EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — When you walk into the Lakers’ practice facility, you immediately notice a 180-degree difference in the attitude of the players, coaches and team personnel.
The Dwight Howard factor is gone — and none of the Lakers are losing any sleep over it.
Factor, disturbance, Dwightmare — whatever you want to call it — is in Houston; healthy and getting ready to try and bring a championship to Houston. Things he couldn’t do in Los Angeles last season. He did, however, bring a lot of tension to the Laker locker room, which threatened to derail the team’s chances at a playoff spot.
Lakers’ guard Steve Nash loves the more positive attitude around the Toyota Sports Center.
“Last year it just didn’t work, for whatever reason,” said the 39-year-old Nash after Friday’s practice. “This team never found an identity. We never meshed personality-wise. It never felt right; it never felt easy. Our talent won games for us but there was never that cohesion you need.
“This year we’ve got a lot of great guys and great players, and the coaches have done a great job running (practice) sessions and keeping everyone engaged. The spirit is a lot different and everybody’s getting a lot done.”
Nash wouldn’t name names, but it’s obvious he was referring to Howard and Kobe Bryant as he continued.
“It wasn’t just two guys not getting along,” he said. “We didn’t have a great mix, not only on the floor but personality-wise. Couple that with the injuries, the distractions — maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”
It must have seemed like that was the case for Mike D’Antoni from the moment he arrived in town to coach the Lakers. He messed with Pau Gasol’s playing time and position in the offense, at one point alienating the future Hall of Famer to the point where they had to go to dinner and iron out the situation.
Then he was perceived as having no control over the team — especially Howard and Bryant — and was on his way out the door. But D’Antoni is back and seems a much happier man when talking about his new players.
“The locker room is so important and we just couldn’t ever get it settled,” D’Antoni said. “When it’s bad it destroys everything and when it’s good it makes everything better. You can’t blame just (Dwight) — we were all in it together.
“The first thing that jumps out is the character of them,” D’Antoni said of his new roster, which includes former Laker Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman, Nick Young and their first draft pick, Ryan Kelly from Duke. “Also their enthusiasm and their excitement to be here and make a good team. It’s fun coaching them and I’m obviously (benefitting) from the chemistry we have.”