Vladimir Radmanovic: "There have to be sacrifices from everybody on the team"
This is the time to talk about expectations in a new season. After a year that can hardly be characterized as unsuccessful, what are the goals for you and your teammates in the new one?
Vladimir Radmanovic: We can’t say that the last season was unsuccessful, but it certainly wasn’t successful enough. We came to the Finals, but couldn’t pick up the trophy. Therefore, our ambitions for this year are certainly to go back where we were the last season, but then to do much more in the Finals then it was the case last year.
VR: We will simply be a much better team with them. They bring so much more versatility to our squad and so many more scoring options in offense.
You said you contemplated a lot what went wrong in the last year’s Finals. Does Boston’s dominance in that series still surprise you four months after the Finals?
VR: I don’t want to take anything away from Boston. I’m not going to say that we didn’t play as good as we can, since the way they play defense, and offense, for that matter, disrupted quite a bit the set plays in our offense. However, the loss on our own court after being 26 points up was something that simply crushed us and from which we just couldn’t recover. No amount of expectations and good will were sufficient after such a devastating defeat to mentally come back in that series. It’s certainly different to come to Boston being up 3-2 in a series than losing 3-2, but that’s all water under the bridge now.
With all players being healthy, the Lakers practically have five very good options on your small forward position. How do you see your role in this team for the upcoming season?
VR: I’m sure my minutes are going to decrease. I’m well aware of that, but, on the other hand, I am glad that we as a team have so many good players in that position. Having many good options is the quality we need in order to fulfill our ambitions.
Considering the competition, do you think all your teammates can go along with playing less this season than during the one before?
VR: There have to be sacrifices made from everybody on the team. I think we have 12 guys that can play at any given time in a game, but we also know three, four or five guys that will probably play most of the time. However, I think that even the minutes of our best players will be limited this season, since there are guys who can get in and take their spot at any given time. So our best guys won’t have to play as much as they did in the past and they will be able to save themselves for the times when their presence on the court becomes really critical. I think that team freshness and versatility can be our greatest asset for the upcoming season.
After being called a space cadet and a favorite Martian, we heard some real accolades towards you from coach Phil Jackson, specifically about your defensive efforts. You were always very vocal and self-critical about that part of your game. What’s your communication like with coach Jackson these days?
VR: There were never any confrontations or bad communication between coach Jackson and myself. I think that he is just trying to get as much as possible from all his players. That is my view on things. He is too good of a coach to use words like that to actually offend somebody on his team. Of course that I’m glad that he is praising my defense. I realize that playing defense is not my best asset, but, on the other hand, I am always trying to do my best on both sides of the court. The fact is, playing basketball consists of playing both the defense and the offense. I think that my experience and time spent in this league gave me the ability to play a better defense. I got better in reading positions of other players on the court, which is something you acquire by playing long enough in this league.
You’ve been coached by some of the greatest coaches both here in the U.S. and back in Europe. What do you think stands out about coach Jackson comparing to the other guys that coached you in the past? Is it his charisma, or something that he brings from the basketball point of view?
VR: I’m not going to talk about the knowledge and basketball acumen that coach Jackson has. As a player who spent seven years in this league, I am simply not competent to judge his coaching abilities. However, his charismatic personality, the ability to reach out to every single player on his team, and achieve all that he wants to accomplish with that particular player are things that clearly set him apart from other coaches that I had a chance to work with in the past. I think that a coaching ego is something that jumps too often out of the other coaches, and I believe that is one particular thing that doesn’t allow them to be better coaches. I think that a successful coach, especially on this level, first and foremost has to be a successful psychologist. There are 12, 13, or 15 players on any given team in the NBA, and all of them want to play all the time. The coach needs to be able to calm down every single player, and explain to him his role on the team, so that the player ends up being grateful for it. On top of that, wins heal all the wounds. When you know that you are being coached by a guy who won nine championship rings, you know that he knows what he’s doing. You know that there is a reason for what he’s doing, and that is, in my mind, what separates coach Jackson and other basketball coaches.
You said that this is going to be your eight season in the NBA. What are your ambitions, what pushes you to be better and to succeed after all these years in this league, apart from obvious reasons related to the financial side of the business?
VR: I think that the contracts and financial gain come as products of other things. As a basketball player, I cannot honestly say that I’ve never thought about my contract, far from it. However, I don’t think that contracts are ambitions for any of the guys in this locker room, or, for that matter, in any other locker-room in this league. Simply said, our ambition is to be the best in what we do and to use this God-given talent to prove ourselves in our chosen profession. We don’t play basketball only for our own benefit, our egos and ambitions, but also for so many other people that watch us on any given night. Sometimes we do get disconnected and think only about our game and how to win. But, at least in my case, I often look around me realizing that only at that moment and in that arena, 20,000 people are watching me, and who knows how many more in front of their TV sets. That brings the other dimension of what I do, that you need to be good for yourself, but also for all those people that are watching and rooting for you.
The fact that you are watched so closely as a Laker is something that certainly distincts you as a member of this team. After playing in two other teams in the NBA, what do you find specific and different in being a Laker?
VR: Los Angeles is a city that loves basketball. And they love it because these Lakers gave them so many championship rings to celebrate and be proud of. I think that tradition is something very distinctive and special about this team and whole organization. I’ve never felt that much ambition in any of the teams I played before in my career. You can sense it from the ball boy all the way to the general manager and the owner of the team. Every person linked to this organization expects something big of us. Being in play-offs doesn’t cut it here – it’s championship ring or nothing. As we know, that doesn’t happen every year, but as long as there’s ambition, there is also a chance to bring these ambitions to life.
The offseason seemed not to have brought big shifts in power between eight to 10 teams that were really good the year before. How do you see your competition now, at the dawn of the new NBA season?
VR: I think it is quite enough to have 10 teams that can realistically say that they are contenders this year. Knowing that about yourself is something that motivates every player to improve his game on any given night.
Do you think that Boston is still the team to beat?
VR: No, I see 30 teams that we need to beat in order to compete for the ring. Some of the teams have better or worse chances to win it all, but, to have a good team and players on the paper does not necessarily mean that you are going to win the championship. To win it all back to back, I think it is not an easy thing to do at all. There is a huge task in front of Boston to try and accomplish this. All other teams, including ourselves, would love to spoil their plans.
Nebojsa Petrovacki is an editor of Sportska Centrala, Serbian sports news agency and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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