish, Bryant’s first make came from three-point territory, just L.A.’s third field goal plus eight free throws, to make it 23-18 Warriors. In the final three minutes, Ellis would climb up to 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting in a video-game first quarter, leading the Bay Area squad to a 32-20 lead. The Lakers shot only 35.7 percent to Ellis’s, err, Golden State’s, 65 percent, and turned the ball over seven times to two for G.S.

7:31 L.A.’s bench unit was doing its best to cut into the Warriors lead, with Devin Ebanks converting a pretty transition layup, but Ellis answered with his ninth field goal, then drew a foul in transition to make it 40-27. Rookie Derrick Caracter saw his first action in three games, scoring a bucket with a board in six minutes, though Luke Walton, just back from a hamstring strain, left the floor and headed to the locker room.

3:00 With the starters back in, L.A. still struggled to get things going, the Warriors maintaining a double-digit lead while the Lakers stayed in the low 30′s in field goal percentage. Not exactly regular-season form yet for a team looking like it just wanted the preseason to end.

0:51.5 The last two minutes were better, however, thanks to Bryant, who made two jumpers himself, and assisted on three-pointers from both Brown and Fisher to cut Golden State’s lead to five. Ellis, brilliant offensively all half, managed to get the last laugh of the half as well by converting a tough drive, preceding Bryant’s rim-out at the buzzer. As such, Ellis had 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting, giving his team a 52-47 lead.

7:15 L.A.’s typically strong defense to open the second half was absent here, Golden State taking advantage to open a 59-45 lead after a 7-0 run. The Lakers did respond with Gasol’s back-to-back and-1′s at the rim, while Brian Shaw replaced Brown with Barnes to get a bit bigger on the wing.

620930894:30 Bryant quietly climbed up to 16 points after a deep three, preceding a Barnes transition layup that cut G.S.’s lead to five. Ellis countered with two free throws to reach 33 points, but Bryant then drew three defenders to earn Fisher a wide-open three (swish) that doubled as Bryant’s sixth assist. The moments of typical Kobe play continued to show, though he was obviously still building towards putting a full game together.

0:09.6 Despite that mid-quarter push, the Warriors still managed to leave the period with a 10-point lead, thanks to another Ellis jumper plus Brandan Wright’s put-back dunk to close the scoring. Ellis was up to a ridiculously efficient 15-of-20 performance from the field for 36 points. The Lakers seemed a bit unsure how to play up front without both Andrew Bynum and Odom, who had missed only nine games combined in the previous three seasons, but would get L.O. back on Tuesday.

9:45 A pretty put-back dunk from Ebanks, then Vujacic’s steal and jumper at the other end cut Golden State’s lead down to just four, the closest L.A. had been since early in the first. The reserves had been the Lakers’ better unit throughout the preseason, so it was fitting to see once again in the camp finale.

7:17 Impressive bench play continued for L.A. with Caracter hitting from four feet, Ebanks drawing a charge and Vujacic converting two free throws, Artest ripping a steal and Caracter stuffing back an Ebanks miss to promptly put the Lakers up 87-85. It was a 16-3 run, producing the first Lakers lead of the game.

3:43 Fisher and Brown replaced Blake and Vujacic as Shaw put all of the starters back in, but Brown promptly found his pocket picked by Ellis, and Fisher had to foul at midcourt to prevent a layup. Ellis, in the bonus, sunk both to put Golden State back up three, reaching an NBA preseason high 41 points in the process.

0:30.1 LA picked a good time for a 9-0 run, as Bryant took over in typical fashion to score six straight points (four free throws and a layup) before dishing to a wide-open Brown in the corner for a game-tying three. Bryant couldn’t quite close the door, however, missing a potential game-winning triple as the clock expired, meaning preseason OT…

2:00 After Ellis somehow missed a wide-open transition dunk, Artest’s lefty layup tied the game at 100. Vujacic, Blake and Barnes had replaced Gasol, Bryant and Fisher alongside Artest and Brown.

1:15 Advantage, Lakers. Brown nailed his fourth triple of the game after another near-miss from Ellis, who had made only one of his previous 10 shots after starting the game 15-of-20. After a Williams’ hoop, L.A. isolated Artest on the wing, and he delivered a tough shot over Lee to put L.A. back up three with 11.2 seconds left.

That would be all, mercifully, for the preseason, Barnes collecting the final rebound in a 105-102 Lakers win.

5 Steals for Ron Artest, who added 11 points and seven boards with three assists in a solid all-around game to cap a solid all-around preseason.

6 Lakers second half turnovers, five fewer than the first half, keying their late charge.

9 Straight points to close the fourth quarter for L.A., tying the game at 98 before Kobe Bryant rimmed out on a potential game-winning three. No. 24 had been responsible for the late burst, scoring the first six points before finding Shannon Brown for the game-tying three.

9 Three-pointers made by the Lakers, led by Brown’s four, two each from Bryant and Derek Fisher and one from Sasha Vujacic in 28 team attempts, signifying the lack of post game with an absent Lamar Odom and Artest starting at the four.

41 Points for Monta Ellis, an NBA preseason high. He started the game 15-of-20 from the field, but made only one of his final 10 shots, tiring noticeably and understandably.

Injury Update: Odom, Walton & Caracter

UCLA Health SystemA few injury notes from L.A.’s final preseason game:

Lamar Odom: We learned before the game that Odom wouldn’t participate due to a strained left thumb, a swollen nose from an elbow in Thursday evening’s win over the Warriors and a stiff back. Odom, however, said that he was “fine,” and would play in the team’s season opener on Tuesday against Houston.

Luke Walton: Walton re-aggravated a right hamstring strain early in the second quarter and headed back to the locker room. He wouldn’t return to the action, and was set to be re-evaluated over the weekend. Walton had missed the team’s first five preseason games before getting his first minutes in Thursday night’s win over Golden State in his home town of San Diego.

Derrick Caracter: After missing three games with back spasms, the second-round pick returned to action on Friday, scoring an early hoop with a rebound in five second quarter minutes.

Phil Jackson Unlikely to Coach Friday

62092429Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson, dealing from flu-like symptoms, could miss his second straight preseason contest on Friday night in Ontario when the Lakers face the Golden State Warriors for the second time in as many nights.

Team spokesman John Black said that it was “unlikely” for Jackson to coach on Friday, though a final decision has not yet been made as the man with 13 total NBA rings was scheduled to go see a doctor.

Jackson didn’t make the trip to San Diego for Thursday evening’s 120-99 win against Golden State, charging assistant coach Brian Shaw with running the team in his absence.

A former player under Jackson for four seasons (1999-2000 to 2002-03), Shaw won three titles as a player and now two as an assistant. Shaw acknowledged that the primary reason he took on head coaching duties in Thursday’s game was because each of Jackson’s four assistants (Shaw, Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons and Chuck Person) split up the NBA teams for scouting purposes, and Golden State is Shaw’s squad. While Shaw said that he enjoyed the experience of sitting in the big chair, he was simply keeping it warm until Jackson feels better.

“(Jackson’s) our leader, we’re just following his instructions and his lead on what he does,” said Shaw. “We hope he feels better and that he gets back soon.”

If Jackson does not make the trip east to Ontario, Shaw would again resume head coaching duties for the night.