As rumors swirl and the pundits debate on whether or not Kobe Bryant will be playing in Europe during the lockout, his team just added a Euro brain to their staff in order to keep the championship ball rolling.
The Lakers announced just last week that they will be adding European coaching legend Ettore Messina as a consultant to new head coach Mike Brown. It’s a full-time position that will call for Messina to accompany the Lakers for games and practices at both home and on the road.
Both the Lakers and Messina have one thing in common: basketball success. Messina was named one of the Euroleague’s top ten coaches of all time in 2008 as well as European Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2008 in addition to Italian Coach of the Year in 1990, 1993, 1998, 2001 and 2005.
Messina coached Virtus Bologna to two Euroleague titles in 1998 and 2001 with the latter one coaching Manu Ginobili. He also ran Benetton Treviso (where he replaced Mike D’Antoni) and CSKA Moscow and won two more Euroleague titles in 2006 and 2008.
He has been in talks with NBA teams for head coaching positions for the last few years but never got the opportunity. It was speculated that he signed a deal with the Toronto Raptors after they fired Sam Mitchell in December of 2008 but they ended up going with Jay Triano and Messina remained in Europe. It hasn’t been speculated as to whether they talked with him after firing Triano at the end of the season but they have since hired on Dwane Casey as their new head coach.
He is now coming off of a two-year contract with Real Madrid who had been pursuing Rudy Fernandaz just last week. Hoopsworld reported that Messina had been offered the deal in May but perhaps in light of the deal with Fernandez that fell through, he is now ready for the position.
In fact, it all makes sense.
Every off season for the past five or six years, Brown would travel overseas to stay with Messina for a few weeks at a time. The position became open with the departure of both head coach Phil Jackson and his assistant Tex Winter. Winter suffered a stroke in Manhattan, Kansas in 2009 but has been recovering very well. Additionally, the coaching legend will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on August 12, 2011, an achievement that everyone in the Lakers association thought he deserved for some time.
It isn’t anything different for a new head coach to bring a sort of security blanket along with him when assuming his new assignment. We seem them do it all the time with veteran players and assistants in order to help them adjust to the new job. Do you really think Tom Thibedeau wanted Brian Scalabrine to play or rather serve as support on that bench?
Additionally, Messina has accepted the fact that the road to coaching is a long one that calls for years of work as an assistant. The NBA is a different beast and will take him some time to get used to.
He really does seem to be the right guy for the job too. Winter’s was known for his triangle offense that essentially fell apart in the playoffs. The Lakers defeated the New Orleans Hornets in the first round due to their ability to bang them in the post with David West looking on from the sidelines. However, their offense was frustrated and shut down as the Dallas Mavericks’ zone defense that didn’t bite for the double team. Subsequently, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum couldn’t find themselves open in the post.
It’s important to remember though that both Bynum and Odom were one reason the Lakers did so well last season. Odom went home with the Sixth Man of the Year award and Bynum started to look like the beast we thought he would be. Messina’s well known for his tendency to focus on player development especially in the post. He is also known to have a deep admiration for Kobe Bryant.
Messina has been described as a top-down boss who likes to call the plays and is hard on players that don’t pull their own weight. It has yet to be seen if he is ready to take a more backseat role for the organization and let Brown call the shots.
Jackson was known for a highly lackadaisical style of coaching that allowed his own players to run the show but it seems like those days are over. As stated above, the triangle offense is essentially dead in the NBA with the loss of Winter in LA and Kurt Rambis in Minnesota. Even Brown has come forward and stated that they will not be running the triangle.
The plan is for the Lakers to run the ball up the court in order to conserve time on the shot clock. Brown wants the ball up the court within three or four seconds with the hope that the offense will either develop a play or simply drive the lane. Defensively, he wants his team staying spread out and attacking the ball.
Although it does seem a little basic and nonspecific, Messina is a good guy to bring in. He is known as a tactical mastermind that loves to attack opposing coaches’ game plans. At times, his teams have been known to run and gun for one game before turning into a squad relying primarily on their defense and half-court tactics. He’s coached several types of ways and will be good insight for a team that is transition.
It does seem kind of funny for a team to be undergoing such transitions especially in the midst of a lockout that prevents them from doing much at all. Bryant has always had his voice heard on this squad and they can’t even convene with him right now due to the lockout.
Additionally, if this team wants to move forward, it’s dire that they make a move for a point guard worth sneezing at. The laid back system is gone and Brown needs someone running the floor. Without free agency, they can’t go after anyone. They draft hometown boy Darius Morris from Michigan in the second round but he’s only 20-years-old and is lacking athletically.
This team was supposed to cause some damage in the playoffs last season but were ultimately swept in the second round. Now, they essentially lost most of their identity with Jackson retiring and by leaving what made them so successful for so long. However, if ever a time to make such drastic changes, it’s now.
Bryant only has so much time left as a threat in the league and it’s time for them to utilize him appropriately. Their system is broken and it’s time to change it up with more balance that doesn’t rely on him as much. Additionally, a lot can change in this league during the current lockout with the possibility of contracts being highly limited in the future. This may result in an influx of Euro players and style coming to the NBA and Messina may help with that.
During this confusing time for the NBA, one thing is for sure: a lot may change. The Lakers are a staple of the NBA that has set the bar for success for so long. They understand that it’s time for them to adapt. This hiring will give them to ability to move in many directions while they groom what could be a future coach in the league.