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Roland Lazenby is the author of one of my favorite basketball books, The Show, which is an oral history of the Lakers. He is writing a book about Jerry West for Random House. He just talked to Laker consultant and coaching legend Tex Winter, and offers the following insight about the current Laker team.
Tex Winter has always admired how Phil Jackson will keep his thoughts to himself. He takes counsel and advice from his assistants, but Jackson hardly ever lets them know what he's thinking.
That trait has kept Winter busy searching Jackson's demeanor for clues over their two decades of coaching together.
"Phil doesn't let you know what he's thinking," Winter said. "That's a good way for a head coach to go about his business."
Having said that, Winter has better hunches about Jackson than almost anyone.
While the basketball world seems to be speculating on when and where the Los Angeles Lakers will trade forward Lamar Odom, the 86-year-old guru has another take on Jackson's intentions.
Winter thinks Odom will once again wind up starting for the Lakers this season.
"Odom has looked a lot better recently," Winter noted this week. "Thank goodness.
"He's a player. It's a shame when we don't get anything out of him. It hurts our team. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the starting lineup."
It's obvious that among Jackson's many chores in putting the Lakers together in training camp is to find a way to get more out of the very talented, mercurial Odom. That certainly explains Jackson's "mind games" in asking Odom to come off the bench.
It's Jackson's way of challenging him to be more productive, more consistent, a problem that became obvious in June's championship series between the Lakers and Bostosn Celtics.
"I don't really know who's going to be starting," Winter said. "But it's just like Phil to search things out like this. But I think Odom will be in the starting mix."
Another of Jackson's decisions involves trying to use 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol together, a lineup that leaves Winter skeptical.
"I don't know if the twin towers has ever been effective, has it?" he asked. "It kind of puts one of 'em (Bynum or Gasol) out of position, particularly defensively. That's what makes it tough."
The lineup seems even more problematic when you consider the fact that Jackson is trying to improve the Lakers defensively.
Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause recently called Winter one of basketball's few geniuses.
Winter, the longtime aide and mentor for Jackson, had these other observations about the Lakers in training camp:
• The Trevor Ariza Prize: "Ariza has been by far our best player. He's looked pretty good throughout camp. He's not a great shooter, but he's got lots of energy and length. He really picks us up."
• Legs, Legs, Legs: He wonders if Kobe Bryant's legs aren't worn out. "I don't know whether he's tired or those legs are dead. He's been on those legs a long time with the playoffs and then the Olympics. They might be dead."
Winter, a consultant, had hoped to remain with the Lakers throughout training camp, but he's taking himself out of action. He says the shingles that have plagued him the last few seasons have required heavier medication.
For years Winter has been immensely important to Jackson, but Winter thinks the medication has limited his usefulness. So he plans to return home to Oregon to look for treatment that doesn't involve such heavy medication.