Lakers hope full training camp under Mike D’Antoni solves identity crisis

first_imgShortly after the Lakers laced up their sneakers, worked up a sweat and studied film, Steve Nash sensed the peaceful surroundings.A season after a lack of training camp under coach Mike D’Antoni contributed toward a first-round flameout to the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers have yearned for this moment. The time when the Lakers have a month to iron out concepts. The time when they can play without worrying about results. The time when they can build chemistry instead of mixing in formulas that don’t work.The environment appeared so striking during the begnning of the Lakers’ training camp that Nash couldn’t help but point it out to D’Antoni.“He told me, ‘It’s a little bit different,’ ” D’Antoni said recently. “I go, ‘Yeah, it feels different.’ ” Just a little.The Lakers entered last season rife with expectations stemming from key acquisitions in Nash and Dwight Howard joining a star-studded cast featuring Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.The Lakers enter this season with a panel of ESPN writers predicting they’ll finish in 12th place out of 15 Western Conference teams. The Lakers spent all of last year’s training camp under Mike Brown learning elements of the Princeton-based offense, a complicated system with cuts, passing and various reads based on how opposing teams defend. The Lakers then fired Brown following a 1-4 start and brought in D’Antoni, whose pick-and-roll-heavy offense provided a stark contrast in pace and simplicity.But the Lakers had little time to learn it. Nash, who ran D’Antoni’s offense well enough to earn two NBA MVPs in four seasons with the Phoenix Suns, stayed sidelined for seven weeks because of a fractured left leg, leaving the Lakers without a significant piece to build chemistry. “We never really ran Mike’s system last year,” Nash said. “That’s part of finding an identity is that through personnel, no training camp and very little practice time with all the injuries, it was hard to get Mike’s system going. It was hard to find that identity.”Meanwhile, the Lakers openly bickered. Players balked at D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. Howard lamented not being featured enough on offense. The Lakers remained frustrated when the litany of injuries never ended.“It was hard to really feel a lot of positive energy,” Nash said. “It always seemed like a challenge for us. This year, it feels a little bit more like a team. Who knows how good we’ll be. But the early energy and vibe is really positive.”The Lakers see that in various ways.D’Antoni estimated that “90 percent” of the Lakers’ roster participated in the team’s informal workouts in the past month. Nash praised how D’Antoni finds the right balance in training camp between teaching and ensuring enough rest to prevent burnout. Aside from the Lakers’ three two-a-day sessions this week, D’Antoni’s practices last two hours and entail a mix of film study, individual drills and full-court scrimmages in an efficient manner.What difference will a full training camp do for D’Antoni?“The difference will be we won’t have to hunt and peck and go through each personality,” he said, “and figure out what gets them going and what doesn’t.”The Lakers went through that process last year with mixed results. D’Antoni featured Gasol as a reserve in favor of Earl Clark both because of Gasol’s ailing knees and D’Antoni’s preference for a smaller and quicker lineup. Bryant took over ball-handling abilities, while Nash became a shooting guard in hopes to create an offense less dependent on Bryant. The Lakers soon closed out the season 28-12 by leaning on Bryant’s heroics and a more post-oriented game with Howard and Gasol.“As successful as we were the second half of the season … we never found an identity,” Nash said. “We’d always find a way to win some games probably on some talent. But there was never any confidence or identity among the group.”This season features a roster of young and athletic players on one-year contracts, including Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry, eager to earn a role and possibly a long-term deal. The Lakers also have center Chris Kaman, a 10-year veteran who remains dependable on mid-range jumpers and pick-and-roll plays. Beyond Gasol starting at center and Nash starting at point guard, D’Antoni has kept the other spots open. Kaman, Jordan Hill, Johnson and Henry will compete for minutes at power forward, while Young and Johnson will fight for time at small forward. Steve Blake and Farmar could start at shooting guard if Bryant stays sidelined while rehabbing his left Achilles tendon.Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t have the drama surrounding Howard’s future becoming a constant backdrop.“There’s a lot of new guys who want to maximize their opportunity, find out what their role is going to be and fight for that role,” Gasol said. “Veteran guys are all eager to prove ourselves and continue to be the best we can be and be the top players in the league. We want put it all together and create that chemisty, bond and unity.”Will that be enough?Bryant remains unsure if he will play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers, let alone any of the team’s eight preseason games through Oct. 25. The Lakers are gradually increasing the workload for Gasol and Nash as they recover from their respective hamstring and knee injuries. The Lakers also leave Oct. 11 for an eight-day trip to play exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai.“In January, nobody is going to say, yeah, that China trip just kicked our butt,” D’Antoni said, laughing.The Lakers may say that for other reasons. They have a good-riddance attitude toward Howard. But his departure to Houston, coupled with World Peace being waived through the amnesty provision, leaves the Lakers with a dropoff in talent.Can the Lakers overcome that?“It’s going to have to if we want to be successful and exceed expectations,” Nash said. “The group is going to have to have a real cohesion and spirit about it in order to overcome the drop in talent. But it’s exciting to have another opportunity after last year. Not only was last year unsuccessful, it was also painful. It wasn’t a lot of fun and positive as it should be.”center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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