Themes from the Lakers Exit Interviews

Darius Soriano —  April 14, 2017

The Lakers concluded their season on Wednesday with a loss to the Warriors to snap their 5 game win streak, then had a marathon session of exit interviews on Thursday to officially close the books on the 2016-17 campaign. We’ll have more thoughts on the this year over the course of a long break from actual games during the off-season, but it was nice to hear the players, coach, and General Manager reflect on the year that was and offer some insights into the next steps.

After listening to most all of the full sessions, a few themes arose.

First, everyone who spoke understood that progress has been made and that over the course of the season the young players improved. Brandon Ingram’s name was almost universally mentioned unprompted, noting his growth over the course of the season and how he really seemed to “get it” after the All-Star break. Luke Walton specifically mentioned the idea of instilling winning habits across the team and cited the attempts to establish the right “culture” as a point of success in the face of the team losing 55+ games.

Another key theme which arose from these discussions was the idea that the team has a clear “direction” of where they want to go. Rob Pelinka was the chief bullhorn of this concept while repeatedly referring to “excellence” as a goal. Pelinka, in no uncertain terms, stated the pursuit of excellence would be a driver of all their decisions, even noting that the players who did not incorporate this into their daily habits weren’t likely to be Lakers very long.

The players too noted this, but from their own perspective. To a man, they all seemed to promote the idea that they got a very clear sense of the direction the front office wanted to take the team. Several of them, whether intentionally or not, even seemed to imply this as a contrast to season’s past. This shouldn’t be a surprise, per se, since the outlook of the team was much murkier in past years as the team negotiated the push and pull of trying to invest in the development of young players while also catering to Kobe Bryant’s final seasons. That said, there is no ambiguity now and the players all understand it.

This brought into question the futures of several players (which we’ll get into in a bit) and the idea of “how patient will the organization be”, but I think one thing is pretty clear — at least to me it is: While the front office and coaches like this group of players, win totals in the 20’s won’t be tolerated any longer. So, while patience and a mindfulness of the young players’ development arcs are real, the organization is looking to take the next step forward and the front office is more than willing to make changes to get there. I did not get the sense that everyone is “on notice” so to speak, but I also don’t think everyone should feel comfortable with the idea they’re guaranteed to be back next season.

One last theme I noticed is that the 5-game win streak at the end of the season mattered to the players, to Luke Walton, and to the front office. Yes, they (Luke, Pelinka) may have been putting a positive face on how the lottery odds were impacted, but I got the sense their desires for the young players to understand how winning is tied to good habits and reflective of the work they were putting in was genuine. Many who spoke on Thursday cited the streak as not only a confidence builder, but as something which could springboard them into the off-season via the desire to have that feeling more and how it would impact their focus in individual training.

Not for nothing, but this resonates with me. I am perfectly happy to also admit that I am predisposed to this argument swaying me because, ta-da!, I believe these things too. But, I did find it interesting that this specific reasoning is something the players and staff seem to buy into as well. We’ll see how much that matters and/or how it translates into the summer and next season. But, I’d be lying if I said this is an insignificant thing to me.

Lastly, a few other smaller points which stood out to me…

  • After listening to him talk, I don’t think Nick Young will be back next year. He strong hinted he’ll opt-out of his player option and discussed openly his want to play on a winning team. He ended his media sessions with a “see you next year when I’m playing against ya’ll” comment with a classic Swaggy P smile attached. So, yeah, he gone.
  • Tarik Black is an impressive dude. He offers well thought out responses and a perspective to situations which brings a wide angle view. He comes off as more seasoned and grounded than your average 3rd year veteran who’s only 25 years old. His high character also shines through consistently. I don’t know if Tarik will be back next season — the 2nd year of his two year contract is a team option and the team could benefit from the cap space it would open up by declining it — but I like Black a fair amount and do believe he’s going to continue to improve.
  • Thomas Robinson sounds like a guy who the light has turned on for. He spoke at length about how the early part of his career was him stubbornly fighting against the “bust” label while trying to do more on the court than he probably should have in order to show people who good and skilled a player he is. This past season, though, he noted that he understands what his role is in this league and while he does not look at himself as only an energy/hustle player, he knows that’s his bread and butter and that he wants to be a “star in his role” moving forward. I’ll write more about Robinson in the coming weeks and months, but he’s an intriguing player who, I think, can be useful on a good team.
  • Julius Randle was open about what he needs to do to improve and, as he usually does, gave off a strong vibe of his desires and commitment to do those things. I thought it was important that he cited working on his conditioning to “get in the best shape of his life” was a good admission and reflective of what the coaches want from him. Remember, one of the lasting critiques of Randle this season was Walton trying to find ways for Randle to play harder for longer stretches. Well, that only comes from being in excellent shape. Randle seems to get that if he’s going to unlock his full potential as a player, it’s going to come from being in peak physical condition. As a Randle supporter, but also someone who has questions about specific parts of his game, I am intrigued to see how this summer plays out for him.
  • I wish we could have gotten some thoughts from Luol Deng and D’Angelo Russell. I cast no judgment on them not being there — I know there are good reasons. I just wished we would have gotten some soundbites and gotten to hear their perspective.
  • I really appreciated Corey Brewer’s positive attitude, but also his candidness. On more than one occasion he noted that some of the young players have been here “two or three years” and that this is a big summer for them to “make a jump” in their games. I fully agree with this assessment and, as noted earlier, speaks to the importance of this summer for everyone — players and front office alike.

Darius Soriano

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to Themes from the Lakers Exit Interviews

  1. Interesting how this 26 win team won more games in the 1st 20 (10) & last 10 (5), then middle 52 (11).


    • This team could have gotten to 30 easily under less trying circumstances. We can lose the pick, not add an FA, and still get close to 35-40 next year with this rapidly improving core roster.


  2. I wasn’t able to see the entire interviews, but i did read the summaries. To a man, it seemed as if the players praised Walton and got the right vibe from their exit interviews. (The right vibe being supportive but also raising the bar and insisting on excellence.) A new day is dawning.

    As for Black, I don’t know if he fits on the court with these guys, but I’m with you: he is an impressive dude. I can’t help but root for him.

    Predictions for Nwaba and Ennis coming back? Ennis elevated his worth, so I won’t be surprised if he’s gone in trade or whatever. I hope we stick with Nwaba. I’d like to see what he can do.


    • Nwaba is a lock to return. He’s a productive, defensive specialist, high character minimum salary player. They like Ennis, Lakers could offer the $2.66m option hold. If he’s proven himself into a bigger payoff, which is possible, I don’t see us paying more for him. Black is exactly the guy the FO wants too – high character, hard-working, defensive mindset, young, reasonably priced. Unfortunately we have a glut of 4’s/5’s, so what happens via picks/unloading trades, and whether we try to add a max FA in 2017 or 2018, is what determines whether we pick up his option.


  3. Listened to Tarik’s interview. He’s a mature, self-aware and humble. He’ll be an asset wherever he ends up. Hope it’s here.
    Also listened to Rob, liked how he seems to be planning for different scenarios whether it be the lottery, free agency and trades. Unlike Jim and Mitch, Rob is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Also his activity level seems to be higher than Jim and Mitch. We’ll have to see if it’s more than talk, but for now it sounds good. I’m pretty sure Mitch worked “hard,” but Rob sounds like he’s bringing Kobe-like work ethic to his job.


  4. It was good to hear what the players had to say about their interviews and their personal goals for the summer. I am not a fan of having “excellence” as a goal. What is supposed to be excellent and how will that be measured? Goals are supposed to be measurable and obtainable. Excellence is neither of these. Even Randle’s comments about coming back in the best shape of his life would be better if it is shaped by one of the trainers. He could have goals for body fat, upper body strength, duration of cardio workouts, etc. On Pelinka’s side he needs to help make the defense excellent. In addition to finding a defensive minded 4/5, wing, and pg, he could find Luke an excellent coach for defense. It would be fine with me if next year is year 2 of the rebuild and the youth are given the ball. They did very well once the veterans were traded or parked on the bench and they need to continue to get the lion’s share of playing time.


  5. News of Porzingis skipping his exit interviews due to his frustration with the Knicks direction has every basketball fan checking when he becomes a free agent — the summer of 2019 (restricted) the summer of 2020 (unrestricted).


    • Darius: making a statement that we have cheap assets to offer for Porzingis is not the same as trade speculation. I am all for a curated blog, but that was over the top.


      • You spelled out an entire trade scenario. What the Lakers would give, what the Knicks would give, even what the Lakers would do with a guy they would acquire. I’m down for honest interpretation of what the comments that get deleted are. Jeez.


        • You’re right, it came across as wishful and as a proposal. But I was really thinking it as a potential logical outcome. I will rephrase.

          In the NBA, even worse than your veteran star player being unhappy is your young star player being unhappy. It could quickly become a lose-lose dynamic for Phil and KP, whose development at full potential, in addition to morale, could be at risk. It’s almost impossible for Phil to trade KP and not get stoned out of the Garden, so this could devolve into the end of Phil in NY, regardless. Nor can he give him up for high quality picks, a move pretty much synonymous with rebuilding, which he’d be doing by trading his one young star! And he’d have to do it without the perception of getting lesser value. The one conceivable action for Phil would be to move him for quality young NBA players, historically a most difficult scenario.

          In that respect, the Lakers have something few other teams have if KP were available – multiple such low cost/ high value assets than can be combined UP to get him.

          Rob Pelinka is scouring for such opportunities, so if there is any potential in enticing NYK, he’ll find it.


        • Darius: I’m sorry man, I looked and my second reply was missing. I put a lot of thought into it, but now it’s there. Please do not publish my comment from just now complaining about it, or this one.

          Thank you for keeping us civil and the best place on the web for this weird love of ours.


      • I understand why you blocked my first comment. The second one I don’t. Which one of us is in bad form?


  6. A Horse With No Name April 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Google Docs link to draft prospects rankings.

    Can we start talking draft already?

    Hope this link works. This cat @ lakersground has been doing some nice work for years. I don’t post there, but I try to separate the wheat from the chaff (chatter) and find the goods. This is super legit and worth your study–particularly in looking at value with the 28th pick. I like the “bust” category; as it jibes with concerns I have about a number of overrated prospects (e.g. Lauri Markkanen).


    • I’m not sure I agree with the results of this methodology, but I would be pleased as punch if Malik Monk was available to us for the #28, if he gets drafted at all, given his #80 placement. Or Frank Ntilikina, the two-way 18yo that dominated the U18’s at #74. Looks like there is a strong bias toward older players, which contradicts the approach taken by NBA GM’s in the draft.


      • A Horse With No Name April 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm

        It is certainly imperfect, but I think there is value in looking at his work. By his own admission, there are head scratchers. But I’ve found this to be true in most statistical studies of players. It’s always good to compare and contrast data, and then get out of it altogether to weigh other factors missed (trad scouting/eye test, psychological tests, interviews etc.) before making a complete assessment of a potential draftee–that’s certainly what teams do these days.


        • I agree with you, there are usually more insights in such analysis than misleading outliers, you just have to combine with other data points to arrive at your draft board.

          I’ve been hoping OG Anenoby will last till #28, given his injury and lots of other good players in the draft. After reading this, not too likely.


    • Thanks for posting… I see Lonzo dropped to 6 however I think I still prefer him.
      I like Jackson as well, and Tatum has a fantastic, silky shot.


  7. The youtube season highlights of individual Lakers have been produced. Here’s one for Jordan Clarkson:

    There are others that are worth looking at as well.