Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson miss Kurt Rambis' presence with team
Whenever Lakers guard Kobe Bryant paced the sideline, he could usually count on hearing Kurt Rambis' chatterbox along the Lakers bench. But that's no longer the case. After spending 10 seasons as a Lakers assistant, Rambis accepted a four-year deal this off-season to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves. The gig has been far from impressive, with the Timberwolves (14-55) entering Friday's game against the Lakers (50-18) with 11 consecutive losses.
But Bryant and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson lumped those challenges as some of the inevitable growing pains that come with taking over a program whose roster averages about four years of NBA experience. They have also noticed visible signs that point to the Lakers sorely missing his presence. For Bryant, that involves Rambis' communication on the sidelines.
"He was extremely vocal for us," Bryant said of Rambis. "So [assistant coach Brian] Shaw has had to step up and take more of that responsibility with Kurt not being here."
That hasn't been the only difference. The Lakers never filled Rambis' position, meaning all three assistant coaches -- Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen -- have ultimately shared the defensive responsibilities Rambis once assumed. The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported back in October that Jackson had assigned each of his assistants to craft defensive assignments on nine or 10 different teams. It's a huge void to fill, given Rambis' defensive philosophy that held opponents to a 13th-best 99.3 points per game, which was an improvement from the team's No. 19 ranking in the 2008-09 season. The Lakers also limited playoff opponents to 95.2 points per game, including the Orlando Magic to an average of 91.2 points per contest, a factor that was largely instrumental in the Lakers winning their first NBA championship since 2002.
Though the Lakers have largely welcomed the defensive tenacity forward Ron Artest has brought this off-season, Jackson acknowledged Rambis' departure made the defense more vulnerable. Though the Lakers' mark in allowing a 10th-best 97 points per game actually eclipses last season's average, it still isn't as good as the playoff numbers the team posted. Meanwhile, Jackson has noticed similar challenges Rambis has faced in implementing those concepts with Minnesota.
"Basically Kurt was kind of coordinating our defense last year, and I think that’s probably been one of the hardest parts, dealing with a team defensively that has got their difficulties," Jackson said. "They may be behind Golden State and Phoenix and some teams defensively, and I know that’s where he takes a lot of pride in coaching. So I think that’s been a real hard part of it. The other part is, I think every time I listen to it some commentator is making some comment about the triangle offense, [that it's] difficult to coach or difficult to play or something, which it really isn’t. There’s a number of other offenses that are difficult. This seems to be like a weight for them to have to carry."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Minnesota Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis watches the action during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 9. Credit: Michael Perez / Associated Press