EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Lakers players got the memo: Don’t talk about a title. Don’t talk about the incredibly deep West or that other team in Staples Center. Instead, talk about process and building chemistry. Talk about one day at a time, do not talk about the end result.
“I think our biggest opponent is in the mirror. We’ve got to look at ourselves as a team,” GM Rob Pelinka said, adding he would define success as a good two practices tomorrow.
“Been very quiet this summer, for a reason. My mother always taught me, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ That’s where I’m at,” LeBron James said.
It felt well rehearsed, but saying it in a Lakers’ practice facility where 10 Larry O’Brien trophies sit gleaming in a window overlooking the courts, where 12 banners representing 16 championships (the Minneapolis one has five on it) hang overhead, the words fall a little flat.
Everyone knows what the expectations are. The Lakers may have missed the playoffs for six seasons in a row, but with Anthony Davis now, a refreshed LeBron James after the longest summer break he’s had since 2005, and with a lot of veteran role players, the expectations are title or bust. From the fans and from the Lakers themselves.
First that means turning a lot of new faces into a real team.
LeBron said that starts by running the offense through Anthony Davis.
“We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there’s no sense to have him on the floor,” LeBron said. “He’s that great. It doesn’t mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it.”
“Aw, he said that?” Davis said later, almost sheepishly. “Very kind of him. We’re going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win, when we have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs easier.”
Nobody really questions if LeBron and Davis can be elite, and probably form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league.
The question is everyone around them. Can Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy from the stress reaction in his leg — become the No. 3 option on this team? Is Dwight Howard willing to accept a role and play it well as a big who just sets picks, rolls hard, grabs boards and defends the rim? Do they have enough shooting with Danny Green, Quinn Cook, and Jared Dudley, plus a little Davis? Will this team defend well.
Also, can this team coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts?
“Guys understand the importance of the opportunity and the magnitude of the situation,” Green said, at points referencing a team bonding trip to Las Vegas recently. “It’s a win-now situation. [Last season in Toronto] guys put their pride and egos to the side, and knew it was the team. I see it here already… It’s about the team, and everybody knows that. In order for us to make it, we have to continue that attitude moving forward.”
Guys want to play their roles. Kuzma may be at the heart of what happens, the Lakers need him to take the steps as a smart offensive player he showed in flashes with Team USA before his injury. And he has to play better defense.
Dudley wants to help get him there.
“My guy would be Kyle Kuzma,” Dudley said, adding he wants to do is take him under his wing as he did D'Angelo Russell last season in Brooklyn and Devin Booker in Phoenix before that. “What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential? He’s really the key for us.”
Optimism abounded at Lakers’ media day, as it should. Guys are mostly healthy, rested, and ready to get after it.
On this first day, the Lakers stuck to the script. They also understand the expectation of those trophies and banners overhead.
“As a team, me myself, need to get the Lakers back to what they’ve been accustomed to every year,” LeBron said.