The Los Angeles Lakers held their Media Day on Monday, entering a new, energized season following the team’s Western Conference Finals exit. Though last year’s performance exceeded expectations, this year’s team has its sights set on something bigger: bringing home banner #18.
Four Key Takeaways From Lakers Media Day
1. Championship Mindset
“There’s no mistake about what our goal is, but you can’t talk about and constantly focus on the destination without first embarking on the journey,” Ham said. “We can’t skip any steps. The work we put in every day is going to take us to where we need to get to. The short-term responsibilities, work, [and] continuity is going to create the long-term success we’re looking for.”
Returning Players’ Perspective
The Lakers prioritized continuity heading into the summer and got it, re-signing the majority of last season’s core to new contracts and extensions. The players recognize what’s at stake, and are hungry to take advantage from the jump.
“We don’t put pressure on ourselves,” Davis said. “We go out and compete at the highest level…We do what we’re supposed to do and get 1% better every day.”
“This is the first time since the 2020 run that we’re returning a team,” James said. “I’m excited about us returning our core and bringing in a lot of very, very, very good players…but it takes work.”
Davis noted that such continuity has brought the team a step ahead heading into training camp.
Anthony Davis says that the Lakers’ commitment to continuity – bringing back the core of last season’s WCF team, minus Dennis Schroder – makes him feel like the team has a “head start” on this season
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 2, 2023
“I feel like we have the most talented roster in the NBA from 1 to 14. And I stand on that. It’ll be fun to really get to work and see what we really can accomplish.”
The New Guys are Ready
Aside from the returners, the players brought in during LA’s successful offseason understand the task at hand.
“To be around that [championship] standard, to see it every day…and have to be about that every day, that’s going to raise the level of how I carry myself,” Taurean Prince said. “Not only the ball player I become, but the man I become as well.”
Gabe Vincent, coming off of Miami’s Finals run, says the “Heat Culture” prepared him well for LA.
“I played with guys who can take over a game, and that can be off-putting to some players,” he said. “But we have a number of talented guys here who can score the ball and do a number of things very well. I’m looking forward to complementing each and every one of them, and helping this team win.”
All of the Lakers’ signees echoed their constant communication with Ham and Pelinka as key factors in their decisions. They all had an idea of how they could help the team and what their respective roles could look like. Establishing that trust early is a laudable move by the Lakers brass.
“Coach Ham and Rob were really big on me coming in here and playing the type of basketball I’d like to play,” Jaxson Hayes said. “Some games I might start, some games I might not. But I just want to be the guy that brings a lot of energy for the team.”
As a whole, this year’s group is optimistic about the road ahead, from the core players who pushed them last season to the new guys coming along for the ride.
2. LeBron and AD: Locked in Now More Than Ever
The Lakers’ two cornerstones, LeBron and AD, have approached this season with chips on their shoulders and plenty of motivation.
LeBron is entering his 21st season but preparing for it like it’s his first, according to Pelinka.
“There has been nothing but an increase in seeing that here. To me, it’s, ‘Let’s be about it, let’s not talk about it.’ He’s definitely been about it this offseason.” -Rob Pelinka (via The Athletic)
James noted that his focus and passion are keys to his success entering year 21.
“Understanding the ones that came before me, respecting the history of the game, and also understanding that if you want to be great at something, you’ve got to put in the work,” he said.
The Athletic’s Jovan Buha added that, despite James’s optimism heading into camp, the Lakers will be monitoring his minutes throughout the season:
“The Lakers are planning to manage James’ minutes and offensive workload more than in years past, and Pelinka cited the team’s depth as a way to do that. Ham said the franchise is aiming to be more efficient with James’ ‘game-to-game minutes, the big picture, month-to-month, different sections in the calendar.’”
During his media availability, James also revealed he’s playing for something more. He’s dedicating his 21st year to his son, USC guard Bronny James, who is recovering from cardiac arrest.
Lakers’ LeBron James: “I’m going to dedicate this season to Bronny because of the incident that happened this summer.” pic.twitter.com/iz77lT56Tn
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) October 2, 2023
Davis is coming off of a three-year, $186 million extension, a seamless process between him and Lakers management.
Darvin Ham cited Davis’s strength and explosiveness as focuses of his offseason, and added: “He’s only 30 years old. So there’s a huge, huge road still ahead of him in how he can lead this franchise and hopefully put some more banners up here.”
Davis also mentioned the increased work on his jump shot, a key skill he wanted to bring back into his offensive game. AD has already established himself as a threat in the paint, so he’s doing what he can to remind everyone he’s productive outside of it, too.
Anthony Davis says he incorporated “a lot more reps” on his jump shot this summer, including taking different shots from different spots and angles than he is accustomed to, in order to bring back that aspect of his offensive repertoire pic.twitter.com/OGRUnvmfLn
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 2, 2023
A continuing theme expressed by every Laker is the need for “sacrifice.” So far, the team has gelled well enough to understand that principle and its importance.
Rising sophomore Max Christie offered his perspective on the newfound camaraderie.
“In these team workouts and group workouts, there’s a lot of chemistry with everybody,” Christie said. “Everybody knows their role and everybody wants to play their role to excellence.”
The newer players have already bought into that ideal.
Prince, entering his eighth season, noted how it took a few years to adjust to his “3-and-D role” in the league after being “the guy” at Baylor.
“Now, being who I am and knowing who I am, and what it means to be a team guy, that brings me to….being an all-around tool,” he said. “And trying to make things happen at all times while I’m on the floor.”
“Whatever [my role] is, I’m going to do that,” Cam Reddish said. “I’ve learned that over the years. Growing up, [I’ve realized] I can’t just do what I want to do all the time. Then it’s being impactful…Being a pest defensively, and being aggressive and assertive [offensively]. If I do those things, I’ll be successful.”
Christian Wood added that while he’s uncertain of his current role, he remains ready as a winning player.
“Whatever it’s gonna be, I’m ready to help this team win as many games as possible,” he said. “My main thing is [to] get to the playoffs. I want to win games. I want to get to the end goal, which is a championship. Starting, coming off the bench, it doesn’t matter. Darvin told me I’m going to play a big role for this team, so I’m excited for that.”
4. Breakouts and Bounce Backs
Finally, among all of the Lakers players, there are some returners and new faces ready for big contributions next season.
Rui Hachimura, by all accounts, is poised for a stellar season, notably spending the whole summer with LeBron.
LeBron confirmed that he's been working out with Rui Hachimura throughout the offseason: "I see a lot in him. I see his potential, not only for him individually but also for our ball club. I call him my Daniel son and I'm Mr. Miagi."
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 2, 2023
Hachimura is coming off of his second postseason, where he averaged 12.2 points on .557/.487/.882 splits. He put pen to paper on a three-year, $71 million deal, and is ready to thrive in any situation, an ability he flashed at various points throughout last year.
Rui on starting vs. coming off the bench: "Each game is different. Even last year, we changed a lot of starting lineups after I got traded. We just gotta adjust. For me, playing time is more important. I want to finish the game. Whatever the coaches decide, I'm here for."
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 2, 2023
With the potential to be the team’s fifth starter, Hachimura’s momentum from last year’s playoffs will serve him well. He showed how much of an asset he is to the Lakers and their frontcourt, and he has a chance to exceed expectations this season.
Austin Reaves is coming off of a stellar sophomore season, and his summer work with Team USA has been one to behold. Now, he is embracing his role as the team’s starting shooting guard.
“I feel like [the playoffs and Team USA] puts me in a good mindset,” Reaves said. “I’ve been basically competing for the last two months. I feel like [I’ve] carried everything over…and [I’m] looking to do the same thing to start the year.”
Entering his third season, Reaves will reportedly be tasked with more facilitating duties to balance LeBron’s offensive workload. Both Ham and Pelinka held high praises for the 25 year old, with Pelinka saying:
“He uniquely has that sort of Mamba gene, where it’s all about the work, it’s about playing competitive on every play, it’s about being a great teammate, not caring about the personal accolades but just the team winning.”
Reaves stood out as a regular season starter at times. In 22 games with the first unit, he put up 15.1 points, 4.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on 51% shooting from the field. Reaves shined in LA’s postseason run, averaging 16.9 points on blistering .464/.443/.895 splits. After his playoff contributions, there was little doubt he would start for the team going forward. He has earned the opportunity that resulted from the work he put in as an undrafted player. Reaves is set to play a key role for the Lakers, and he’s ultimately set up for a breakout year at 25 years old.
Bounce Back Players
“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, so to get the opportunity to come back and start where we left off is a privilege, and something I’m appreciative of,” Russell said.
Russell is equally appreciative of Ham’s proclamation that he would start heading into the year.
“Any words of encouragement from your head coach is always appreciated as a player,” he said. “To have that trust in me is something that I see [and am] appreciative [of]. Don’t want to let him down.”
And Wood, like Russell, hopes to put recent criticisms to rest. Though he had productive seasons in the past, they came with numerous issues defensively and other problems off the court.
“There [are] a lot of false narratives out there about me,” he said. “I have a lot to prove, and this is probably one of my most motivated seasons since being undrafted.”
The Last Word on the Lakers
Despite the increasing competition around the NBA, the Lakers have a golden opportunity to remind the league of their dominance. Headlined by one of the game’s legends and a top-tier power forward, along with a stellar supporting cast, the sky really is the limit for the 2023-24 Lakers.