Can an NBA team lose two players who had been honored as the league's top defenders and in the process become a better defensive unit?

That’s what the Los Angeles Lakers are trying to find out.

Gone is their best rim protector in Dwight Howard off to Houston. Gone too is their best perimeter stopper in Metta World Peace off to New York.

Now the Lakers will find out if less is more.

Not that L.A.’s defense was any good with the services of the three-time defensive player of the year in Howard and one-time DPOY winner in World Peace anyway. The Lakers were tied with Brooklyn for 18th in the league in defensive efficiency allowing opponents to score 103.6 points per 100 possessions. Even with Howard patrolling the paint L.A. ranked 22nd in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage inside of five feet according to NBA.com Stats Cube (59.8 percent) and even with World Peace’s notoriously quick left hand the Lakers were 26th in steals per game generating just 7.0 a night.

“Their defense never really gave them a chance to win” newly hired Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “It was very erratic at best. In a lot of ways when you bring in a lot of players from a lot of different systems it takes awhile to get everybody connected and on the same page how you have to defend a myriad of offensive NBA sets and you have to defend talented offensive people it takes all five guys. They’ve got to be connected and they’ve got to make the correct decisions at the correct time and for the Lakers last year it was clear that they just never really got connected on that end of the floor.

“You could see throughout most of their games guys would turn their palms up to the sky and it was like ‘Is that my responsibility? Is that your responsibility? Who was supposed to do what?’ So we’ve got to do a much better job of getting them so they can cover each others’ backs at that end of the floor.”

The reason that Rambis is back with the Lakers is not only because the team lost its two most talented defenders in Howard and World Peace but because it lost its two most defensive-minded assistant coaches in Chuck Person whose contract was not renewed and Steve Clifford who became the head coach in Charlotte.

Rambis who assumed a defensive coordinator-type role in the final two seasons of his last run with the Lakers when Phil Jackson was head coach said that Mike D’Antoni isn’t giving him the same label.

“(D’Antoni) said that all assistant coaches will be involved in all areas in our initial conversation” Rambis explained. “Not that we have etched everything in stone but to come back as a defensive coordinator you can talk to Mike about whether there’s going to be any sort of designation on that. By my understanding there isn’t going to be but he just kind of wants all of the gaps to be covered so everybody is responsible for working with players and being involved in practices and being involved with games. But to have myself associated with the defense that means that area is going to be covered.”