As long as we have been waiting, it is hard to believe training camp is already here. So much has happened since Kobe dropped those 60 points in his epic career finale and so much of what has occurred has seemingly taken forever to transpire. Yet, media day is here and training camp right along with it.
The hiring of Luke Walton and the roster turnover has been covered in detail multiple times over. As has the change in rhetoric surrounding this new Lakers’ team, where expectations are about seeking improvement in play, development of young players, and trying to find an exciting brand of ball as opposed to harping on the playoffs or making a run that is unlikely with a roster not constructed to achieve that goal.
This is backdrop for camp, but it is not the entire story. The Lakers have 20 players heading to Santa Barbara and the ensuing competition — for roles as much as roster spots — will be worth our time and analysis every step of the way.
We already have a good idea of who the starters will be. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson are no longer just the back court of the future, they are also the pairing of the present. Julius Randle will return to his PF spot and Timofey Mozgov — with his $64 million contract — will be the starter in the pivot. The only remaining intrigue was to be whether #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram would start over Luol Deng, but Walton squashed that pretty quickly a couple of weeks ago. The veteran will get the spot.
With the first five determined, the real competition starts with the next five. Three of those guys are already determined — or at least they should be. Larry Nance is a rotation player in this league and has earned a role as first big off the bench. Ingram is the next man in as the team’s prize from the lottery. Lou Williams might not have the cleanest fit on this roster, but his scoring punch, shooting stroke, and ability to draw fouls have value.
The next two spots, however, aren’t as easily projected. At backup point guard, the Lakers happily took on two future 2nd round draft picks to absorb the salary of Jose Calderon. Shortly after that trade, the team brought back Marcelo Huertas on a two-year contract. Those two will battle for whatever minutes Russell leaves on the table and I believe how training camp goes for both will be a major determinant in who sees the floor. Both players have strengths and weaknesses, but this mostly comes down to a choice between Calderon’s superior shooting and Huertas’ superior playmaking and passing.
While sorting out the backup point guard spot seems relatively straight forward, who plays backup center is not that way at all. After not getting a very fair shot as a backup last season, Tarik Black was re-signed this summer as the presumptive favorite to backup Mozgov. However, the recent signing of Yi Jianlian has thrown a monkey wrench into that scenario. Yi is a totally different player than Black which adds an element of style contrast beyond just being another viable option.
Further, the Black vs. Yi does not even account for rookie Ivica Zubac (who is more like Mozgov than either Black or Yi) nor the prospect of playing Nance or Randle at backup C in order to get them more minutes. In other words, the Lakers, in theory, have upwards of 5 players who could prove to be worthy of the backup C role (maybe not Zubac, but lets keep him here anyway) and each of them brings a slightly different skill-set with their own individual strengths and weaknesses to account for.
Will Walton want a pure P&R dive man (Black)? Will he want shooting (Yi)? Will he want upside with size, but also a steep learning curve (Zubac)? Will he want a more small-ball type of player who also needs court time in general (Randle or Nance)? The answer to these questions will lead you to the answer of who gets minutes, but I think it would be silly to expect it will be the same every night. In fact, simple logic and numbers (as well as some of the few things we know about Walton) tell us it won’t be.
Which leads us to the other key storyline heading into camp: as much as we think we know about Walton as a coach, we really know very little. Sure, we got a glimpse of his general approach and demeanor from his stint as stand-in head coach with the Warriors last season. But that team was a juggernaut and had a group of veteran players coming off a championship who wanted to repeat and show the world they were not a fluke. This season’s Lakers are not that type of team. They are, #actually, the exact opposite.
How Walton manages to create and maintain buy-in, how he deals with the differences between his young players who are on the rise and his veterans who have firm reputations in the league, how he deals day in and day out with a team which is not likely to win a lot of games…these are all things we simply do not know. To be fair, he may not even know yet.
What we do know is that Walton is already preaching what sounds like the three keys to making this team his: competition, fun, and culture. The first two of those contribute to the third, but all seem to be important pillars of the program he is trying to establish. So far, the results — at least from what we are hearing from the young players who are at the facility every day — is that it is working. Guys sound excited about coming into the gym and seem to genuinely want to play for Walton. That is more than can be said for the last head coach — at least towards the end of his tenure.
All of this contributes to a certain amount of uncertainty. But that also breeds an excitement which, if we’re being honest, has not really been present lately.
The Lakers head into camp without Kobe, but with a new coach, a new batch of veterans to help lead, and the same young players (plus Ingram) who are all looking to be major contributors to turning around a historic franchise. They also have an interesting mix of add-ons on make good contracts who would love nothing else than to disrupt whatever plan for a roster exists by butting in and showing that they can earn a spot too.
In other words, get ready for one of the more intriguing camps we have seen lately. The Lakers are not back to being a team which is likely to compete for a lot of wins, but that does not mean they will not be competing. Because, based on what the coach says and the way some of these camp battles are going to go, competition will look to be one of the sure constants of the next several weeks. I, for one, cannot wait.
John Citizen says
Thanks Darius. always enjoyable to read.
i am actually looking forward to seeing pre-season games. I want to see how this group will work without necessarily worrying about winning the game.
Between this upcoming season and Pokémon GO, I’m dead.
Media Day is today!!!
Good stuff D. Thanks!
hey darius: another nice prelude with altogether new focus(es) on the upcoming laker training camp.
personally i would like to see Zubak leap frog all other contenders for the back up center position because i not only like the “traditional” type center but it would mean that his development would push mozgov and that could be a good thing. it may seen premature based on their relative experience levels; i would like to see zubak go head to head with mozgov in training camp. from one fan’s perspective, zubak making the laker roster for this upcoming season would be a boost for ratings. coming off the bench would be a delight to see. for me, he just has that likability factor. I know that winning trumps all, but lakers need a lot of likability too and so far I’m seeing a lot of that.
to coach Walton: unless there is some kind of health issue going on, please don’t be so quick to say that Ingram will be coming off the bench in lieu of the veteran Luol Deng. I for one would like to be pleasantly surprised if and when Walton makes a turnabout on that decision based on head to head in training camp. could be that coach Walton is using some psychology 101 on the young Ingram. Not a bad idea at all.
love the so many moving parts at the same time thing going on. thanks again for keeping forum blue and gold, golden.
Clay Bertrand says
Finally, the season is here…….ALMOST!!!!! No more trying to fill the void with OTHER much lesser athletic activities……Copa America…..Olympics…….Canelo vs. Smith…….Clinton vs. Trump……McGregor vs. Diaz!!?!??!!?!?!!?!? NONE OF THAT CRAP CAN MEASURE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its been like tryin to eat cereal with Tomato Juice instead of MILK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This has been the longest off season in recent memory for me. It has just dragged on and felt much longer than last season. I can only think that its because something is flickering this year that hasn’t been for the last couple. That little flickering is not the last waning of a long burning flame as it finally dies out (and scores 60 pts before going totally to smoke…..). The flickering this year is…..dare I say…..HOPE.
I realize that optimism is abound everywhere on the first day of camp and Media Day especially for a team that needs to sell optimism to sell its product. Its just that OPTIMISM itself has been on rather unsteady legs in Lakerland for the last few seasons. How much optimism could one be expected to even emotionally harness having to embrace Carlos Boozer and Wes Johnson as your off season BIG ADDITIONS??? That was THEN…..this is NOW…….
Victories will still be in short supply, but EVERY night, it will be fun and interesting and exciting to see the young guys play and develop. There are so many intriguing young players to watch that SOMEONE is going to do something to surprise us every night!! Progress will occur before our eyes.
The journey begins today. We can again embrace our coach, our team, our players, our future and apparently, our new Sports Network SPECTRUM SPORTS. No more loathing our on court leadership. No more old timer exhibition games. No more eyes on the tank standings wanting to salvage something of value to salve our souls in the hopelessness of such a rudderless season.
Today, the Santa Ana winds blow strong and warm with the hope of a new era. The waves are glassy and the future is bright!!!!! I feel like I’m getting to the front of the line to get on a roller coaster and I’m only a few parties from the front. I can’t wait til Oct. 4 when we can all finally start MAINLINING with preseason games.
The crawl thru the off season desert is over!!!! We have reached the oasis that is MEDIA DAY and Day 1 of Training Camp!!!! Drink it all in starting in 49 minutes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Finally, after 3 miserable season, I have a reason to be excited about an upcoming season. Management appears to have their heads on straight and are working towards #17. And as excited as so many fans are, it’s nothing compared to how excited the young players are, who will finally have a chance to show what type of talent they actual have.
I like the versatility of the Lakers lineup. They have a lot guys who can play multiple positions. They can put guys out there to do different things based on what Luke wants to do.
I don’t like the idea of playing Nance or Randle at center. Randle isn’t going to deter shots in the paint. I don’t think either provides a better small ball option than Black already does and Yi would provide a better combination of shooting and size. If anything I see Yi and Black as more plausible options to eat minutes at PF than vice versa.
LT Mitchell says
I thought this was hilarious. Stephen Jackson’s response to DAR’s alleged brown nosing…..
Mid Wilshire says
A question: who’s going to be the team captain this year? The choice should be interesting.
ED 10 says
Competition in camp,and how Luke sorts out the rotations should be interesting. Deng as Captain based on seniority?
Clay Bertrand says
I don’t totally disagree.
However, while I did find the Russell comment curious, and I did find Jackson’s response funny, I also think Stephen Jackson is one of the least qualified NBA guys to call BS on the situation. Is this a case of a notorious bad teammate calling out good natured chemistry building???? Of course it is. Stephen Jackson may be no a non sense guy, but he takes it too far; to the detriment of his own career in fact.
Stephen Jackson prolly tells little kids Santa ain’t real too. Just LIVE AND LET LIVE dude!!!! Like Stephen Jackson never uttered something we all didn’t roll our eyes at EVER. The guy was basically kicked off the Spurs within days of them beginning the 2013 playoffs for being a bad teammate and a ME FIRST a-hole. Not left off the playoff roster……not DNP Coaches Decision…..not Benched……he was flat out WAIVED. He was waived to RID the team of his presence. He was deemed so bad a cancer he had to be removed completely from the team.
NOW he comes out of the woodwork to Fact Check compliments given by other teams’ young players???? Very rich indeed.
Is Russell’s comment Brown Nosing?? Is it a special show of respect from him to his new Coach?? Is it coach and PG bonding on some level?? Is it another instance of this renaissance of the younger generation of Feel Good Basketball clashing with the bitter, chappy OLD NBA persona??? Likely its a combination of all those things.
Russell’s comment demonstrates a lot of the types of things that were beneath a hard headed, selfish, journeyman player of Stephen Jackson’s caliber or maybe just beyond his understanding. Those very kinds of things lacking in Jackson that have seen him ruin relationships and undermine his own teams throughout his career. The guy may be OK for an “Old Timer Knocking The New Generation” quote a la Oakley, Barkley, and all the other old guys who resent the money of the new players and beat their chests.
But why should anyone care what Stephen FREAKING Jackson has to say??? Dude is just trying to dream himself back into the NBA to get some of that new TV $ CHEDDAR after pissing away his career prematurely with a crappy, attitude.
This quote says it all about Jackson and his pettiness:
“Jackson expressed no disappointment with missing the Spurs’ playoff run because he “got [his] money.” He also revealed that his vague tweet in April about refusing to “say a player is better than me when I know [they’re] not” was directed at Manu Ginobili and Danny Green.”
Here is the Link :
Good Luck to Capt. Jack!!! Maybe he can be an UBER driver if he can’t sell someone on signing a 38 year old Roster Cancer who runs his mouth too much.
Clay Bertrand says
Anyone watching Spectrum Sports Net??
What’s with Mike Bresnahan and McGee just FORCE FEEDING the narrative that D’Angelo Russell is poised to have a “BREAK OUT YEAR”??????? I don’t get the unnecessary hyperbole or the horsecrap of MAKING every one of his teammates, some of whom are his young peers, answer the question: “Is D’Angelo Russell poised and ready for a BREAK OUT YEAR!?!?”
What are his teammates supposed to answer???? “UHHHH NO MAN, I don’t think so. He’s just not very good. I think he will regress….” Cmon Man!!!
I don’t even understand the narrative!!! It will be his SECOND YEAR!!!!!! He was a very high draft choice and will be given a much larger role in running the team. Of course he is going to show improvement. He is clearly going to show he is making strides. But a “BREAK OUT YEAR”?????!!!
I think of a “BREAK OUT YEAR” as being when a player has had at least a couple of years to get acclimated and adapted to the NBA game. Over the course of that time, the player shows they have elite potential and begin to ascend to the upper echelons of their position. Then, finally, their potential becomes a reality and they REALLY open some eyes with their play. THAT is a BREAK OUT YEAR. NOT the second year of a Rookie who was a little immature, handcuffed by the previous coaching staff, and stymied under the circumstances of the KOBE FAREWELL.
As far as I’m concerned, THIS YEAR will be the first year that Russell will have any semblance of a NORMAL NBA SEASON. Its a little teeny bit like Randle being a 3rd year player but only having played 2 seasons in reality.
Russell will almost certainly be better this season than he was last season.
His BREAK OUT YEAR (If in fact he has one), would likely come down the road. Who has a BREAK OUT YEAR in year 2???? Why force a bunch of guys who already say they want to “PLAY FOR EACH OTHER” and be unselfish to answer how GREAT their teammate PG that they’ve NEVER played an NBA game with actually is?????? How is Ingram supposed to answer this query if he himself has yet to EVER play an NBA game?!???!?!??
I just think this narrative is stupid and pointless. There are PLENTY of other topics to cover IMO.
With FISHER for the IN STUDIO rotation, its a FEEL GOOD situation all the way around now!!!! You know Fish ain’t gonna be how Byron was as an analyst and undermine Coach Luke like Byron did Mike D!!!!
Clay Bertrand says
I wonder if they will make Russell a Captain to help solidify his being groomed as a PG and Leader. Maybe one Old Guy and One Young Guy as Captains?????
A Horse With No Name says
My son just left the library at UCSB and is pedaling over to watch the lakers practice at Rob gym. A friend texted him and said to “come now!” Naturally, he has his priorities in order and abandoned the study session . . . .
A Horse With No Name Going to school in paradise is not enough, your son also gets to attend Lakers’ practices. I hope he appreciates the life he is living.
A Horse With No Name says
FredP A Horse With No Name
He’s a lucky kid–that’s for sure. A great kid too. Turns out he didn’t get in: when he arrived his volleyball buddies were watching through a doorway. Then, just as he arrived, some “bitchy” lady closed that door. Then he and his friends waited for practice to end to catch guys coming out. I couldn’t take his two calls following the end of practice, but he group texted that he and his friends talked to Chris McGee for “five minutes.” I’ll follow up with more after I speak with him.
A Horse With No Name says
A few more things from my son’s report: George Karl was there, along with his son, Coby, now the Defenders coach. He got to high five most of the players on the way out of the gym; the exception being Clarkson, Russel, Randle and Huertas, who stayed in the gym to shoot more. Particularly friendly were Mozgov, Anthony Brown and Calderon, the latter signed my son’s laptop case. At the beginning of practice Luke was very friendly to the gathered students. Also friendly and acessible were Mike Trudell and Mark Medina. The coolest guy was Chris McGee, who actually spent 10 minutes talking to my son and his friends. My son and McGee talked volleyball and they asked him if Big Game was going to be there, McGee said Worthy doesn’t come to these things, and said they were looking forward to having Fisher in the studio with them (for 25 games).
The highlight for my son and his friends was that one their buds snuck into practice and pretended he was one of the UCSB reporters; holding up his phone as if he was recording sound bites etc. Apparently McGee was in on the fun and was bantering around with the kid.
Good fun! Exciting day.