HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s still a bit strange seeing him in purple and gold.
We know, we know, get over it already.
But just like it’s taking Steve Nash time to transition into his role as the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting point guard, it’s taking a little time for us to figure out exactly how this grand experiment is going to work.
Without the benefit of seeing Dwight Howard out there with them, and with Kobe Bryant in limited doses during the preseason, imaginations to tend to run a bit wild with the possibilities.
A preseason loss to the Warriors where we don’t see enough of the Lakers’ core group together for long stretches makes it hard to make a true evaluation of what they are working with. Everyone knows what sort of potential is there. Waiting to see it, though, has to be a bit nerve-wracking for Lakers fans.
It’s tough for the rest of us, hoops voyeurs who are just curious to see this what the league’s big top circus will look like when it comes to our respective towns.
There were, however, positive signs. Folks who observe the Lakers’ every move saw traces of the powerhouse that could be, of the cohesiveness we all know is needed if the Lakers are to compete at the championship level expected:
Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Times — Results don’t matter in preseason games. So don’t suddenly demand the Lakers should blow up their roster after losing to Golden State without center Andrew Bogut and shooting guard Stephen Curry. But when the Lakers played with their starters in the first half, they showed that their chemistry looks strong. Steve Nash (five points, three assists) looked unbelievable throwing a cross-court no-look pass to Kobe Bryant, who then connected with Pau Gasol on an alley oop play. Nash also broke some ankles by shaking Jarrett Jack with a crossover that nearly made him fall before nailing an open three-pointer.
The Lakers also ran the revamped offense that includes elements of the Princeton system with fluidity. Rarely did the Lakers ever go into isolation sets. Each player appeared intent on following Steve Nash’s lead (five points, three assists) and finding the open player for a shot. Kobe Bryant, who posted 10 points on two of seven shooting and three assists, appeared intent on facilitating. The Lakers set strong screens and actually played off of them.
They routinely covered for each other on defense. The floor spacing gave plenty of room for Metta World Peace to operate outside and score 10 points on three-of-six shooting. It’s fair to say that this reflects how much calmer and easier it’s been for the Lakers to absorb Brown’s teaching concepts with more time and a solidified roster. As a result, the Lakers look a lot more exciting and fluid on offense than last year’s disaster.
The two names you need to lock in on are Mike Brown and Metta World Peace. As important Kobe, Nash, Howard and Gasol are, the two guys who could very well hold the key to this season for the Lakers are the coach and the wild card personality on the roster.
World Peace has earned a level of trust from us based on his Game 7 performance in The Finals in 2010. Everyone conveniently forgets that it was World Peace, and not Bryant or necessarily Gasol, whose big shots saved them from losing that epic series to the arch rival Celtics.
Brown’s second season in Los Angeles has to be smoother than his first. It probably helps that Andrew Bynum isn’t around anymore to challenge his authority. It also helps that he’ll have a veteran floor general like Nash to run his show now, too.
Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register highlighted the impact Nash has had on his new team, a hold that began long before Sunday’s preseason opener:
When you’ve played as long as Nash — this 17th NBA season for him and Bryant marks as many years as it took Bynum to go from birth to the Lakers — do you still want to put in the work or do you feel like you have to put in the work?
The Lakers showed in recent years that an aging roster might tilt toward the latter. That should not be the case this season, and in that regard, Sunday’s game was an early statement.
Nash made a statement even earlier when he invited fellow veteran point guards Steve Blake and Chris Duhon to Arizona before training camp. For three days, they didn’t just work hard, they worked smart.
“Get a head start on some of the offensive concepts,” Nash explained.
If you’re a proven genius in the basketball world, you might settle for cramming. That’s the opposite of cramming.
For those who think Nash’s mind and creativity will be muted with the Lakers, consider that Brown said before the game that Nash can determine whatever he wants to run every time down the floor by where he goes and where he moves the ball. (For sure, though, the opposing defense will dictate to Nash — which is sort of the point of what Brown is promoting to his players as “a stress-free offense” dependent on proper reading and reacting.)
“Hopefully by December or January,” Brown said, “it will look very, very pretty.”
You’d better believe Nash is on a crusade for that — and it to be very, very effective.
Even though most of the offense isn’t in yet, Nash made things so pretty in the debut Sunday that Bryant said: “It was natural. Just real natural. Real easy” and so effective that Brown said of rookie last-pick-in-the-draft center Robert Sacre: “He made Sacre look like he was in his third year in the league.”
Nash wields that sort of power, the ability to make a journeyman look like “The Man” (in brief spurts). It’s simply what he does and what he’s always done.
And it’s what the rest of the Lakers, Kobe included, have to be willing to step aside and allow him to work his magic at times, if they’re going to chase the lofty goals already in place for this team this season.