|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Just two days into the start of Los Angeles Lakers training camp, Steve Nash approached his longtime coach Mike D'Antoni to tell him the vibe is already different compared to last year.
"It feels good," Nash said. "Last year was tough. Just from the start, it was hard to feel a lot of positive energy. It always seemed like a challenge. Whereas this year, it feels a little bit more like a team. I know it's early and who knows how good we'll be, but the early energy and vibe is really positive."
"He told me, 'It's a little bit different,' " D'Antoni said after the first of the Lakers two practices Sunday. "I go, 'Yeah, it feels different.' "
Different doesn't always mean better. Even with a renewed outlook and more cohesive locker room the Lakers will be hard pressed to replicate their .700 winning percentage over the final 40 games last season with Dwight Howard now in Houston and Kobe Bryant sidelined indefinitely as he recovers from Achilles surgery, but the clean slate already seems to be paying off for the Lakers.
"We can definitely sense it," added Pau Gasol. "We can definitely sense that the atmosphere is a little different. The vibe is a little bit different."
There are still obvious challenges the Lakers have to sort through, beginning with the health of Nash, Gasol and Bryant. Nash and Gasol will be limited to participating in only one session during the Lakers' three two-a-day practices during training camp, the first coming Sunday, with the final two to follow on Tuesday and Thursday.
"They are only going to miss some stuff they don't need to do," D'Antoni said. "They're not 'out.' Kobe is the only one out and we don't know when he'll be back. Hopefully we're rolling and by the time we add him back in, it's even better."
As for Bryant, he spent the first two practices of the Lakers camp "just watching, just learning," according to D'Antoni.
Bryant told reporters at the team's media day that there is no timeline for his return, and his coach is confident that his star player will allow the rehab process to play out without feeling compelled to rush back.
"The doctors aren't going to allow him to do something that's going to hurt him," D'Antoni said. "He's in there five hours a day doing what they allow him to do. He's not dunking without the doctors looking, he's not doing that."
While Bryant's been sidelined, his teammates (outside of Gasol who was still in Spain) have been practicing together in voluntary workouts for the last 3-4 weeks leading up to camp.
D'Antoni said the extra time is paying off.
"We didn't have any basics last year," D'Antoni said. "We told them the whole approach last year, but we couldn't break it down. These guys have been going, 90 percent of them, for a month and a half (learning) the little things we're doing, so it's pretty smooth. They're pretty far along."
They're far along because there was a lot of ground to cover after the Lakers never fully took to D'Antoni's style of play last season.
"We never really ran Mike's system last year," Nash said. "It was more a hybrid. I think that's part of finding an identity is that through personnel, no training camp and very little practice time with all the injuries, it was hard to get Mike's system going. It was hard to find that identity. So we already are starting to form an understanding of what he wants and how we're going to play, which is greater than last year."
The 18-year veteran Nash made it sound like the Lakers have nowhere to go but up.
"Not only was last year unsuccessful, it was also painful," Nash said. "It just wasn't a lot of fun. It wasn't as positive as it should be as an experience. So, there's a lot to play for us."