- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Lakers' official website, newly acquired guard Steve Blake said that the one thing that always surprises people when he plays against them is his quickness.
What didn't come as a surprise to his new team, however, was how quickly Blake has picked up the triangle offense.
Blake said the team sent him a triangle edit video showing the movements he'd be expected to master, but with just video and no verbal instruction to rely on, it was a little like watching a foreign language film without the subtitles.
It wasn't until he came to Los Angeles several weeks ago and started working with assistant coaches Chuck Person and Rasheed Hazzard that the triangle's sharp angles started to stick in his head.
"They basically just said, 'These are the cuts you're going to make, this is where the ball's going to be and these are the reads you're going to make,' and it's been repetition over and over and over again," Blake said. "Repetition has made it a lot easier for me."
Repetition can benefit even the most seasoned executors of the offense on the team, as a glance at the practice schedule for the first of Monday's double sessions was a portion of time carved out titled "Triangle Skills" with the subhead of "Basic Actions" and the even further specific description of "Guard cuts after every pass" for the team to run through.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson explained that the offense was less about Xs and Os and more about concepts and a comfort factor.
"It's a feel," Jackson said. "It's really more a feel than anything else. It's pretty simple, but it's a feel of how to do it and the timing that it takes that really is the aspect of playing in this system because all your players have to be fully functioning as playmakers ... It's kind of like a rhythm."
Blake, who suffered a mild left ankle sprain Sunday but practiced Monday and said he is "OK to play," is already making an impression on his teammates.
"As a matter of fact, Ron [Artest] came over to me during practice and said, 'Was Steve here during the summer a lot? Because he seems to know the offense already,'" Jackson said.
No more knee talk
Bryant missed the third consecutive practice to begin camp, sitting on the sidelines with a bulky ice wrap around his right knee that was surgically repaired in July.
Jackson suggested that Bryant could get in his first practice during Monday's evening session to get him on track to play in the team's first preseason game in exactly one week, Oct. 4, against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the O2 Arena in London.
"We hope to get a few minutes out of these European games, but he just wants to get a little activity on the court and in contact with bodies so he can feel like he's back playing a little bit," Jackson said.
Monday happened to be the team's only scheduled day with two practices, after having two two-a-days last season and being allowed to hold up to "five or six" per league rules, according to Jackson.
"This is the lighter version of two-a-days," Jackson said. "We found when you have veteran players, it's negative return mostly if you have two-a-days."
Perhaps that negative return carried over to Bryant's patience when it comes to the persistent media interest in the state of his health.
Bryant was non-committal about whether indeed Monday night would be his first practice ("I might, I might not," he said) and he expressed his desire to end the line of questioning about it, saying, "I'm not talking about my knee no more."
If Bryant is acting a little prickly about his injury situation with reporters, one can only imagine what it must have been like for Jackson to interact with him during training camp in 2007, when Bryant re-joined the team for the first time since using a media frenzy to declare he wanted to be traded.
"We had to let it play itself out and in those terms, there's no 'play' involved, but there was just timing that we had to be appropriately concerned about Kobe's wishes and listen to what they were, entertain them and then negotiate from a position where Dr. [Jerry] Buss could negotiate from," Jackson said, the memory spurred by the situation facing the Denver Nuggets with Carmelo Anthony back in camp after a summer rife with trade speculation.
"I think [Buss] used a term like, 'You're a 10-karat diamond and people are offering us opals -- not rubies and emeralds -- but opals and garnets, and not Kevin Garnett,'" Jackson said.
Denver coach George Karl told reporters Monday that he has thought about reaching out to Jackson for advice on how to deal with Anthony in the same delicate manner that Jackson dealt with Bryant at the time.
"[I would tell him] to hang tough," Jackson said. "It's not an easy situation for a coach because you're across purposes. Sometimes the management has to do what their part is and the coach has to both be a player's advocate, but then you're on the management side so you have to hold a management view point. Sometimes you have to sit on the teeter-totter and be able to balance everything out."
Rest of the West
NBA TV aired Lakers practice Monday live on NBA.com and later on tape-delay on the network as a part of its "Real Training Camp" series. During the broadcast, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was asked to assess the Lakers' main competition in the Western Conference and identified the Dallas Mavericks as the biggest threat.
Bryant was later asked if he has handicapped the West yet.
"I haven't, I honestly haven't, but you all know what a big fan I am of Dirk [Nowitzki] so I know what he's capable of doing," Bryant said.
Jackson was asked a question last week about the Miami Heat and focused on the teams in the Lakers' conference in his answer, rather than commenting about a team from the East.
"We have our own problems out here in the West," Jackson said, rattling off a list of teams including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Denver, Houston and Phoenix. "We anticipate it's going to be very difficult just to get back to where we want to get back to, and that's the Finals."
This and that
Jackson said Artest has a "little hamstring issue" and credited the forward for gutting through it before adding a well-timed zing, "but you can see he's not moving with the fluidity that he's well-known for." ... Jackson, who has never had an open-practice policy in his 20 years as an NBA head coach, was not thrilled by NBA TV's broadcast Monday, saying, "I just grin and bear it."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Steve Blake proves a quick study of the Lakers' triangle offense.