Although the 2020-21 Los Angeles Lakers didn’t end the season the way that they and all the fans hoped it would end, there was some definite hope for a championship at the beginning of the season. There’s a similar level of hope for the 2021-22 Lakers, although the team may have more on-the-court question marks in terms of how everyone fits together. That’s due to the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, one of the most talented point guards in the NBA despite not having one of the most widely held skills that today’s NBA point guards have — shooting efficiency. However, this upcoming Lakers team seems to be providing some promising, if not early returns on one of the strongest aspects of the 2019-20 championship team, and that is the team’s chemistry.
As SB Nation’s Christian Rivas pointed out, the vibes are beginning to look immaculate for this upcoming season.
Yes, the good vibes were in full force when the Lakers officially announced all of their free-agent signings this past Friday. In natural Dwight Howard fashion, he brought the energy right away as he was the first of the new signings to be announced. He was a huge part of the selfless and positive team culture that was one of the team’s strengths during the 2020 NBA Playoffs run, so other than LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he probably knows the most about that type of culture that’s needed to become a champion. As Howard said below (h/t to Mike Trudell of the Lakers/Spectrum SportsNet), it’s all about sacrifice.
Dwight Howard on how the Lakers can attempt to fast track chemistry and cohesion like they did in his last stint (2019-20), when they also had several new players:
"It’s about sacrifice … what are you willing to give up to get the trophy?"
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) August 6, 2021
“Sacrifice” seemed to be the word of the day at times, as Howard wasn’t the only returning Laker to be preaching this sentiment.
Many of the players expressed zero concern about their potential roles this season, with former Laker Wayne Ellington saying the “first thing” is to be “selfless”. Here’s his full quote on his role with the Lakers in this upcoming season, per Silver Screen & Roll’s Harrison Faigen:
“I think the first thing is to be selfless, right. Put the team first. Put the team first and be ready to do what’s needed of you. I’m a guy that has been in all those situations. I’ve come off the bench. I’ve started, I’ve played a little, played a lot, so I’m prepared and ready for all that stuff. I think as long as you put the team first and you have that mindset that you’re coming into this thing to win a championship and keep that goal at the top of the list, you’ll be just fine.”
Another former Laker was asked about his perceived role in this upcoming season, as Trevor Ariza told Silver Screen & Roll’s Harrison Faigen that his role — and his new teammates’ roles — don’t even matter.
Nah, and to be honest with you, I don’t think it matters for anybody that’s here. Because, again, when you’re trying to win a championship, the only thing that matters is the success of the team. So when the success of the team is the first thing you think about, whatever role you have on it doesn’t even matter, as long as you have a role and the idea is for everybody to make each other make better every day and to cheer on your team’s success, I think that’s the only thing that’s important.
At this point, Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, and Dwight Howard have long had the “savvy veteran” label that rightfully comes to players with their amount of tenure and success within the NBA. These types of quotes surrounding selflessness and sacrifice are expected from these types of veterans on first-time meetings with a team’s media. What about the few young players that were signed to the team at the start of this past weekend?
Well, it was honestly more of the same! Kendrick Nunn — who lamented about being on the Heat when they lost to the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals — confirmed that he passed on more money and opportunity elsewhere in the NBA to title-hunt on the Lakers. Speaking on that (h/t to Alex Regla of Silver Screen & Roll), he continued the trend of using the word “sacrifice”, saying, “I am a guy who knows how to sacrifice for the better of the team. I know how to do that, and am willing to do that. I want to win.”
All of these quotes have to make Lakers fans giddy as can be. Even the Lakers fans with hate filling their hearts due to the Lakers’ treatment of Alex Caruso’s free agency have to be cracking a little smile from reading all the above, as the bad vibes of the 2020-21 Lakers may truly be gone in light of the sacrificial and selfless 2021-22 Lakers.
To that point, and to appropriately end that comparison of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 Lakers rosters, just take a look at this video of Trevor Ariza from Friday compared to Dennis Schröder’s quotes from his first day with the Lakers’ media last year. On that day, Schroder said, “I did this off the bench stuff already for two years with OKC”, squashing any idea that he wouldn’t start for the team when healthy. Schröder’s quote surrounding role invokes memories of Instagram comments from Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell in the past month, as all indications seem to show that displeasures about individual roles permeated throughout the Lakers’ past season.
Either way, I share Ariza’s sentiment. I can’t fuckin’ wait!
And now a word from Trevor Ariza. pic.twitter.com/yxquhFxaST
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 6, 2021