The Los Angeles Lakers are undergoing a huge change this offseason. The change began on the final day of the previous season, with Kobe Bryant’s departure signalling the official rebuild around a young core of players. Then came the firing of Byron Scott and the subsequent hiring of Luke Walton.
There is no doubt that the Lakers have changed their philosophy in the past few months. They seem ready to go all in on this youth movement, pinning their hopes on the backs of several talented, but ultimately raw young players. They chose the youngest head coach in the league to guide this group and grow with them. In effect, the Lakers have a new culture about them.
The word culture has been thrown around a lot lately in regards to the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs have always been the godfather of culture and its importance in organizations around The Association. The Warriors have become the heir apparent over the last few seasons.
And now, that same all important culture is seeping through the woodwork in Los Angeles.
While we as fans can speculate about that culture shift, there’s no telling how true it really has. But according to Larry Nance, Jr., it’s real and it’s coming fast.
The sophomore power forward made an appearance on the Basketball Insiders podcast with Alex Kennedy on Tuesday. He discussed a wide variety of topics but none were quite as interesting as the importance he put on the word “culture.”
Nance first brought up that word when discussing his and the team’s workout routines and focus this summer. After detailing what he himself has been working on, Nance had the following to say:
“Since Luke’s gotten here, the culture has kind of changed. Now he’s on the court working with us, and the assistants are on the court working with us. Kind of implementing in our game what they’d like to see in our offense. Me and D’Angelo have worked on pick-and-rolls quite a bit. Anthony Brown has been working on being that knock-down, coming off screens, stuff like that. Julius has been working on the same thing. I know he’s been an absolute beast this offseason, just with his workouts and stuff like that. So I’m excited to see everything that he’s improved upon. And then Jordan, as well. You know, Jordan’s in and out of the gym before we even get there in the morning. He’s a gym rat. I just know all of us have been working and are really excited. And it’s just a whole new culture and a whole new feel around the gym and it’s really nice to see.”
Nance’s words about the coaching staff as a whole is certainly great to hear. The Lakers brought in a ton of young coaches to join Walton on the bench and it appears that that has been great for the young players thus far. Walton and the coaching staff have been hands-on, explicitly telling the players what they need to work on and (most importantly) helping them do it. When considering reports about the previous regime in Los Angeles, this is a huge shift in philosophy – and a crucial one.
That same marked change seems to have been a hallmark of the Lakers’ free agency strategy, at least according to Nance. In signing Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng and trading for Jose Calderon, the Lakers added three veterans who have all had success at various points in their careers. Nance had more details about why that was important:
“I think it’s going to be really good. You hear guys like Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Mozgov and they are just true pro’s pros. They come in and get it done every single night, good locker room guys, guys that really are great cornerstones to establish a culture. And I think that’s gotta be a big reason behind what we did with them. I’m really excited about it. They’re pretty darn good players as well. Mozgov is an NBA champ. We’ve got really good pieces that we’ve brought in. We brought back Jordan and Tarik and Marcelo so thank goodness for that. I think we’re gearing up to surprise some people and if not that, then we’re building a culture.”
When pressed further, Nance explained why he put so much emphasis on the word culture and why it’s important: “The way I put it is: imagine going to work, imagine going to your cubicle and it’s just a toxic work environment. The guys around you that you don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with, the boss is demanding, it’s just a drag going to work everyday. Less gets done, everybody’s less productive, it’s kind of a bad attitude all around.
But then you go to an environment where the boss is flexible, you’ve got guys around you that you can talk and mess around with, and you go to dinner afterward. It makes time fly. It makes you not dread going to work as much. Granted, it’s a little different because we’re in the NBA but at least this summer, I’ve really enjoyed going to the gym and seeing the faces of the people that are with us now. That’s kind of the culture change that’s going on.
You go to the gym and you see Luke down there on the court with Julius and they’re laughing. You see Jordan and D’Angelo shooting half-court shots and messing around and they’re laughing. And the strength coaches getting guys pumped up. It’s just like ‘alright, I’m ready to be a part of this. Let’s go!’ You wouldn’t have that feeling if you didn’t necessarily like all those guys.
That’s kind of what culture means to me. If you enjoy where you’re working, you’re gonna want to work that much harder to bring up everybody around you. […] If we get along, it’s easier to go to your friend and say ‘Hey man, that shot is not what we’re looking for on that possession.’ If it’s somebody you don’t get along with, you can start a whole argument and things go bad. I think that is what [Walton] is trying to do and so far, it looks like it’s going well. Basketball is supposed to be fun; it’s a game. It’s getting back to that.”
This may seem trivial in some aspects as no amount of culture can make up for a lack of talent. But when building up a team from the ground up, it can make all the difference.
This culture that Nance is talking about can lead to much better development of the young players. It can lead to chemistry between the youth movement as they continue to grow together. It can lead to the will and the desire to get better individually and as a team.
And if all of that goes to plan, it can eventually lead to sustainable success on the court.
Luke Walton is bringing in better x’s and o’s, better tactics, and experience at the helm of a 73-9 team. But nothing he brings will be as crucial as the clear change of culture within the Lakers’ organization.