NBA's neediest welcome full training camps

BY foxsports • September 25, 2012

To NBA coaches, the challenge of last December’s shortened training camps must have seemed as daunting as scribbling the new collective-bargaining agreement on the back of a gum wrapper.
So, training camp 2011 was little more than a fast break through rudimentary tactics.
“Oh, it was loads of fun,” one assistant coach, heavy on the sarcasm, said of the post-lockout rush to open the season. “You barely had time to cover certain aspects one time as it was. But added to that was free agency going on at the same time; so after going through stuff on one day, you had a new player coming in the next day and maybe the day after that.
“The product you saw on the floor, along with the condensed schedule, left something to be desired.”
Well, if you desire a more visually appealing flow to NBA games this season, please exhale. With the notable exception of Allen Iverson, most of us believe practice is important in the realm of smooth basketball performance. And, with about a month separating us from the regular season, the league is only days away from the start of training camps.
Although each team should benefit from having reasonable prep time, a few franchises figure to need more work than others. Variables such as significant roster demolition or coaching changes should make October an important time for teams we’re offering as examples:
After attempting to wean his new team off Phil Jackson’s triangle offense last season, Lakers coach Mike Brown now must work with Steve Nash.
While that seems like a swell predicament for upgrading an offense, the presence of Kobe Bryant gives any strategic shift the potential to become tumultuous. Brown also hired Eddie Jordan as an assistant coach; Jordan is expected to help the Lakers incorporate some Princeton-style maneuvers into their half-court structure.
That’s not impossible in the NBA. But please note the Princeton philosophy can be distilled to the task of seeking continuity of player and ball movement, eventually leading to a defensive breakdown.
The 24-second clock makes this more of a challenge. So does starting camp without a healthy Dwight Howard, who – unlike new teammate Pau Gasol – isn’t exactly the perfect ball-handling middle man for a smooth-running Princeton set.
When Mike Woodson stepped in for the departed Mike D’Antoni last season, the precious lack of post-lockout practice time made sticking with most of the old coach’s offensive principles seem like the way to go.
Woodson also had to adjust to finding ways to score with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire out while Jeremy Lin was in. Then all three were in. Eventually Anthony and Stoudemire were in and Lin was out.
With Melo, Amar’e and center Tyson Chandler ready to roll, the Knicks really need a month of rehearsal to generate an offensive now predicated on power.
By the way, Woodson also has a new flock of point guards.
True, coach Alvin Gentry’s D’Antoni-influenced style has been established, and old hand Goran Dragic returns to run the show.
But, once again, the Suns have undergone a drastic roster overhaul, obliging Gentry to incorporate six new rotations players. Not including Dragic, there should be at least two new starters.
Just how tricky is it to adjust to offensive life in Phoenix? You simply run up and down and shoot the ball when it comes to you, right? Well, former Laker Shannon Brown seemed to think it would be that easy after escaping the triangle last season — and temporarily fell out of the rotation.
Speaking of rotation, Suns assistant coach Elston Turner won’t mind having an entire month to try making the newcomers efficient on defense.
The premise is far more pedestrian than quantum physics — ball screen for Chris Paul, roll to the hoop for lobs or have CP3 kick to shooters spotting up.
But rising personnel star Gary Sacks helped bring in Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes. These veterans should have sufficient wisdom to fit in. Coach Vinny Del Negro, however, will need the traditional time to decide just how they do that.
New coach Mike Dunlap is regarded as an expert teacher by those who spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating Xs and Os.
With a few holdovers from the worst team in league history arriving for camp, Dunlap will need every second of practice time to make the Bobcats competitive. That goes double if he really intends to roll out some full-court pressure defense.
Coach Monty Williams figures to open the season with four new starters — including two rookies.
Although Eric Gordon will continue to be the lead option on offense, the full month of workouts and exhibition games should help Anthony Davis find his comfort zone on offense.
But October should be even more important for rookie guard Austin Rivers. Scoring point guards seem to be the rage these days, but Rivers still needs to adjust his focus on making the game easier for his teammates.
Even though Doug Collins’ Sixers attempted to get Elton Brand involved on the post, there will be a much greater emphasis to build the offense around newcomer Andrew Bynum.
So instead of using Spencer Hawes to draw opposing centers out of the lane, Philly’s legion of perimeter kids must learn to attack the rim without impeding Bynum.
Without knowing the return date of Derrick Rose, coach Tom Thibodeau must use October to establish a temporary offensive identity that can keep his team viable.
Coach Kevin McHale is very point-guard friendly, so Lin will have the opportunity to flourish.
Unfortunately, the aggressive accumulation of draft picks failed to land Howard, leaving Houston with enough kids to make the entire season feel like camp.
New coach Terry Stotts has a beast on the low post (LaMarcus Aldridge) and a rookie point guard Damian Lillard with remarkable scoring chops.
They’ll need time to blend.
By the way, three-man Nic Batum has needed a few years to develop into an impact player. Now that he also is armed with a big contract, he’ll use October to try establishing himself as more of a threat.
First-year Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was the smartest high-school point guard I’ve ever seen … on and off the court.
But after learning from Roy Williams, Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich, he’ll need every ounce of his hoop IQ to keep Orlando afloat.
If Dirk Nowitzki is more prepared for this season than last, the renovated Mavs roster has a chance to develop into a decent team.
Newcomer Darren Collison should be solid, but October will be spent finding out if O.J. Mayo can lurch toward stardom without invading Dirk’s territory.
Mayo has skill and works hard, and the hoop schematics aren’t that sophisticated; this could work just fine.