The Los Angeles Lakers are back! Sort of.

Months after their historically underwhelming 2021-22 season wrapped up, the newish-looking Lakers took their first public steps towards ridding the bitter taste left in their mouths from a 33-49 campaign.

“Last year was what it was,” said first-year coach Darvin Ham. “This year, we’ve turned the page. We’re looking out the windshield, not the rearview mirror … This year is a whole new chapter.”

Speaking of mouths, it was the day for talking around the league before the basketball begins: Media Day. No verbal fireworks were ignited in El Segundo, but there were plenty of noteworthy soundbites, ranging from amusing to foreboding to encouraging. Let’s recap what the Lakers said at the UCLA Health Training Center on Monday.

Media Day Takeaways (in no particular order)

8) The Lakers say they believe in Russell Westbrook. Russ may not be buying — or starting.

Westbrook’s presser was the main attraction. Since his disastrous first season in town completed, Westbrook conducted an explosive exit interview, avoided LeBron at Summer League, fired his agent who implied he wanted a trade, and remains on the trading block.

First, Ham and Rob Pelinka reiterated their belief in Westbrook. Pelinka described him as a key piece to the puzzle. Ham emphasized their burgeoning relationship and the assurances he’s received that Russ is committed to defense.

Their praise came with caveats. Pelinka said he’ll work the trade wires until the deadline.

“If we have to continue to upgrade the roster throughout the season, we will. That’s what the trade deadline is for…but Russell Westbrook is a great part of our team. He’s a person of high character, high work ethic, one of the greats to ever play the game. And I think that Coach Ham is gonna bring another level out of him that we didn’t see last year.”

Ham resisted penciling Westbrook into the starting lineup.

“We’re a ways away. We have several options. We’ll see. We have more than enough options that we’re comfortable with.”

To his credit, Westbrook didn’t hide behind any PR strategies or unconvincing cliches.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis expressed mild optimism that Lakers 360 can actually be a thing this season.

“Absolutely…It’s going to be a great year for him,” LeBron said about Russ clicking in Los Angeles. “And we’re going to be right there with him.”

Westbrook said he, LeBron, and AD had “very beneficial” conversations throughout the offseason that helped them “understand things we want to do, and how we want to do them,” he said. Russ categorized his relationship with Ham as “extremely important to me.”

Russ also met several times with Ham, Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss, and has persuaded them he’s “all-in,” per Pelinka.

For now, things seem to be cordial. On the court, one thing is clear: Should Westbrook remain in Los Angeles, he will have to earn starting and closing minutes on the defensive end. How long Ham’s leash will be should Westbrook not immediately adapt his game is the most fascinating early-season question facing the Lakers.

7) Pelinka will be cautious when dealing draft picks

The Lakers’ two tradable first-rounders (2027, 2029) have to be the most-discussed future picks in recent memory. Nearly any Russ trade would require parting with them, which, to this point, the organization has been reluctant to do, despite LeBron’s odometer.

Pelinka tackled this topic at the start of the proceedings. He insisted that while they want to aggressively build a winner around LeBron, they are going to be prudent about emptying their cabinet of assets.

“Let me be abundantly clear: We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game on our team, and he committed to us with a long-term contract. So, of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He committed to our organization – that’s gotta be a bilateral commitment…

“But let me also be clear…teams can’t trade all their picks every year,” Pelinka continued, citing the Stepien Rule. “You can only trade every other year…You have one shot to make a trade with multiple picks…So, if you make that trade…it has to be the right one…So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that can improve our roster.”

LeBron, who spent last All-Star Weekend lauding how other GMs utilize picks, vaguely stated his support for the front office on Monday.

“I came here because I believed in the franchise. And I’m still here. It’s literally that simple…I’m committed to the franchise as long as my contract is.”

Notably, Pelinka did not mention an openness to taking on salary beyond next summer — a major hindrance to finding a Westbrook deal.

6) LeBron offered two keys to success

“Defense,” James replied when asked where the Lakers need to show marked improvement. “Teams that can defend and can get stops when needed — they’re just simply more successful in our league. I think the defensive side of the floor is what we’re gonna be hammering home on every single day.”

The Lakers were an elite defensive unit for Vogel’s first two seasons then plummeted towards the bottom in an injury-plagued 2021-22.

It’ll be easier said than done. While Ham, like Vogel, is a defense-first coach, the Lakers’ free agent signings carry a mixed bag on that end. LeBron is in Year 20, and the roster is heavy on guards and light on wing stoppers. Ham, though, is characteristically faithful.

“We should be one of the elite defensive teams in the league…We have the personnel for it,” he said. (He’s not worried about their lack of shooters, either: “We’re not trying to find specialists. We want basketball players.”) Ham revealed that assistant coach Phil Handy will be tracking “kills” — meaning three stops in a row — a practice that began in Summer League.

Pelinka said the Lakers consider Patrick Beverley to be a 3-and-D wing — a classification the uber-confident veteran said has no qualms with.

“Having multiple guards who can do multiple things can help dimensionalize our team,” added Pelinka.

Next, LeBron was aked how he’ll cater his versatile game to this particular roster.

“I’m gonna focus my game on being available,” he said. “That’s the most important… Availability is the most important thing in this league.”

The Lakers are not going to win many contests — nor stop anybody — without a healthy LeBron and AD. Ham said he’ll carefully manage their loads.f

“I don’t need LeBron or AD playing playoff minutes in October, November, or December.”

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5) Kareem approaches…

LeBron seemed like he was going to deflect when asked about the magnitude of breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s hallowed scoring record, which he’s on track to do around midseason. Instead, he spoke at length about his appreciation for the Lakers legend and the milestone, and called it “super-duper-dope” and “super humbling”.

4) Westbrook and Beverley are BFFs

Many observers (myself included) thought the acquisition of Beverley — another veteran point guard who has long feuded with Westbrook — marked a precursor to Westbrook’s departure.

Apparently, Westbrook’s appearance at Beverley’s intro presser was more than just good optics. Beverley said Westbrook has been his closest pal on the Lakers since the trade, and that the two have been conducting sunrise workouts together.

Normally, I might roll my eyes at their sudden rapport, but there’s an identifiable genesis to their beef-squashing:

3) Pat Bev already has LeBron in tears

Beverley is going to be fun to have around — for the fans, the media, and his teammates (though not his competition). It didn’t take him long to have LeBron absolutely reeling.

2) Physical stuff: AD feels good, Kendrick Nunn is back, Austin Reaves is bigger, and more

Davis’ health is paramount. For all of LeBron’s majesty, the Lakers need AD to be a destructive two-way force à la Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid to compete in a formidable Western Conference.

Despite playing 40 games last season due to a handful of ailments — following a 36-game campaign in 2020-21 — AD didn’t alter his offseason regimen, besides taking two months off touching a basketball as his foot healed.

“I did the same exact thing as last season,” he said about his summer approach. “I had two injuries that you can’t really control. Guy fell into my knee, landed on a foot … had a little more time to let my body rest and heal.”

This quote did slightly raise my eyebrows. Davis’ bulking-up strategy last summer seemingly affected his jumper, and he ended up asking Jared Dudley how to slim down while rehabbing while nursing a knee injury. Even though that sprained MCL did result from a fluke play — as did his ensuing ankle issue – Davis had already been listed on the injury report for numerous reasons prior to the Jaden McDaniels incident in mid-December.

Pelinka — who said at Summer League that Davis had put together one of his best offseasons — implied on Monday that Davis did, in fact, do something different.

“He’s coming in with a mindset of leadership, and I think you guys will be pleasantly surprised with what he’s done (with his body),” Pelinka said.

Meanwhile, Nunn is primed to make his belated Lakers debut after missing 2o21-22 with a mysterious bone bruise. Pelinka said Nunn has been cleared for contact drills. Nunn chalked his injury up to an increased workload, so expect the team to be cautious with him in camp.

“It’s been going good. I feel well now,” Nunn said. “The process was slow, as you know. It started to pick up this summer. Started with 1-on-1, then 3-on-3…now 5-on-5. I feel real good going into the season. I feel healthy now. I’m ready…Full go.”

Troy Brown Jr. is dealing with a minor back injury, which will limit him early on. “It’s getting better. Definitely making a lot of progress. Hopefully getting back soon.”

Lonnie Walker IV, like Brown, will avoid contact drills at the onset of camp due to an ankle issue. He said it’s “fine” and he’s already back to running and jumping. “Just a little injury, we’re good.”

Thomas Bryant, who returned from a torn ACL in January, labeled himself as “200 percent healthy.”

Reaves is up to 210 pounds, which should help him compete defensively and handle a larger role as a sophomore.

LeBron, BTW, confirmed he’s “fully healthy” after an extended hiatus.

Dennis Schroder was the only absentee on Monday. He’s sorting out a visa issue in Germany.

1) Chips

If there was one prominent motif to Lakers Media Day, it was the idea of a “chip.”

Davis told ESPN that he’s entering this season with a particularly large chip on his shoulder, as he did when he arrived in Los Angeles in 2019-20. Beverley rightfully pointed out that last year’s Lakers lacked hunger and grit, which he’ll happily supply.

“I think everyone has a chip,” Beverley said about the returning Lakers.


That sentiment aligns with the identity Ham wants to impart, and echoed Pelinka’s opening remarks on Monday.

“Our Laker fans deserve one thing: A team that’s going to compete the hardest in the NBA.”

LeBron had chips on his mind — and shoulder — as well.

In fact, the Lakers have apparently made punny training camp shirts that say “CHIP” on the front. Get it?

The 2022-23 Lakers will have their first official practice on Tuesday.