- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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Dwight Howard had no idea how good he had it as he left Staples Center late Saturday night.
"Day off tomorrow!" he said happily as he left the arena.
After a long week of practice, three exhibition games, plus travel to Fresno and Ontario, it wasn't surprising the Lakers would take Sunday off before starting a week in which they'll practice every day, play three more exhibition games and travel to Anaheim and Las Vegas.
It wasn't surprising unless of course you spent any time around the team during Mike Brown's first season as head coach.
During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Lakers worked 19 straight days from the time training camp started on December 9, finally taking a day off on December 28 after opening the regular season with back-to-back-to-back games.
Things didn't get much easier from there, as Brown earned the nickname "All day, every day" from his players, many of whom chafed at the coach’s hard-driving style.
Shootarounds were often two or three-hour affairs. Brown favored practices on the mornings after a back-to-back. Days off were few and far between.
Brown was new. The systems he needed to install on offense and defense were different than those the Lakers had run under Phil Jackson. After a flurry of deals at the trade deadline, half the team was new too. Brown needed time to teach. His players needed time to learn. Even late in the season, even in their second-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, the Lakers looked like a team still figuring things out.
This season they all have time to breathe again. Training camp is a month long. The season isn't condensed. And while Brown is still pushing the Lakers hard -- he ran them through a three-hour practice before their exhibition game in Ontario on Wednesday -- he seems to be reading and reacting to his mostly-veteran team better than he did a year ago.
"From what I hear, last year they didn't have a day the first 19 or 20 days," Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. "This is already our second day off.
"He knows this is a team with a lot of guys who have a lot of mileage. There's certain things he's going to tweak what he would normally do. That's what coaching is about -- understanding your personnel."
That three-hour practice on a game day? Brown heard about it from no less than Steve Nash who joked in his post-game comments, "That was a new one for me."
And even Brown admitted that night that his team looked "a little tired" during their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
So Thursday's practice turned into a 90-minute film session and mental reps. Friday's practice was short as well. Shoot-around on Saturday was 90 minutes.
Well, depending on who you believe between Brown and second-year guard Andrew Goudelock.
"I was really good, I shortened it," Brown said, when I asked him how long shoot-around had gone on Saturday.
But just as he was answering, Goudelock and guard Darius Morris walked by.
"'DMo, Goude . . . Come here," Brown called out, enlisting them as witnesses. "Shoot-around was pretty good today, right guys?
Goudelock laughed and said, 'About three hours . . . "
Brown shook his head, "No . . . It was good today. About an hour-and-a-half. We got out at 11:30 a.m."
Goudelock answered: "Yep, all the vets were happy today."
What's hard to know here is whether Brown is adjusting to his team, or whether this is how he would have done things last season had it been a normal year with a normal training camp and a normal schedule.
For that answer I turned to Jamison, who played for Brown when he coached the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"He's adjusted," Jamison said. "He's not letting a lot of things go through the cracks now. He's really on point. I think they had a comfort zone there in Cleveland where they could kind of just go through the motions. He's really putting his stamp on what he wants us to do. He wants us to do things the correct way.
"I think there are a lot of things he probably would've done differently in his time in Cleveland, little things he would've tightened up. So that's why I didn't see this part of Mike Brown."
In other words, this is the way Mike Brown wants to do things. It's just not the way he's always done things.
He learned from his time in Cleveland. What worked, what didn't. And when he got a second chance with the Lakers, he has tried to adjust.
"Just like with practice, his attention to detail," Jamison explained. "When he's talking, it's like, 'Hey, let me talk.' he's not negative about it. It's just like, 'Hey, I'm the general of this team. These are the things we need to get done. We're going to do it the right way.
"In Cleveland, you had a situation where we're trying to make this a certain type of franchise. You come here, it ain't about making it to the Finals or the Western Conference Finals. It's about putting another banner up there. That's a different type of mentality you need to have as a coach as well."
That mentality might not have been suited to a shortened season like last year. There was too much to change and not enough time to change it. Coaches had to choose whether to push hard or pull back.
Brown pushed. Other coaches loosened their grip. It's hard to say what the best choice was. But it's worth noting the four teams that made the conference finals --The Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Thunder and San Antonio Spurs -- were teams that were mostly intact from the season before. Teams that already knew how they wanted to play and didn't have to learn or unlearn entire systems.
This year Brown has a chance to work under far better conditions.
"I'm going to be me," Brown said. "And I'm going to coach the team however I feel like I need to coach the team. Not everybody likes me all the time. Right now I think my oldest son is mad at me.
"To me the preseason is a time to make guys uncomfortable. You make guys uncomfortable so later on it doesn't feel as bad. I've been doing that most of the preseason. But I'm going to back off a little bit because we do have an older team and I want them to respond in the right way."
12hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
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8dChad Ford and Kevin Pelton