Lakers assistant Person talks new coach Brown, Kobe, much more
Chuck Person is the lone holdover on the Lakers staff since Phil Jackson's exit
Of the greats he's seen, Person said Kobe is the closest guy to Michael Jordan
Brown understands Person's desire to head coach and will help him get there
LOS ANGELES -- When Chuck Person joined the Lakers as a special assistant in 2009, the widely held assumption around the NBA was that his real title was something else entirely: Ron Artest's life coach.
The two were forever linked by that infamous day on Nov. 19, 2004, the Malice at the Palace. Artest rampaged into the stands during the brawl between the Pacers and Pistons and was eventually pulled from the ugly scene by the then-Indiana assistant, who always seemed to have his ear. Their paths would continue to cross, as Person -- himself a brash talent during a 12-year playing career -- joined Artest in Sacramento in 2007 as an assistant and again when they both joined the Lakers three summers ago.
But the defensive-minded Person has since distinguished himself as a trusted Lakers assistant and a legitimate head-coaching candidate, while maintaining his close relationship with the player who now goes by Metta World Peace. Before moving to the Lakers bench in 2010, he gained favor with two of the most discriminating minds in the history of the game: former coach Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant.
Person, 47, is now the lone holdover in a new Lakers era under first-year coach Mike Brown, the former Cavs coach and previously the associate head coach in Indiana under Rick Carlisle, from 2003-05. Person, who was interviewed for the Warriors' head-coaching position and was deemed a Lakers candidate before Brown was given the job, recently sat down with SI.com to discuss his experiences in L.A and much more.
SI.com: You came to L.A. as someone known as Artest's guy and then you found your way with one of the league's best franchises. How did you go about handling that?
Person: I'm sure because of my relationship with Ron over the last 10 years, that everyone thinks I'm Ron's guy, and that's OK. Sometimes we get pigeonholed as somebody's guy or pigeonholed as this guy or that guy on a staff, and sometimes it can be detrimental to a person's career. But at no point did I feel like being Ron's guy was going to deter me from reaching my goals. So when I got here to L.A., I was not treated that way, didn't feel that way. They felt like I was part of the coaching staff and the players respected me.
SI.com: Part of that was your ability to gain Phil and Kobe's trust. How does one go about doing that?
Person: You come in and you listen, you learn the lay of the land, you follow instructions, and when given the opportunity to make a point and inject what you know, then you do it, you're decisive about it, and then you step out of the way. I've learned over the years how to be a good assistant.
SI.com: Had you known Phil at all before?
Person: I did not. I talked to him briefly when I signed as a free agent here [in 2000], but ended up not playing because I retired before camp started. I hadn't sat down and spoken with him, but I almost played for him.
He remembers every conversation, and he knew I wanted to coach then. That's why I retired, and I went on to another team to coach after that. So when I came here [in 2009], he said, 'You have a week to show me you're as good as everyone says you are. You'll stay here through training camp and we'll see what happens after that.'
SI.com: And by the time Phil left, he was giving you a lot of praise for heading the defensive unit in the second half of last season. That's doing more than just sticking around.
Person: Being that I was the defensive coordinator for Rick Carlisle at Indiana, and saw Mike Brown coach D [in Indiana] and I was coached on D [as a player] in San Antonio, so that was my strength that I thought I could bring to the Lakers organization. They allowed me to do some of those things, but at the same time I had to learn the triangle quickly. Because of my defensive background, I knew some of the workings of the triangle, but not the ancillary things that you need that were taught out of it.
SI.com: Some Lakers fans who are looking for a positive spin on Phil's departure have said that the team just wasn't hungry enough when he was here, and now this version is getting some credit for really getting after it. How do you view the change so far?
Person: It's hard to argue against the greatest coach in the history of the game. Obviously a lot of things coach Jackson were doing were great. At some point, though, players do sometimes need another voice in the locker room and need an influx of energy, and I think Mike Brown -- I know Mike Brown -- provides that, and the guys have responded. We're learning new things -- both offensively and defensively -- so I just think we're in a period now where we're learning on the fly, and I think the early results say we're picking some things up and we'll get better as it goes on.
SI.com: Was there any part of you that felt like the players weren't responding to Phil last season?
Person: I never worried about how they were competing when Phil had the team. It's just ... that that time had run its course. With Mike, there's a changing of the guard. We're going to be more defensive oriented. We're going to win games on the defensive end. There's some nights where you're going to see some ugly basketball, the grind-it-out style. And that's championship basketball, in our opinion, with the staff and the players that we have now. It will be a different approach to the game vs. the past when we ran the triangle.
SI.com: What has your relationship been like with Kobe?
Person: As much as Ron went through some things and with his approach to the game, Kobe is lethal to the 10th power. This guy has an unending thirst for winning, and he shows it in practice every day -- when he's able to.
I've never, ever seen anyone better who I've been around, and I've been around some great, great players.
SI.com: Who is close to him on your list?
Person: I've been teammates with Reggie Miller, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Gary Payton, and the only guy who would rival that was on the  Olympic team that I was fortunate to be an alternate on, Michael Jordan, who I feel like was on a level by himself. The closest guy next to him is Kobe.
SI.com: From a day to day standpoint, what has impressed you the most about Kobe and how he works?
Person: The thing that impressed me the most about him is that he understands and absorbs everything like a sponge. You tell him once and he has it. Since he's had his wrist injury, he's adjusted his shot and the two games after we played Denver [on Dec. 31], he's had great results.
SI.com: How did he adjust the shot?
Person: We made some adjustments in his shot to counteract the pain a little bit. So we made more of a drastic change in his shot mechanics, and he was able to learn it after about five minutes of us being together talking about it.
To his credit, he accepts teaching. And sometimes when a guy plays at his high level -- and he plays at the highest level -- and has been in the league so long, sometimes those guys get set in their ways. But for him to be able to absorb and keep learning new things is a testament to his ability to be the best and want to be the best of all time.
SI.com: He looks like his younger self so far. Is he doing anything differently this season to fight back Father Time?
Person: He came in great shape, and he's got some lift back. His first step is equal to when I first came in, and he's got some bounce back in his legs. I'm happy to see that.
SI.com: Is it all because of the surgery in Germany he had in the summer?
Person: I don't know anything about how that procedure works, but if that's what it was, then hey, maybe he should do it again. But he's a hard worker, and he works on his body harder than everybody I've ever seen.
SI.com: Your team has endured a lot of trade chatter this season. But with the current roster and Brown's influence so far, do you see this as a championship-level team?
Person: Without a doubt. I think we have a good chance -- as good as anyone -- to win. The things that we're doing early is that we're coaching for the big picture, and that's to win a championship. So we may take a little medicine early, just so we can get our system down pat. Then once we get everybody on the same page on both sides of the ball, then I think you'll start seeing us put wins together.
SI.com: Are you seeing early progress on that front?
Person: Yeah. Defensively, we're doing things better than I anticipated us doing and Mike would tell you the same thing. We're ahead of where we thought we would be. Offensively, we're going to score, so it's just a matter of setting the tempo of the game, doing the right things and going to our strengths.
SI.com: You worked with Andrew Bynum quite a bit last year (Lakers assistant Darvin Ham has the assignment this season) and certainly have a sense of him. Has all the talk of Dwight Howard possibly coming to L.A. bothered Bynum?
Person: Not at all. As a matter of fact, I was sitting on the bench recently and he was saying, 'Hey, Dwight Howard is a great ball player.' But he knows that wherever he ends up -- obviously we like him here at our place -- he's going to be a great ball player. So he hears it, and he tunes it out. Maybe earlier in his career, it would've probably affected him. But he's OK with where he is in his professional career. He is playing at a high level right now.
SI.com: Do you see him going down as one of the best bigs in the history of the game?
Person: He has a little ways to go before you can start mentioning him with some of the greats of the game. But does he have the ability to get there? Absolutely. Has it taken him some time? Sure, he was a 17-year-old kid coming out of high school, and it took him three or four years just to understand the game. Now three years after that, he's really picked his game up and you can see that in his play as of late.
SI.com: Are you still the defensive coordinator like you were late last season?
Person: In our system, all the coaches coach, but there are areas that we excel or like to position ourselves in, and I've been living on the defensive side of the ball. Mike has been giving me some freedom to express myself, especially on that side of the ball.
SI.com: How do you see Brown following Jackson's footsteps as coach?
Person: Well, the thing about Mike is he is kind of, in my opinion, like Phil. ... He's the type of guy where if the staff thinks one way and he thinks another way -- unless his gut tells him to go with his own instincts -- then he'll take five [opinions] vs. one any day and go against what he initially thought and go with his staff. That's how he is.
We talk everything through as a staff. There's not one coach one day talking to Mike, or another coach one day talking to Mike. We do everything together so that we're on the same page.
SI.com: As assistant gigs go, this is a good one. But how badly do you want to be a head coach?
Person: You know, when I interviewed with Mike, he said, 'If we didn't have egos, we wouldn't be where we are today.' Everyone has egos, but it's just a matter of staying in your lane and understanding what your role is on any given staff. But if you want to be the best coach like you want to be the best player, you have to have some kind of ego.
So he said, 'Being with me, I won't stand in your way, and as a matter of fact I'm going to make sure that if at all possible that you do get the opportunity to head coach.' And that's with our entire staff. Mike loves his whole staff and his players.