The Los Angeles Lakers officially opened up training camp on Tuesday with media day. The sights and sounds of seeing LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook – among others – together in purple and gold for the first time was enough to get fans excited for the season as preseason games fast approach.
All 14 players currently signed to the main roster, as well as head coach Frank Vogel, spoke to the media about a variety of topics. Here are just some of the major takeaways from those press conferences.
Lakers handling vaccine issue
When media day for most teams ended on Monday, NBA fans were left with a lot of quotes from prominent athletes either declining to comment on their opinions towards the COVID vaccine or worse outright denying their effectiveness. It was a breath of fresh air, then, to hear how most Lakers players discussed the topic.
LeBron admitted his skepticism towards the vaccine but choosing to get it after doing more research. Davis said he got a shot to protect his family, including his two children. Kent Bazemore, who had previously said he would not get the vaccine, told the media that he would be getting his second dose soon after conversations with Rob Pelinka, which seemed to imply his signing was contingent on getting the shot.
The only questionable response was from Dwight Howard who has also previously said he does not believe in vaccines. He declined to answer questions about his vaccination status, citing HIPAA (which is not applicable in this context) but made a quip about having opinions about it that he would not share in front of a camera. Howard is, of course, more than welcome to keep that information private but given the team’s insistence that they would be 100% vaccinated by opening night and his own previous comments, it would have been nice to hear a more reasoned response from him.
Team chemistry is center of focus
While injuries were the deciding factor in the Lakers’ ultimately disappointing season last year, it’s no secret that the team’s chemistry never approached that of the championship year, either.
Early returns from this year’s squad seem to indicate a 180 degree turn from that.
From Westbrook and Trevor Ariza’s friendship (“What the fuck do you want totalk to me about?” is what Ariza says he told Westbrook after the latter called him immediately after his trade to recruit him) to LeBron and Carmelo Anthony’s, there are a ton of great relationships on this roster that should keep things light but also accountable. Players joked about the collective age of the roster but also used the skepticism as fuel and motivstion. Even Rajon Rondo and Westbrook, who have had some competitive and beefy moments in the past, were joking around while taking photos:
"Edit that out." 😂
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 28, 2021
The players spoke glowingly about the minicamp organized by LeBron in Las Vegas, the impact of which could pay major dividends down the line. Ultimately, if injuries ravage the roster again or if the team struggles to perform from a tactical perspective, team chemistry does not mean a whole lot. But it does give the Lakers a much bigger margin for error than they provided for themselves last year.
The Anthony Davis redemption tour is well on the way
AD has arguably been the biggest part of an offseason featuring a trade for Westbrook. It’s no secret that the big man had a disappointing season last year, primarily due to nagging injuries. With a longer offseason, AD seems to have come into camp in better shape and ready to dominate again.
Davis confirmed rumors that he would be playing at center more often this year (Vogel also confirmed the decision, likening it to the 2020 champion Lakers though AD could actually start at the five). That change is expected to bring out the best of AD, the elite rim protector who can beat other centers both in the post and by taking them out on the perimeter. His own teammates echoed that sentiment, including Westbrook who called it an “advantage” for the team. Westbrook’s ferocious paint crashing is the biggest reason why AD’s positional change was made now.
More important than the tactical changes for AD is a perceivable change in attitude. Pelinka told Allie Clifton on Spectrum SportsNet that the big man was motivated not just by the pursuit of a second championship but also by proving that he’s the best “two-way” player in the league. To that point, the superstar big man showed his motivation to be the leader of the team:
Asked by @BillPlaschke if he feels responsibility to make the Lakers "his team" this year, AD says "I think I have the capabitilty of doing so… Guys have talked to me about 'this is your team, we go as you go.'"
Adds that leadership is a group effort, though.
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) September 28, 2021