Lakers Open 2022-23 campaign with media day

As the 2022-23 NBA season officially begins for the Lakers Monday morning at the UCLA Health Training Center for the team’s media day, new coach Darvin Ham wants to turn the page of an injury-plagued, disappointing past season to focus on what lies in front of him.

“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “Last year was what it was; There was a multitude of circumstances that led to the team playing the way they did and the team’s lack of success last year due to COVID, injuries…this year we turned the page. We look through the windshield, not so much through the rear-view mirror. We are thrilled with the group (VP of Basketball Ops) that Rob (Pelinka) and I have put together.

“We’re looking forward to the summer we’ve had so far. I think we’re going to create an identity, establish a defensive identity, that competitive nature, that competitive energy throughout the environment. Last year was last year, this year is a whole new chapter.”

entering his 20thth NBA season, a feat accomplished by only nine other players, LeBron James echoed his new coach’s emphasis on defense.

“Teams that can defend and stop when needed are just more successful in our league, so we’re going to be pounding home on the defensive side of the floor every day,” LeBron said. “And understanding that we can defend, get teams to put in hard shots, keep them on target and rebound and save the ball puts us in a position to be successful.”

The team’s top defensive end, Anthony Davis, has been speaking to Ham about this side of the parquet for the past few months.

“We’ve had some great conversations — a lot about, frankly, defense,” AD said. “He leaves his hat on then. He wants us to be one of the best teams in this league defensively. That goes for everyone on this list. Being a defensive guy, he asks me questions because I’m used to doing things a certain way.”

Pelinka and his staff acquired several players with a history of defensive intensity and competitiveness, such as Patrick Beverley, Dennis Schroder, and Juan Toscano-Anderson, to try to better complement LeBron and AD.

“Darvin and I have spent hundreds of hours over and over again figuring out how we want this team to reflect some of the qualities he most represents,” Pelinka said. “Our Lakers fans deserve one thing – a team that will compete hardest (of any team) in the NBA. That’s what Darvin stands for as a coach; He has strong shoulders and a tough mindset and we wanted to make sure there were guys in our squad who reflected those qualities.”

Of course, one of LA’s biggest issues since their 2020 NBA title has been their inability to get LeBron and AD on the ground at the same time. LeBron has played 45 and 56 games in the previous two seasons, Davis even fewer, 76 of 154.

“The focus of my game is to be available,” LeBron said. “That’s the most important. Of course you can’t control some injuries, but that’s my whole way of thinking. I think for me as the leader of the team – one of the leaders of the team – availability is the most important thing in this league. You have to be available and down to earth. That has always been my way of thinking.”

The Lakers have certainly improved in terms of depth of cover from last season, with Russell Westbrook, Beverley, Austin Reaves, Kendrick Nunn, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. all struggling for minutes. The depth up front is less proven behind the two stars. Trying to improve the roster, especially with LeBron James on the roster, is a constant pursuit but also depends on what’s available.

“Let me be very clear: we have one of the greatest players in LeBron James that has ever played on our team and he has signed us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract,” Pelinka said. “So of course we’re going to do everything we can, including picks, to make deals so we can help LeBron get to the end… But let me also get this clear… You have a chance to make a trade with multiple picks so if you make that trade, it has to be the right one. So we’re very careful about when and how we use draft capital to improve our roster. And again, we’re committed to doing everything we can to put the best team around LeBron as long as it’s a wise trade.”

LeBron, AD and Westbrook didn’t play much together on the court last season, but even when they did, they didn’t live up to external or internal expectations. With that in mind, several Lakers have expressed optimism towards improvement this season, including LeBron.

“I’m excited to be on that part of the journey with him this year and it’s going to be a great year for him and we’ll be right there with him,” James said. “We’re here, and it starts tomorrow. It’s about putting in the work, and you put in the work, you see the results. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Helping Westbrook’s transition into a new season was his burgeoning relationship with his new coach.

“Very beneficial,” Westbrook said of his discussions with Ham. “Being able to talk about and understand things we want to do and how we want to do them.”

  • Kendrick Nunn, who missed last season, is cleared for full contract practice. He said he feels really good and is already playing 5v5.
  • Troy Brown Jr. struggles with back pain despite doing some non-contact work. It’s something he doesn’t take seriously, but it keeps him from fully participating.
  • Lonnie Walker IV has an ankle injury preventing him from starting camp. Walker said his ankle was “okay” and that he was already running, jumping and slicing.
  • Dennis Schroeder has yet to arrive at camp due to a visa issue that regularly occurs with players who either live abroad or have been abroad for a long period of time.

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