Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coach Tex Winter shares his thoughts on Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum

Not long after the Los Angeles Lakers captured their first championship (1999-2000) since the 1988 season, Fred "Tex" Winter, the father of the triple-post offense (better known as the "triangle offense"), visited Manila, Philippines for a series of lectures and business seminars. It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Coach Winter, the architect of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers fabled Triangle Offense.

At 78, Winter executed "jump stops" as he would go about the intricacies of his offense. His insight was refreshing and it will always be an experience that I will cherish.

Now seven years later, at the age of 85, Coach Winter is still going strong despite his recurring bouts with shingles. Winter (who is Michael Jordan's longest tenured coach -- 13 years) is scheduled to take his place at the Los Angles Lakers bench, where he has served as an assistant coach since 1999-2000.

Recently, author Roland Lazenby interviewed Coach Winter and the latter had this to say about Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and the young Andrew Bynum.

Lazenby wrote:

"It’s time for Bryant to realize that being a Los Angeles Laker is the best possible situation for him, time for him to stop pushing for a trade, offered Winter, who over the years has been a mentor to both Lakers coach Phil Jackson and to Bryant himself.

“He should just play basketball where he is,” Winter said. “Los Angeles is a good spot for Kobe.”

Winter has expressed admiration for the Chicago Bulls and their talented young roster, but he never saw Bryant as a good fit there.

“Frankly, I’m not sure how much he’d be able to help that club,” Winter said.

Bryant is simply the best triangle player, born for it, with his mix of physical ability, smarts and work ethic.

“And he knows it,” Winter said. “I wish he would concentrate on playing the game and making his teammates better and not worry about all this other stuff.”

In quiet, low-key ways, Bryant has perhaps moved into the mode that Winter hopes he’ll take. He had effusive praise this week for the work ethic of Andrew Bynum, the young Lakers center who just months ago Bryant had targeted as trade bait. And Bryant has certainly played within the offense and in tune with his teammates in the early going this season.

“He’s trying to do what’s right,” Winter said of Bryant. “He’s certainly working at it. Defensively he’s improved. He’s trying to get better at off-the-ball defense. He’s always been very good as an on-ball defender.”

And Bryant certainly retains his titanium grade confidence, Winter said with a chuckle.

“He hasn’t shot the ball well yet, but that’s not a concern with Kobe. He’s not concerned about anything as far as his play is concerned. He thinks he’s fine, thinks he’s the greatest. Phil has made that remark to him, trying to point out things about his game. But Kobe doesn’t worry. He’s something. He’s got tremendous confidence. That confidence is a key part of who he is.”

So, what is the key for Bryant and this young Lakers team in terms of becoming one of those great triangle teams? As always, it’s execution.

And execution also follows the familiar path: Fundamentals, and more fundamentals. That’s why Jordan and Pippen were so dedicated to working on all the little things in each Bulls practice, passing, cutting, running through the numerous drills that Winter has devised over the years for making players into effective triangle components.

It also means the Lakers need to take on more of a retro Bulls look.

“Remember all the third cutter looks we used to get with Horace Grant?” Winter asked. “Or what about the baseline cuts we used to get with Pippen and Jordan?”

The recent Lakers teams have gotten those passes every once in a while, but the key is their big men, Winter said.

“Their game is not passing; it’s trying to score.”

Whereas the Bulls’ centers were great at finding a Jordan or a Pippen along the baseline, the Lakers centers haven’t shown great effectiveness there. The one center who has potential as a passer is the young Bynum, Winter said.

“He does the best job of the three at seeing the cutter. The centers have to recognize that if the cutter’s not open, someone else will be. They need to get the ball back out and keep the offense moving.”

Tex Winter is certainly one of the best at what he does.

I wish him well and hopes that he stays involved in the game of basketball for many more years to come!

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