Lakers’ Least Known New Coach May Make The Biggest Impact

Darius Soriano —  September 10, 2012

What was rumored for weeks is now hard news: the Lakers have added three assistant coaches — Eddie Jordan, Bernie Bickerstaff, and Steve Clifford — to Mike Brown’s staff. They replace Ettore Messina and Quin Snyder (who both left for CSKA Moscow) and John Kuester (who has been reassigned as an advanced scout). These additions bring clarity to the Lakers’ bench by adding seasoned coaches who will help the team on both sides of the ball.

The names most recognized, of course, are Jordan’s and Bickerstaff’s. They’re former NBA head men that have made their way around the league for years. They may not be household names to the casual fan, but diehards know who they are and know how they’ll help the team. Jordan will be tasked with implementing the Princeton Offense and Bickerstaff will likely be a consigliere of sorts, lending a veteran voice to Brown.

Of the trio of new coaches the man who’s least known is Clifford, but he’s also the coach that most intrigues me. Because while Jordan and his new offense are supposed to turn the heads, it’s Clifford’s background on the defensive side of the ball that will be just as important to the Lakers’ success in the year ahead. Remember, down the stretch of last season the Lakers’ defensive efficiency fell off a cliff. In April the Lakers posted the 6th worst defensive efficiency in the league, posting a mark of 109.5 (which was only tenths of a point better than teams like the Cavs, Bobcats, and Warriors). In the playoffs, the Lakers posted a better efficiency number (106.5) than in the season’s final month, but ranked 12th out of the 16 playoff teams.

Next year, they’ll need better. Clifford (as well as Dwight Howard’s addition) should help a great deal.

For those that are unaware, Clifford has spent the better part of the last 12 years around some of the better defensive minds in the game. He was an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy (along with Tom Thibodeau) with both the Knicks and the Rockets and for the past 5 seasons he served in the same position under Stan Van Gundy with the Magic. In coaching next to these three men, Clifford has surely picked up invaluable experience in how to coach defense and been exposed to some of the best defensive schemes the NBA has to offer.

Furthermore, Clifford will likely share some of the same defensive philosophies that Mike Brown already has in place, at least if we use the schemes of the teams he’s coached for as a guide. All of those teams ran a hedge and recover scheme on pick and rolls and all of them liked to funnel drives from the corners to the middle where shot blocking big men could challenge shots. Plus, those teams also showed a risk averse approach to defense where gambling for steals was shunned in favor of playing strong position D that led to contested shots. These are the same principles Mike Brown learned at the altar of Popovich, honed in Cleveland, and brought to the Lakers last season. The fact that Clifford has coached on staffs that embraced these same principles should not surprise.

Having a background in these schemes should also breed continuity and familiarity with a team that will have enough change to deal with on the other end of the ball. Next year’s defense shouldn’t be too different from last season’s, only more refined. The fact that Dwight Howard is already familiar with this scheme is important, but the fact that it’s the same scheme he’s won multiple DPOY’s in is even more so. Combine this fact with the foundation of next year’s roster is entering their second year playing in this type of scheme and the team should be better across the board in understanding and executing on that side of the ball.

We’ll see how much of the defense Brown surrenders to his new assistant coach. After all, Brown was hired with a defensive pedigree of his own and he already has a coach on staff (Chuck Person) who’s acted in a “defensive coordinator” type of role for the Lakers. However, Clifford brings defensive chops from his previous stops that will be a very good addition to the Lakers. On its own, his familiarity with Howard is already a key variable in how he can help the team. But in coaching next to the aforementioned defensive minds, Clifford also brings a pedigree of his own that can’t be ignored and that surely played a part in him being hired by the Lakers in the first place.

So, while all eyes are on Jordan and the new O, don’t be surprised if Clifford and the revamped D are just as important next season. If they Lakers want to win at the highest level, they’ll certainly need it to be.

*Statistical support for this post from

Darius Soriano

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43 responses to Lakers’ Least Known New Coach May Make The Biggest Impact

  1. With Eddie Jordan coming in with the offense it was very likely John Kuester would not return. Last year Brown seemed to have only Person to help him implement a defense. With both Person and Clifford, I would expect not only more emphasis, but different presentations/specializations of defensive principles. Also, we might have Clifford focusing more on front court responsibilities and Person the 1-2-3 positions.

  2. I am very interesting in Lakers defense this year. Seeing if they can pick up where they left off on somewhat of a good note imo. One can only hope the hire of Clifford relegates Person to helping our team with shooting. Metta’s threes, Ebanks shot and Dwight’s FTs.

    Speaking of Dwight why is Shaq taking another dig at him? Shaq has to be the most petty player ever. It was nothing but digs at Kobe too “Kobe couldn’t do without me” when he got 5 it was “I was being smart and pushed him I knew what I was doing, I was the captain of that ship”. Shaq just go away in peace your not even a top 5 Laker. Irks me even more that he’s getting his jersey retired while Kobe is still playing and when Dwight’s on the team.

  3. It seems almost all the bases are covered. The team has multiple defensive coaches, an offensive coordinator in Jordan, a veteran assistant in Bickerstaff, a tutor for Dwight in Kareem, two of the best player coaches in Nash and Kobe.

    What’s left for Mike Brown to do? Call timeouts and manage minutes? Unfortunately, based on last season, Brown proved awful at managing minutes. Perhaps an old veteran like Bickerstaff should be assigned the job of managing the minutes of our aging players? That would leave Mike Brown as the official timeout caller of the Lakers. I think he can do it.

  4. Kevin_
    If you have followed Shaq you know that he has an incredibly thin skin. He is – IMO – a pretty insecure person and needs to always have people around him who look up to him. This is – in part – the reason he ran a clique in his early Laker years that ostracized Kobe.

    Shaq is afraid Dwight might leave a greater legacy than he did with the Lakers.

    Other than that Greek flaw, he is a pretty nice guy.

  5. “Shaq is afraid Dwight might leave a greater legacy than he did with the Lakers.”

    I’d be pretty happy with that outcome.

  6. I’m almost dreading the possibility of Shaq ruining his jersey retirement with some not-too-clever backhanded compliment about Howard. The Big Shaqtus can’t seem to let a chance to disparage go.

  7. Craig– Shaq:
    I’ve noticed that too. He does seem very insecure. You can tell even on inside the nba, he still has some sour feelings toward Barkley and Kenny. He’s always throwing little jabs, or trying to steal attention. (Just an observation)

  8. Yeah, reading Shaq’s book you can tell that he is very conscious of what others think about him. Of course everyone is, especially if what others think gets announced on the news every now and then, but he does seem a bit more conscientious.

    It is a common trait found among big men who are considered dominant and lazy and feel that the fans don’t understand and appreciate the inherent effort and hardship associated with moving such great body mass at NBA levels. That feeling probably gets worse when being compared to a wing player to whom people can relate to more easily and thus try to emulate more.

    In addition, he’s probably fighting what every retired super athlete is fighting – fade to irrelevancy. It’s hard not to see your name in the news everyday after you have been in the spotlight for so long.

    Still, wish he could handle it more gracefully, but not everyone can be John Stockton and really enjoy being a nobody.

  9. Forget about that big cactus… we got ourselves a keeper in D12 for years to come.

    I wonder how M. Brown is going to balance the offense specially with S. Nash and Howard, and with the hiring of E. Jordan.

    I can’t wait the season to start.

  10. Mike Brown is the Chief Coach Coordinator.
    Delegates everything to his assistant coaches.
    And on court, Steve Nash is the coach calling the plays.

  11. how many freaking coaches does Mike Brown need? Sounds like the man is seriously incompetent. Last year it took him five gaves against OKC till the last minute of losing series to put in Devin Ebanks the superior player to Matt Barnes.

    What I also found interesting was the fact that last years team could not shoot threes very well. Yet to my surprise Goudelok was suddenly taken out of the lineup for good.

    I have serious doubts about whether Mike Brown can organize this team to a title. I mean it sounds like he has some serious work as far as organizing his coaching staff. I mean thats a team of its own.

    Jesuz, how many coaches do you need?

  12. Lakers should hire Larry Brown and Phil Jackson to complete this dream team coaching staff

  13. @ KEVIN

    I agree with your Shaq critique and it also bothers me that they have to retire him next year. The dude just retired, build Kareem a statue first.

    JEEBUS CHRIS, Jim Buss! Mike Brown and now Shaq retired Jersey ALREADY!

  14. Mind boggling indeed!

  15. Peter: Agreed about Shaq. No issues with retiring the jersey, but maybe in 2014/15.

  16. San Antonio has four Assistant Coaches helping out Greg Popovich. Guess how many Assistant Coaches Mike Brown has?

    People really need to lay off Brown. It’s so ridiculous the amount of crap people are piling on him. As several determined posters have repeated ad nauseum, Brown was coaching a depleted roster last year. In fact, Phil Jackson (queue “greatest NBA coach of all time”) also lost in the second round with the same team, but a year younger. Give the guy a year to coach his schemes in a non-lock out season, a full season to get comfortable with his personnel and their abilities, a year to perfect things. If we fail this year and it’s clearly a coaching issue, then harp to your heart’s content. But give Brown a real chance.

  17. What’s up with all this fuss about Shaq? He is more than worthy of a retired jersey, he carried our team to a three-peat, was one of the most dominant players ever and both the media and fans alike loved him. Quit yapping about it, the guy deserves it.

    I do agree on questioning Brown’s ability to coach this team. I’ve stated this a couple of times before. But contrary to what some people are saying, I believe we will be better off with the coaching staff he has now supporting him, but only if he listens. Don’t know about him enough to be satisfied or worried that he’ll listen or not.

  18. Speaking about defense, i kind of miss jordan farmar. I’ve been watching the 2010 champion dvd. Jordan can change the dynamic of the team. He can spread the floor while playing enough D.

    Want him to come back. He’d play better in this system than in Phil’s triangle.

  19. Clifford knows the Magic 3,now with the Lakers. Clark and Duhon are big?? Is Duhon washed up ,or still have something left. Will Clark continue to develop. Will Dwight get “back” to 100% after surgery. The Magic 3 will determine a lot about this year`s Lakers.

  20. I wonder how Cliff is going to get thosew lead feet of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to guard players such as Russel Westbrook and Dwayne Wade to name a few?

  21. @JT’s Hoops Blog, don’t worry, why don’t you Westbrook and Wade go worry about how u can defend Nash and Kobe. Just in case you are really as clueless as you sound, let me share a phrase you probably never heard – Team Defense

  22. How the Lakers defend PGs will be interesting. With the Suns Steve Nash would often defend the other teams inept SGs with guys like Grant Hill switching on to the PG. Will Kobe be okay
    Chasing around PGs? Can he still do it at his age? Will MWP be the one to cover for Nash? These are the answers we will likley discover by the end of the preseason or start of the regular season. If Kobe and MWP aren’t quick enough to do the job the Lakers might be in trouble. I’m of the opinion that Kobe and MWP will share PG defensive duties and do it effectively.

  23. Defense: We need three guys to step up. D12 to get DPOY; KB to get 1st team All D, and MWP to get 2nd Team. As I said with our defensive genius as coach, this can be done.
    Offense: We should not overcomplicate things. Lots of PnR, a little fast breaking (it will be nice to actually see this), dump it into the post to D12 against most teams who can’t deal with it, and of course a dose of KB (at least one double teamed, turn around, fadeaway per game – just for old times sake).

  24. Lakers defense is drastically better with Dwight. He’ll clean up most mistakes and he’ll force other coaches to gameplan around him. Having practice time will give Mike Brown the time he needs to devise schemes. Defense will not be a problem.

    Jelling as a team, defining roles and 3 pt shooting are the hurdles. This team is loaded.

  25. I believe Kobe is keen to the fact that he’ll have to take some of the pressure off of Nash on the defensive end of the court. Might be 1 of the reasons why he’s dropped a significant amount of weight during this off season. The lesser the weight, the quicker the feet. The question is, will the loss of pounds make a difference? Especially @ this point of his career.

  26. Long time reader going back a few years and saw this article and figured I’d post the link, very encouraging.

    Go Lakers!

  27. I love it: Cuban talks anti-superteam trash after trying and failing to get Howard and D-Will.

    You’re right, Mark: much better to lose Chandler, Terry, Kidd and Barea and have Shawn Marion and Elton Brand (!) battle it out to see who will be your second option. Great use of that cap space!

  28. @Rich,

    Thanks for sharing! Encouraging news indeed 馃檪

  29. Just passing along some info: Hoopshype ( via a Brasilian blog is reporting that Nash is recruiting Barbosa to come to the Lakers.

    My guess is he can get a bit more than the veteran minimum from another team. But if there’s a way to squeeze him in on the cheap, I’m all for it. Career 0.391 shooter from three with speed and ability to get to the basket, definitely fits a need.

  30. That Cuban article was funny. He has a point, of course, but coming from him it sounds petty.

    Anyway, I am in a mode where I both wish for the season to start right away, while at the same time wish there’s enough time for Howard to recover…

  31. Nash is currently recruting Barbosa.

    How do you gentlemen feel about that?

  32. Cuban forgot the cardinal rule of superstar players. They rarely move in free agency. They almost always move in trades. LeBron, Bosh, Carmelo, Deron, and Howard were all traded.
    No one just ups and walks in free agency like Shaq did in 1996. That was rare by superstar standards. Tradable assets are more important than cap space if one is pursuing a franchise player.

    Even with the sign and trade going away I don’t see this reality changing much.

  33. I would right away have Barbosa back up Nash as he did with the Suns.

  34. We all have to remember Nash wasn’t as successful in Dallas as in Phoenix. A lot of that had to do with the style of play – IMO.

    A key to getting the best out of Nash is to avoid making him fit into a system that doesn’t fit his talents. Putting him in a Phil Jackson or Larry Brown system would create a straight-jacket and hamper him.

    With he and Dwight seeming to fit hand-and-glove, I would be very careful about forcing him out of his comfort zone.

  35. Not many things are more enjoyable than watching Mark Cuban’s head explode.

  36. I’d like to take a shot at translating Cuban’s comments.

    Here goes:

    Wah, wah, wah! I want my mommie! (sniffle).

  37. I would still prefer to have Cuban as an owner over Dolan or Sterling, but that’s just me.

    Anyway, I’m all for Barbosa but I haven’t seen much of him since 2007. If he is still that fast, sure why not.

  38. @ #32 T. Rogers,

    Lebron was definitely NOT traded… his contract expired… I am not sure of Bosh though…

    As for Barbosa, that would be awesome…if Mitch can somehow squeeze a spot for him on the roster…

  39. dice8up,

    Lebron was part of a sign and trade. The Cavs signed him and then traded him. Here’s a link to an article indicating both Bosh and Lebron were traded for.

    “While details are still being finalized, it appears that the Cavaliers will acquire 4 future draft picks from the Heat believed to be 2-first and 2-second round picks. The caveat, however, is that the picks are believed to be far in the future because the Heat is believed to have traded their 2011 first round pick to the Raptors for Chris Bosh.”

  40. dice8up,

    Cleveland fessed up at the last minute and traded him to Miami when they realized they would get nothing if he just walked. It was a sign and trade that netted them a number of draft picks and a $15 million dollar trade exception.

  41. Nice video piece by Brian K & Ramona on “Who takes the last shot?” Wonder how much influence the coach will actually have.

  42. Really? Dude going all mafia. Calling the Lakers criminals on the sly.

    con路si路glie路re ? ?[kawn-see-lye-re] Show IPA
    noun, plural con路si路glie路ri ?[-ree] Show IPA. Italian .
    a member of a criminal organization or syndicate who serves as an adviser to the leader.

    consigliere (?k?ns?gl????r?)
    鈥 n
    a trusted adviser, esp in a criminal organization

    [Italian, from Latin consili?rius , from consilium advice]

  43. Hi,

    Thanks very much for this comment. It help me to think about my ideals.

    Tks again and pls keep posting.