Behind the scenes of the Lakers with video coordinator Tom Bialaszewski and coaching assistant Kyle Triggs.
Lakers coach Mike Brown got his head coaching start as the video coordinator of the Denver Nuggets back in 1992, a position that's becoming more and more en vogue in the NBA. After all, few if any spend more time watching and critiquing basketball than the guys doing all the cutting and editing.
On Brown's current staff, Tom Bialaszewski holds that position, and true to form there's nobody – save for Brown's assistant, Kyle Triggs – that's at the Lakers El Segundo practice facility more.
We caught up with Bialaszewski and Triggs after they finished working out Lakers wing Christian Eyenga on an otherwise lonely June day to see what it's like behind the scenes of an NBA coaching staff.
MT: What's the primary emphasis for each of you right now with the season in the rearview mirror and the majority of the team out of the building until September?
Triggs: It is a big priority of both Coach Brown and the organization for us to be here at the office and available for our players if they want to work out. Christian Eyenga has been in a lot, and Darius Morris, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace have also been in. So Tom and myself, (assistant video coordinator) JJ Outlaw, (player development coach) Phil Handy and our assistant coaches are around to work on the development of the players.
Bialaszewski: It's 1-on-1 court time with the guys. Christian has been in here every day for the last three weeks or so, and even today, he got an hour and a half of direct attention. You can really hone in on his development, which is something that's valuable and can't often happen during the season.
MT: You each have specific roles carved out under your job titles, but it appears you do a little bit of everything?
Bialaszewski: While my primary job is doing the video editing for the coaches and the players as well as the scout video, the big thing with Coach Brown is that he's been in our position before, and he wants us involved in all aspects of the team from the video editing, the scouting, practicing or player development. In the summer specifically, the pace slows a little bit, where you can branch out and do other things aside from your job description generally entails.
Triggs: After the grind of the shortened season, the summer really allows us to go back and analyze things that players need to work on, and things we can do better as a staff to be more organized on both sides of the ball.
MT: We're seeing more and more video coordinators moving up into the coaching and management ranks; do you guys think about that sometimes while you're sleeping on the couch in the office?
Bialaszewski: You definitely have to keep the big picture in mind. One of the great experiences for me is that my first year in the NBA was also under Coach Brown, as his video intern in Cleveland. Having a coach that knows that ensures that we're always doing stuff that's meaningful and not just busy work. They lean on us to get a lot done. And even if you're just a fly on the wall you can't help but learn in this kind of environment, so our learning curve then gets accelerated.
Triggs: This time last year I was a college coach, while Tom's been in the league for about six years, and I've learned so much just being thrown into it. When I first got here, we were meetings every day developing our offensive and defensive philosophies, and you can't help but learn and formulate your own ideas. Then you eventually develop a voice when asked upon within the meetings. The great thing about Coach Brown is that we're involved in everything. During practice, film sessions and so on, plus he allows us to work specifically with players. It's an accelerated program to help you achieve what you want to one day in the NBA.
MT: The NBA grind changes on a daily basis, but how would you generally describe what you each do?
Bialaszewski: Before I'm even out of bed, I'm likely corresponding with Kyle to see what needs to be done. He has a little bit longer drive in than I do, so normally I get in early and start hammering away before the rest of the coaches arrive and I get pulled in multiple directions. Then we meet every day before the players arrive with the full coaching staff either to formulate practice or shootaround, preparing for the opponent we're playing on game day. Our assistant video coordinator, J.J. Outlaw, will break down the previous five games an opponent plays, and we'll use that information, in addition to whatever other video we've edited. There are always projects, like pulling every late game play that an opponent does before a matchup. So as an example, if we haven't seen the Nets all season, I'll pull every late game New Jersey play from the season, which could be around 50 plays. Out of time out plays, things they like to run in crunch time and so forth. Then I'll get that to Kyle so he can draw it up, laminate it and have it on the bench for the coaches to look at depending on what the game situation is.
Triggs: I basically draw every play up on an illustrator program, put them in X's and O's format off what Tom pulls on video. Out of time outs, you don't have calls for a lot of the opponent's plays, and based on the action, I'll create a frequency chart to suggest what they're most likely to run. For example, if an opponent needs a three, they have run play X 13 times, which we'll make sure the coaches know. This worked for us being able to sniff out a few plays or actions during the season. One in particular was the last home game of the regular season against Oklahoma City; Chuck Person guessed their play three out of three times based on what we had prepared. It is a long process, because you can have anywhere from 50 to 80 clips depending on how many times we've played them, how close the games were and so on, but it is very important.
MT: Isn't it difficult to cover all of that in a short time out? To not only try and figure out what the play the opposing coach will run is, but then relay it to the players in time for them to recognize it on the floor and know how to counter?
Bialaszewski: That's why we laminate the plays; the coaches don't have to draw it up, they just put the laminated play on top of the white board and draw on top of it. That makes it easier.
MT: Kyle, we know that Coach Brown made you find a place near by his own out in Anaheim, a good haul from the practice facility. How does that daily commute impact your experience?
Triggs: The crazy thing is that lots of times, Coach and I will leave to go home, and then I'd come back in because of the work load. But with the technology we have, we can get a lot of stuff done from home. Like Tom said, we correspond from a nightly basis on the priority list. A lot of my job is doing Coach Brown's stuff. Stuff that he needs for the game, things after the game; that's mainly what I work on, and that's a job within itself because he's so detailed and organized. A typical day for us starts in the car ride over when Coach and I would plan practice. He'd be driving, I'd have my laptop with a template open to plan every practice that he came up with, and we'd script it all out.
There would be times where we'd be in traffic where I'm e-mailing the practice plan to Tom to print and have ready to go. Other times I'll be doing a video piece in the car, and other times I'm driving and Coach Brown is watching an edit of the team. There was probably never a day where there wasn't something productive going on; we learned to become very efficient in the car.
MT: Kyle, you got to know Coach Brown at first by working out his son individually, clearly impressing him enough that he brought you with to Los Angeles. And while you have that personal relationship, it appears that you're almost always working when around him during the season?
Triggs: Coach and I obviously have a personal relationship because he brought me with him, but we're here to work. Work comes first, you get it done without asking questions, and that's how the days go. It started when I was a college coach at a Division II school in North Canton, Ohio called Walsh University. I got involved in an AAU program based out of Cleveland, and the director of the program was really close with Coach Brown because his son Elijah played for the program. I got a call one day from Coach Brown, who wanted someone to work his son out. We'd work out every day at 6:30 a.m., which meant I had to wake up pretty early because I had an hour and half drive from where I lived. Mike was there every morning rebounding and putting his two cents in. So when he got the job with the Lakers, he called and asked me if I wanted to come. For me, it was a no brainer.
MT: And Tom, you also started as a video intern with Coach Brown as your first NBA job. How did you get there?
Bialaszewski: I'd gone through the summer interviewing at a couple places in the NBA after being in grad school at the University of Louisville, where I was a volunteer staff assistant with the women's basketball program. I interviewed with two teams in the NBA, one of which was the Spurs, and while I didn't get hired at the time, apparently I made an impression on one of the guys with San Antonio. (Former Cavs GM) Danny Ferry had come to Cleveland from the Spurs, and I got a call out of the blue while I was in class one day asking if I could be in Cleveland for an interview. One thing led to another, and I got the job as a video intern. I was there for one year, then was the assistant video coordinator in Sacramento for two years. After that, I spent a few years coaching in the D-League while also doing advance scouting on the West Coast for the Hornets. This year, I started the season scouting for seven teams on the West Coast ... until I got a call on New Years Eve while I was scouting the Kings and the Knicks. It was Coach Brown, calling during the National Anthem, offering me the job as the Lakers video coordinator. It was crazy, because I'd actually scouted two Lakers games already with no idea (I'd get that call).
Triggs: We actually met for the first time during the Lakers - Clippers preseason game that Tom was scouting. I hated him from the start*.
*Both laughed, because while becoming close friends immediately, they trade barbs as frequently as any two close NBA teammates in the locker room.
MT: Who knows more about basketball? Who's better at his job?
Bialaszewski: (Laughs) I can't answer that.
Triggs: Well, we both have our strengths. Tom's been in the NBA a lot longer, and from everything I gather he knows the league inside out. He's helped me a lot, but I'll throw my two cents in every now and then.
Bialaszewski: We have a lot of fun, the two of us; you've probably seen us on the plane or at shootaround when it's over. We obviously spend a ton of time together and we try to keep it light. We'll say stuff to each other and not even mean anything by it, so if you don't know us, you might think we hate each other. We have our shorthand of dealing with each other, and others aren't in on the jokes. But it is a good staff for that. Everyone gets along pretty well.
But I do want to say that for Kyle's first year in his NBA , he definitely knows it well and has a great basketball mind. That was one of the biggest things I was impressed with coming in, because I didn't know him, and you hear about his relationship with Coach Brown but don't know — but he's not a guy that just got lucky to get a job. He knows his stuff and he works his tail off.
MT: For two NBA junkies like yourselves, what's it been like to work closely with one of the game's greatest players, ever, in Kobe Bryant? That's not something many have the opportunity to do, right?
Bialaszewski: It was crazy. When I first got the job, one of the first things that I observed was definitely Kobe's intelligence, and that's not a big surprise because you'd heard around the league that he's a real student of the game. One of my first road trips was to Miami and Orlando, and I asked him what he wanted on tape, and from that point forward at halftime of each game I'd know what to edit for him. He'd find me in the locker room and we'd watch his shots, his assists and turnovers from the first half. I'd give him a copy of that edit, and then after the game would make one for all four quarters. That would be on his chair in the locker room waiting for him after a home game or on his seat on the plane for a road game. Furthermore, to prep him for opponents, I'd initially give him a DVD copy of a game with an elite scorer on it** so he could get an idea of how they're defending those types of players. Then as the season goes on, I was able to anticipate what he'd need, what he might ask for, and ultimately get more in-depth and detailed into each playoff series. Sometimes also I'd just throw something at him to see if it could help him, and it was never busy work.
**For example, a video edit of how Miami defended Kevin Durant the previous week.
MT: What's it like building that type of a relationship with Kobe - who especially at this point of his career keeps a pretty tight circle - and learning about the game from his perspective?
Bialaszewski: Without question, it's cool and rewarding. I don't know exactly how the relationship built, whether it was just being around him or doing stuff for him, but it grew to a point where I'd get a text or a call from him, and he'd want to get shots up. To be riding with him in the car on the way to a game or to be on the floor alone with him is a pretty neat experience just as a guy who loves basketball.
MT: I know you have struck a nice balance of treating him like you treat anyone else. For example, he seems to respect people on the media side of things that neither expect things from him nor kiss up to him.
Bialaszewski: Right, and I think that's why things were able to go like that. It was a work thing, and never something where I was asking him for anything. We're on the same team with the same goals.
MT: Backing up a bit, it's clear that you really, really have to love basketball to be spending this much time at the craft. And with that as a given, all that work doesn't seem so much like work, right?
Bialaszewski: Without question. One way to describe it is that while there is literally always something to do with this job from the time you go to bed to the time you wake up in the morning. You enjoy is so much that it's not a drag … it really flies by. I have a lot of friends that maybe don't love what they do, and they're staring at the clock and wondering when they can get home from work. So for me, to have the opportunity to do something I love is phenomenal.
Triggs: I tell people that I've never really worked a day in my life because I do what I love. Yes, the hours are crazy – there have been plenty of times where we've slept in the office, or stayed until 4 or 5 a.m. getting stuff prepared — and you couldn't survive if you didn't love it. Because of how detailed coach Brown is, you can never leave any stone unturned. Everything has to be accurate. So that leads to long hours, and mandates that you really do love it.
MT: Who else aside from Kobe watches enough tape to deserve special mention?
Bialaszewski: Lots of guys. Pau (Gasol) would get the team's previous game to watch before hand, and then all of his touches after the game. Matt (Barnes) would watch, on his iPad, video of all the offensive clips of an opponents 2's and 3's that he might be guarding. Ramon (Sessions) would also watch all the pick and roll plays from opponents on his iPad. Sometimes you get hit with special requests, but that was the regular stuff. Other guys watch full games, like Andrew (Bynum).
Triggs: Coach Brown would have an edit after the game, and sometimes our assistants would have edits we'd put together. I'd mainly handle the rest of what the coaches needed, diagram all of plays we felt opponents might run and work with Tom and our advance scout Clay Moser to take care of everything. Our whole staff was on the same page and we knew we'd have to be super efficient and super organized. It became a well-oiled machine. Coach Brown led that charge in having an organized plan, and the rest of us counted on each other to make sure it all got carried out.
MT: How much more difficult was that process with no practice time, on a staff in its first year together with the players?
Bialaszewski: One thing we really relied on was the video, and almost a classroom atmosphere because of the lack of practice time. From February until the end of the season, we didn't have an off day. The video and the scouting became even more important.
Triggs: As the year went on, every time the coach or our assistants put a postgame edit together, they would use the video as practice the next day. We did a lot of our teaching in the video room, and went from watching specific clips to watching quarters of games, seeing the flow, how things correlated both offensively and defensively. Credit goes to our players and Coach Brown, because our guys were always engaged. From my standpoint, it was great because during the film sessions Kobe has his take, Pau would suggest things, Metta or Andrew would mention certain situations. Both the staff and players were learning from each other about what worked and didn't and what we needed to get to. We'd have loved to be on the court practicing, but luckily with the technology we have, we were able to get stuff done in the film room.