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NBA PM: Lakers Getting Defensive

With training camp right around the corner, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to have a much more defensive-oriented approach.

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Lakers Getting Defensive

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott is starting to get settled into his new position, the one he’s wanted for years. It wasn’t until over two months after his initial interview for the head coaching job that the Lakers officially decided to hire the former Laker, who won three championships with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s and played 11 seasons with the franchise overall. By the time he was hired, the roster was basically complete and although there was plenty of changes, the overall talent level is not much different from last year’s historically woeful 27-55 campaign.

That’s created a daunting task for Scott going into his first year as the Lakers’ head coach, especially considering how much better of a place they were in the last two times he was without a job. He may not be taking over at the ideal time, but he has a plan in place to lead them through this rebuilding process and back to contention.

“I just didn’t think they had an identity,” Scott said to SCPR of last year’s Lakers. “I know Mike D’Antoni’s identity really is on the offensive end. In this league, obviously you got to score more points than your opponent. But you have to have some type of system on the defensive end to at least slow people down and not allow them to just score at will as well. So I thought from a defensive standpoint, is where it all kind of started. I didn’t think [the] players bought in on the defensive end, everybody was kind of like, ‘This is going to be offense, so I can let my guy go, and if he scores, we’re going to get a chance to score back on the other end.’ You can’t win championships in this league or in the NFL or in baseball by trying to outscore people on a night-to-night basis. That just doesn’t work, because that comes and goes. On the defensive end, if you have a system and the effort is there every single night, that gives you a chance to stay in the games, that gives you a chance to win at the end. So that’s what we have to implement back into our system.

“I’ve text guys, I’ve had other guys that I’ve text tell the guys that they’re with, you know, ‘Let him know that this is how it’s going to be, and we’re going to play defense every single night,’ and the response has been good  — has been great. A lot of guys right now are a little afraid because of training camp, and they’ve heard about my training camps. So right now I’m kind of smiling on the inside just getting ready for our training camp.”

The Lakers will open up camp later this month and they’re going to be as close to completely healthy as they have been in a couple of years.

“They’re tough,” Scott said of his camps. “A lot of running. A lot of running and a lot of defensive drills. I always believe that if teams are going to beat us, they’re going to beat us because they’re better that night and not because they’re in better shape, not because they’re tougher. They’re going to beat us that night because they’re better that night than we are. So I pride myself on making sure we’re one of the best conditioned teams in the league, and that we’re going to execute on both ends of the floor. And to do that you have to have discipline and dedication, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

A lot of eyes are going to be on Kobe Bryant this season as he’s going to be the league’s highest-paid player and is coming off of basically a throwaway season due to injuries. Bryant has always been difficult to coach and manage, even for Phil Jackson, who helped guide him to five championships and seven NBA Finals appearances. However, Scott is probably the best coach suited for Bryant at this stage of his career because of their familiarity dating back to Bryant’s rookie season, when Scott mentored him during his final year with the Lakers.

“We’ve got a great relationship,” Scott said. “We’ve been texting each other all summer, you know, just talking and talking and talking. We’ve visited a couple times in person. He came in about three weeks ago, so we keep in contact. His biggest thing right now is to get these guys up to speed and make sure they’re all on board with what we’re trying to do. We both have the same thought process as far as what it takes to win. His first words to me were, ‘We gotta play defense.’ And it just brought a smile on my face because that’s exactly what we have to do. It’s gotta be defending first and if we can rebound that ball second, then we can get up and down the floor.”

The Lakers did their best this offseason to try to lessen the burden on Bryant’s shoulders, making a strong run at signing Carmelo Anthony and re-signing Pau Gasol. Unfortunately for the Lakers, for the second straight offseason, they failed to land a free agent of significance. That’s brought up a lot of questions over whether the Laker brand still holds the same kind of clout that it used to.

“I think guys are still looking,” Scott said. “I think they’re also just looking at the situation as well. If they can go somewhere else, and they have a better fit and a better chance of winning, that’s probably what they’re going to do. I think the Laker brand is still one of the best brands in all of sports, and like I said before, the times that the Lakers have been down, it doesn’t take them long to get back up. And I see that happening here as well when this team will be back to that championship form in a few years.

“I have a lot of pride in that purple and gold, and a lot of respect for it, and I have a lot of respect for the Buss family. So I take it real personal when people are dumping on the Lakers, or we have fans [jumping off the bandwagon] – and I know we don’t have a whole lot of fans, it’s probably a very minute number of fans, that jump off the bandwagon because it’s not going as well as they think it should go. But yeah, I take that very personal.”

With ample cap room, the Lakers are going to make another run at some of the top free agents in the 2015 free agency class and how the team fairs this year is going to be just as important as the money they are offering. Top-tier free agents are only going to seriously consider the Lakers if they think that they can compete there, as Scott said. It’s going to be extremely difficult to keep the team from missing the playoffs for a second-straight year, something that the Lakers haven’t done since 1974-1976, but by being competitive and showing marked improvement under Scott, the threat of that streak extending beyond next season is drastically reduced.

NBA News and Notes

Here’s a look at some of the news coming across the wire this Monday afternoon:

– The Chicago Bulls have reached out to Ray Allen about playing in the backcourt alongside Derrick Rose. Just about every serious title contender is interested in Allen right now, but he has yet to firmly decided whether he is going to play this season or retire. The Bulls have Tom Thibodeau playing a key role in recruiting, as he has a strong relationship with Allen dating back to their time winning a championship together with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

– After a strong showing in the FIBA World Cup, Gustavo Ayon has committed to a multi-year deal with Spanish club Real Madrid. According to David Pick, Ayon has several outs in his contract, leaving the possibility open for him to come to the NBA if a serious offer comes along. The San Antonio Spurs were one of the teams who were reportedly interested in Ayon, who also had a sizable offer from China.

– Veteran forward Charlie Villanueva has agreed to terms on a non-guaranteed contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Villanueva spent the last five seasons with the Detroit Pistons, but his role with the team progressively decreased as they stockpiled young talent at his position.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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