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Lakers Media Day recap: The best moments, biggest takeaways, and revealing quotes

lakers media day

The Los Angeles Lakers were the lone NBA franchise to hold Media Day on Tuesday — the first day of training camp. After two months of hype, we saw LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and the rest of the star-studded cast in gold jerseys, together in the same room — and got to hear from all of them.

Let’s fast-break through the notable soundbites from the proceedings at the UCLA Health Training Center. (Go here for a primer on Lakers camp).

Vaccines

Last Thursday, Rob Pelinka revealed that the Lakers will be fully vaccinated by opening night against the Golden State Warriors (Oct. 19).

Predictably, various Lakers were asked about the subject, and largely confirmed Pelinka’s statement. LeBron James declared that he got vaccinated though will not speak about other players nor publicly advocate for the cause.

“We’ve given ourselves another opportunity to be available to each other and that’s what it came down to,” LeBron said, adding that he got the shot “for not only me but for my family and for my friends.”

“I just wanted to make sure I was always protecting my family, first and foremost,” Davis said.

Frank Vogel said the team’s vaccination rate was “huge” and expressed pride that the Lakers would have not any “costly” “disruptions” this season, as they had in 2020-21.

Anthony — who told Bob Costas that he was a skeptic but came around after becoming more educated — and Westbrook confirmed their vaccination status, too.

Kent Bazemore detailed his skepticism until an “honest” conversation with Pelinka. Bazemore will get his second dose in “a couple of weeks.”

The Lakers avoided vaccine-related kerfuffles until the last player to address the media: Dwight Howard. Howard has publicly questioned the vaccine and coronavirus protocols in the past, and he declined to speak on it Tuesday, mistakingly citing “HIPAA Law”.

Howard seemed unaware of the Lakers’ “100% vaccinated” claim, but, the statements of Pelinka, Vogel, and others suggest that Howard is vaxxed. (In general, Dwight was relentlessly upbeat and positive all morning, as per usual.)

Hillbilly Kobe

Rookie Austin Reaves — who had his two-way deal converted into a two-year contract — became an instant folk hero after revealing the origins of his nickname, “Hillbilly Kobe.”

“My first year at Oklahoma, we had a (graduate assistant). He came up to me one day and was like ‘I figured it out … ‘HBK’ … ‘Hillbilly Kobe,'” Reaves recounted. “One of my teammates heard it and it just stuck. For three years, that’s what they said around Oklahoma, and then I guess people caught wind of it elsewhere.”

Reaves acknowledged that he’s “not really a hillbilly” but as a kid “from Arkansas in the middle of nowhere” who “grew up on a farm” and rooted for Kobe Bryant, the nickname “kind of fits.” (Reaves mentioned that his grandmother was a “die-hard Kobe fan.”)

Here’s Talen Horton-Tucker‘s gleeful reaction to learning of Reaves’ moniker:

What happens in Vegas…

Multiple Lakers discussed the value of their excursion to the desert organized by LeBron, similar to the chemistry-building summit LeBron hosted in 2019. The minicamp provided an opportunity for the players to begin working on schematics, and, more importantly, bond off-the-court.

“You just get a chance to know guys,” Westbrook said. “Know what they like, know what they don’t like. That’s the best part about having a team and creating a brotherhood. Because you get a chance to communicate about different things, not about basketball at all. You get a chance to communicate about family, philanthropy work, the business side of things.”

“Just being able to be around the guys, hang out a little bit, have conversations, get comfortable with each other, get to know each other more,” Wayne Ellington said. “Just to bring the group together and really have some fun and enjoy each other and talk about what this season is going to entail. I think it made everybody so much more comfortable … I think it was very important and will take us a long way this year.”

On the court, Ellington said the Lakers were “flying around.”

“It was good to hang out with the guys before things got pretty serious,” Bazemore said. “Really good time. Really good for the soul and for the mind.”

Breaking: Anthony Davis can, and will, play 4 and 5

“I expect to play center,” Davis stated. “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. Me and Frank talked about it a couple of times. That’s a plan. Right now, nothing is set in stone. But we want to see what that looks like. And I’m comfortable with that. Obviously, there’s times where Dwight or DJ might get the start at center depending on games. But, for the most part, I think the plan is to go with me playing center.”

“He’s played center the last two years,” Vogel noted. “It’s just, what type of balance are we going to have? That’s still to be determined.” Vogel noted how Davis played more center in 2019-20 than last year, and signaled that the Lakers could return to that approach.

Westbrook believes AD at the 5 “can be deadly because AD is obviously one of the best players in the world. He can play inside, he can shoot it, he can pretty much do everything. And him at the 5, you never know where he’s gonna be. He can roll, he can pop, he can space the floor, and that creates an advantage for us … There’s nobody in the world that can guard him at the 5 or the 4, it doesn’t really matter, but him at the 5 really gives us an advantage.”

Rondo added that Davis should benefit from the fact that two of the NBA’s most physical centers, Howard and DeAndre Jordan, are now his teammates.

Angry Anthony Davis

AD said he “didn’t feel comfortable missing that many games” (30) nor being hampered for the playoffs last season. “That didn’t sit well with me.”

As a result, Davis said he emphasized “taking care of my body and getting my body back to where it was, strength-wise, as his first year here. That was my biggest focus this summer.” By all accounts, he’s in top-notch shape. The entire organization is expecting a massive bounce-back season from Davis.

No PB&J … yet

“I’m personally not worried about trying to fit with Russ,” LeBron said. “I always figure it out. I’m not worried about that. I don’t think it’s going to be like peanut butter and jelly to start the season, but that’s all part of the process … I like to actually put in the work in order to get to how great it can be.”

 

Westbrook appreciated LeBron’s words and aims to do his part.

“When you come to a new team and guys welcome you with open arms, to me, I just take it as a sense of, ‘I know I have a job, I know I have to go out and compete, but alongside that … I’m going to make sure I make those guys better,'” Westbrook said. “My job is to make sure I uplift LeBron and AD, make sure those guys are competing at the highest level, and making sure I make my teammates around me better.”

LeBron said he and Westbrook have been “tied at the hip” since the acquisition, and he expects the Lakers’ Big Three to hold each accountable.

Westbrook said he takes “pride” in bringing speed and pace to the game, which multiple Lakers, including LeBron and AD, mentioned as one of the reasons they’re excited to play alongside Russ.

Davis said he’s specifically excited for Westbrook’s “energy” and “pace” and to catch lobs from “an elite lob passer.” He said that Westbrook will force the Lakers to run the floor, and thinks the team will feed off his “motor” throughout the season.

 

The Lakers know Westbrook will bring the heat in every scrimmage and during the dog days of the season — especially now that he’s home.

“There’s always been conversations about me coming home every summer, damn near,” Russ said. “I never really thought it would pull through. So, to be able to sit here and talk to you guys in this Lakers uniform is just a blessing for me and my family and my loved ones and the people here that support me, especially being from LA.”

“Shooter’s Paradise”

The Lakers have three paint-attacking stars and two of the best passers in basketball. The newly-acquired shooters can’t wait to benefit.

“Just spacing the floor,” Monk said about his role. “Cause the superstars need space. My shooting ability and being able to get to the rim opens the floor up for everybody. I think them two are going to be the biggest things I bring to the table.”

“I think I’ll get way more open shots,” Monk added. “Not rushed. Just a lot of open good looks. Cause all these guys are great, and they’re not selfish. I’ll be ready to knock the shots down.”

Ellington echoed Monk’s words when asked about his duties: “A shooter, spread the floor, create space, knock down shots, defend on the other end. As a veteran, help lead, and from there, do whatever is asked of me. As a shooter, when you get to play with guys that demand so much attention, you lick your chops at that.”

Ellington, one of the game’s most sophisticated off-ball movers, said he’s been working on his “stand-still catch-and-shoots with nobody guarding me.”

“It’s definitely shooter’s paradise,” he added.

Bazemore — who posted a career-best three-point shooting season in 2020-21 — said he made strides last season in his shot preparation and positioning, and he’s looking to up his output. “I only shot a little less than three 3s per game last year. I;m looking to get that up a little bit with the opportunity I’ll get with Bron, Russ, AD. Rondo is a great passer, probably double-teams from Carmelo … I’m looking forward to it.”

Rajon Rondo got “emotional”

Acting aside, Rondo is grateful to be back.

“It’s not a secret: I think I wouldn’t be here if those guys didn’t vouch for me or I got their approval,” Rondo said about LeBron and Davis’ recruitment. “I texted LeBron and AD a simple ‘thank you’. I’m not taking anything for granted.”

Rondo also shot down any ideas of a rift between him and Russ after the incident in the bubble between Rondo’s brother and Westbrook, which carried into last winter.

Vibes are good, indeed:

The Lakers are laughing at your memes and concerns about their age

The Lakers are tired of hearing about their age — even if they believe it’s a positive quality.

“We’re a lot older, but we got a lot more wisdom,” Davis said. “With the veterans we got — these guys have been in the league a long time. We can put a lot more complex stuff in, knowing that guys can understand it a lot quicker.”

“I think our entire organization is motivated by that,” Davis said about the detractors. “Our team is motivated by that … They’re counting us out because we’re old … Everyone is motivated to get started and show everyone that … ‘age ain’t nothing but a number.’

“I kind of laugh at it,” LeBron said. “I really do laugh. Some of the memes and some of the jokes have been really funny … If we come out and we put the time in and we put the work in, we make our own narrative. We got a bunch of guys that have been in this league for quite a while that know what it takes to win. And that’s the business that we’re in: winning.”

Said Melo: “We laugh at it. It’s funny. It’ll be fun. We all know from a basketball standpoint what we can do here and what’s the goal. But I think in the midst of working towards that goal, you have to have fun and laugh and be loose … You want to have fun coming to work every day … Because we don’t get moments like this often, where you have a group of guys of this stature on one team that all like each other. That’s very hard to find.”

“It’s definitely a motivating factor,” Ellington said. “When you look at the league, though, and the teams who have won championships in the past, they haven’t been the youngest teams in the league … You look at the guys you’re calling ‘old’ and you think about the type of IQ they have and the type of experience, the winning they’ve done in this league.”

“I feel like we’re peers,” Trevor Ariza pointed out. “That’s another good thing about having veterans: everybody’s able to hold each other accountable. I view it as a plus.” He said the fact that the Lakers have a roster full of high-IQ dudes — “basketball anomalies” with a “whole bunch of experience” — will enable them to figure out the right chemistry.

Vogel isn’t worried, either. “The age and experience can benefit you in this situation: understanding that stepping aside for a teammate or for the group to have success is sometimes necessary to win a championship, and I think the experience of our guys will help with that.”

“Regardless of our maturity level, age, we still have probably one of the most talented teams I’ve ever played for,” Rondo said.

Of course, those are all words. Now, it’s time to ball.