After a disappointing 2021-22 season that ended without even a trip to the play-in-round, the Los Angeles Lakers were expected to make massive changes before the 2022-23 season kicked off. On some level, they did just that. Only five players returned from last year’s debacle, but with Russell Westbrook among them, the core problems of limited depth, defense and shooting that doomed the Lakers a season ago continue to plague the Purple and Gold. Expectations will therefore remain relatively low until the Lakers prove they don’t have to make another move.
On Monday, all the key members of the team tried to do just that. New head coach Darvin Ham, president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and the entire roster (except Dennis Schroder, who is dealing with a visa issue) spoke on media day about the nightmare season they’ve just endured, the season to come and everything in between. . Here are the biggest takeaways of media day as the Lakers try to bounce back from the championship.
Lakers willing to make two first round picks… for the right return
The biggest question of the off-season was originally when the Lakers would trade Westbrook. As the months passed, it shifted to why Westbrook hadn’t been traded. There were plenty of theories. Cham made it clear that he had a plan for Westbrook, so maybe he wasn’t as optimistic about sending him off as others. There arefor holding Westbrook. And, of course, there’s the dreaded Lakers tax, a so-called premium teams that tax the NBA’s most prominent team in negotiations, especially when they’re desperate.
But Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and the simplest explanation here is that Westbrook is widely regarded as a negative asset and the Lakers don’t want to give up any assets to remove him from the team. Getting anything of value back would mean giving up both of their available picks in the first round. Pelinka made it clear that he is willing to give those picks.
“One thing that needs to be made clear is that there has been a lot of speculation, will the Lakers trade their picks? Won’t they trade their picks? on our team. He’s committed to us with a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So of course we’ll do everything we can, including choices, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron through to the end. committed to our organization. That has to be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”
This is where it gets tricky: As this off-season has proven, he won’t give up those choices just to do that. As Pelinka noted, “You have one chance to make a trade with multiple choices, so when you make that trade, and I’m not talking about a particular player on our team, but if you do that trade, it should be the right. You only have one chance to do it. So we think very carefully about the decisions about when and how to use design capital in a way that will improve our selection.”
The implication is that the Lakers were unhappy with the offers on the table. As far as the coverage tells us, the two main deals discussed involved Myles Turner and Buddy Hield of Indiana or Bojan Bogdanovic and a selection of other Jazz role-players. The Lakers may have already traded Westbrook if Kyrie Irving was actually on the table, but all signs point to him not being, and he’s set to play out the final year of his contract in Brooklyn. If the Lakers wait for another player of Irving’s caliber to become available, well, they may never make a trade. Role player deals are available throughout the season. Ultimately, the Lakers will have to decide how much of the season they are willing to sacrifice in anticipation of the perfect trade.
Availability is the best option
In the past two seasons, LeBron James played just 101 games. Anthony Davis has played even fewer, just 76. Whether Westbrook is here or not, the Lakers have no chance of competing without their two best players. Keeping them healthy will be a priority this season and Ham promised to do his part. “I don’t feel the need to play LeBron or AD playoff minutes in October, November or December,” the new coach said. Ham, in particular, hails from Milwaukee, whose head coach, Mike Budenholzer, is the famously stingy with minutes ahead of his stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo has never topped 33 minutes per game since Budenholzer took over as the Milwaukee coach.
James is usually against reducing his workload. “I think this whole story of ‘LeBron needs more rest’ or I need to rest more or take my time here, it’s gotten a lot bigger than it actually is,” James told reporters after a loss in 2021 against Washington. “I’ve never talked about it, I don’t talk about it, I don’t believe in it. We all need more rest, s—. This is a quick turnaround from last season, and we all wish we could could have more rest. But I’m here to work, I’m here to push my clock and be available to my teammates.”
But James sang a different tune on the media day. James said he is completely healthy after a season of injuries and said he would “focus my game on being available.” What exactly that means remains to be seen, but in a squad full of ball handlers, the Lakers are likely hoping to limit his minutes as he approaches his 38th birthday.
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The new culture
According to for Anthony Davis, the Lakers had training camp shirts made with the word “chip” on them to represent the chip the team has on their shoulder going into the season. For the first time since Davis arrived in Los Angeles, the Lakers are underdogs. They are not a super team or defending champions. They’re just trying to prove they belong in the playoff photo. That has seemingly changed the entire culture of the team.
No player embodies that culture better than Patrick Beverley. When discussing what went wrong last season, Beverley, as an outsider, cited the “will factor” as something that worked against them. “Are they getting back on the defensive? Are they willing to do the little things? I didn’t think so with the unit they had last season. That’s not discrediting to anyone. But as a basketball player I feel like I’m top 10 , top 11 mind when it comes to IQ in basketball coming from such a player I didn’t know if they had the will factor I didn’t know if they wanted to make the extra rotation I didn’t know if they were on the wanted to get on the ground wanted to get dirty scratch your knees to get a loose ball I didn’t know that As a leader go to such a team if they didn’t I will I hope to catch they take it from there.”
Beverley has a history of instilling such a culture on the teams he plays for. He embodies the underdog spirit that the Lakers will now have to embrace. For now, he’s the guy who consistently does those things. If the Lakers are going to win anything this season, it should reflect on the rest of the team.
A business relationship
When Westbrook broke up with his longtime agent Thad Foucher this offseason, Foucher’s statement indicated that Westbrook simply didn’t want to stay in Los Angeles. The feeling was probably mutual. But as Westbrook explained Monday, it doesn’t matter in the end.
“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter. My job is to be professional, show up at work as I always have done until now, do my job in the best way I know, and that’s it we’ve all had jobs that people at our jobs sometimes don’t like us or don’t want us to be there as you can probably attest in any other job around the world as a professional and as a working man i have to do my work and do it the best way I know how to support my family and keep it from me, and that’s what I’ll do.”
A resounding confirmation of his relationship with the Lakers, it wasn’t. Pelinka went out of his way to praise Westbrook, but the fact remains that he is making $47 million this season on a roster with no negotiable salary. If the Lakers are going to trade those two first round picks, as Pelinka said they would for the right offer, Westbrook should be close to being in the deal.
Until then? His future is unclear. Ham refused to commit to a starting line-up, but he spoke positively about Westbrook’s attitude this off-season. “He’s been great,” Ham said. “Everything I asked of him, he did. It was all about selflessness, team orientation, defense.” Of course, these were topics of conversation that were often repeated before last season. Lakers fans can be forgiven for not believing it until they see it.