It was a refreshingly breezy 2023-24 Media Day for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers are proceeding one day at a time, but they'll at least open training camp as an inarguable championship contender, armed with versatile, culture-fitting players either locked into contracts or playing for new ones. The roster is fully-healthy, balanced, and cohesive around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The coaching staff is respected.
“Anytime you have continuity, it’s a lot easier to start the season,” said Davis. “Every year we’ve had new guys come in, that core is kind of gone. So that’s a little tough when you’re trying to compete for championships. … It kind of gives us kind of a head start.”
The vibes were relaxed in El Segundo.
“Very optimistic about how we can pick up where we left off and I don't mean the loss in the series,” added LeBron. “From the trade deadline to how we played all the way up to the Western Conference Finals. I'm very optimistic in seeing how we can pick up from there. With the continuity, with the chemistry, there shouldn't be much teaching.”
I spotlighted one(ish) takeaway from each of Monday's 14 pressers.
Fittingly, AD got the mic first.
“It didn't (alter my summer),” Davis coolly said about the August deal. “They offered the extension. I accepted. That was really it. My workouts didn't change because of the extension or anything like that.”
He tersely pushed back on the idea that the Lakers are now His Team.
“I think this is the Lakers team. And I play for the Lakers.” (He spoke graciously about the contract in a TV interview later.)
Everybody knows, including LeBron, that Davis needs to truly become the Lakers' alpha for the team to reach its ceiling. Davis did acknowledge — as Ham wants to see — that it's time for him to take on a louder leadership role.
“Just being more vocal, talking to the guys. I think I might be the second oldest guy here now,” said AD. “The guys lean on me a lot. Especially the bigs. (Christian Wood) and (Jaxson Hayes) have already been on me about leading them and helping them every step of the way. I feel like it's my responsibility.”
AD said his cross-training and boxing-heavy regimen wasn't anything new, it just hit social media.
Davis said he has “no idea” whether he'll participate in the 2024 Olympics. LeBron said he's interested, depending on the physical toll.
LeBron's session at the podium marked the first time he's publicly addressed Bronny's cardiac arrest in July. It was nice to hear a reassuring update on his son.
“Bronny's doing extremely well. He has begun his rehab process to get back on the floor this season with his teammates and USC. And it was a successful surgery that he had. But he's on the up and up. It's definitely a whirlwind and a lot of emotions for our family this summer.”
“Nothing else matters besides my family,” LeBron continued. “And obviously I'm going to dedicate this season to Bronny … If he was to walk through the door right now, you wouldn't even know that he had what he had because of how well he's moving, how vibrant he is. It's just a beautiful thing to be able to have him where he is today.”
LeBron, who ended last season contemplating retirement, said conversations with his family, coaching his son Bryce's AAU team and Bronny committing to USC were among the factors that energized him to return for Year 21, which he's dubbing his Prime Year in honor of Deion Sanders. He's not sure if it will be his last.
“I don't know. I don't know. I'm happy right now. I'm excited. Looking forward to tomorrow, getting training camp going. I have no idea what the end of this road looks like. I have no idea.”
He said the torn tendon in his right foot is fully healed.
Hachimura shot down speculation that he slimmed down (presumably to handle small forward). Hachimura — entering the first season of a $51 million contract — joked that he was “kinda mad” at the Lakers social media team for posting a photo of him standing next to LeBron, which comparatively made him look thin. Hachimura said he's more “defined,” not necessarily lighter.
Hachimura has been working out with LeBron for several weeks, apparently at the recommendation of assistant coach Phil Handy.
“I appreciate him letting me work out with him,” Hachimura said about LeBron. “It was a great experience for me, just learning from him off the court, taking care of his body. Weight room. … I learned lots of things from him.”
LeBron said he's worked out with Rui Hachimura "pretty much all summer."
"I call him my Daniel-san and I’m Mr. Miyagi."
LeBron calls Rui his "understudy."
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 2, 2023
Hachimura is not locked into an opening night starting gig, but that's the expectation. Regardless, Rui said he cares more about overall playing time and closing.
“I want to finish the game. That's my goal.”
The last time Russell addressed the media was his exit interview following his benching in the conference finals. Free agency loomed and his Lakers future was TBD. Russell expressed a desire to return and to experience a training camp with this roster.
On Monday, he seemed chill; excited to have gotten his wish and “start where we left off … and to be somewhere where you're wanted.”
“I think it was big-time, shout out Rob,” Russell said about the offseason. “He put a nice group together than can easily flow on and off the court. … For us to have that group, familiar faces, I think it's a big deal.”
That said, Russell did still voluntarily waive his implied no-trade clause upon signing a two-year, $37 million deal.
“That was something new that was implemented into the contracts,” he explained to ClutchPoints. “I think it worked out for both parties. … To be able to control my own destiny no matter what's going on, I think as a player that's something you want.”
Reaves' third Media Day hit different. This year, he was the first player called to join LeBron and AD in photos (D'Angelo Russell soon hopped in).
“Rookie year, I got out of here a lot faster,” cracked Reaves. “Not many pictures. Definitely feels different getting a picture with Bron, AD and then DLo. For me, it's still the same thing. Basketball is basketball. Being talked about in a different situation or whatever you want to call it means I'm doing something right.”
“Hopefully, everybody's learned that you see what you get,” Reaves said about his perception with Lakers fans. “Nothing I feel like is going to change me from being me. Pregame fits are still going to be hoodies and sweats. And that's really the only thing I could think of as far as what I would hope everybody to understand.”
Vanderbilt started 24 of the final 26 regular season games but was gradually weeded out of the rotation in the playoffs, largely due to his offensive shortcomings. The 24-year-old, who just inked a $48 million extension, spent the summer trying to fill in the gaps in his game. Offensively, Vando primarily worked on shooting, ball-handling, and finishing. He also prioritized strength and conditioning to help him guard 1-through 5 (he's already their best wing defender).
Vincent restated what he's been saying in interviews since securing a $33 million bag: He's here to provide whatever the team needs, whenever they need it, on both ends.
“I think I have a little bit of a versatile skillset. I think I can play-make, I think I can shoot the ball and space the floor. I think I can defend. … I think it might be something different ever night. My role might be in flux or might be in motion, but my role is to help this team win games at the end of the day. Just going to keep it that simple.”
Wood emphasized the impact his daily communication with Pelinka and Ham during free agency made on his decision to take a minimum contract. The center, who has played on seven teams in seven seasons and has never made the playoffs, said he's fully committed to the collective goals of his hometown team — a mindset that has been reinforced in conversations with LeBron and Davis.
“I think there’s a lot of false narratives out there about me,” Wood opined. “Whether you look at it or not, I put up, I think it was 17 and 9 or something like that and I signed for a vet minimum. I’ve seen a lot of talk about, ‘Why is he going for the vet minimum? Maybe it’s character issues. Maybe it this, maybe it’s that.’ But when you really look at it, I’ve never had any problem on a team, maybe besides Houston, and that was for defending a teammate and if you ask me, I’d probably do it again. But other than that, I’ve never had any problem with any team, never had any locker room problems.
“Darvin Ham’s been rooting for me. That’s a guy that’s always been in my corner rooting for me. So I will say I have a lot to prove and this will probably be one of my most motivated seasons since being undrafted.”
Christian Wood confirmed to me that this tweet was about his confidence in the Lakers. He said the Lakers are putting team goals ahead of individual goals, and he wants to make the playoffs for the first time in his career. https://t.co/dknJeuo9Hc
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 2, 2023
Prince might represent the Lakers' most underrated signing. The 6'7, 3-and-D forward fits within the Lakers' culture of humility, physicality and competitiveness.
Taurean Prince says he will "100%" shoot 40% from three this season.
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 2, 2023
Prince, too, shares a longtime bond with Ham.
“Ham was my assistant coach my first two years in the league,” Prince told CP. “Was big on my player development, along with Taylor (Jenkins) … They helped me get to the foundation that I needed to stay in the league … I'm glad that I was able to sustain that relationship and keep a good rapport with him throughout my years and everything comes full-circle now. I'm glad to have him as my head coach.”
If all goes according to plan, Christie will emerge as a key rotation staple. The 20-year-old is eager to build off his effective stints as a two-way guard as a rookie and an impressive Summer League run during which he flashed a deeper bag of on-ball shot-creation and playmaking.
“Just based off the Summer League performance, you look at the numbers, they were really, really good,” he said Monday. “The goal is just to translate that over into training camp, preseason games, regular season games. I think I’ll have a slew of opportunities just to sort of showcase my talent and sort of be a good part of this team and play a good role on this team to help us eventually win a championship.”
Christie added 15-20 pounds of muscle mass to improve his defense, rebounding, and finishing, though insisted that it won't affect his jumper.
“I think you can sort of feel it a little bit. But at the end of the day, all it is is reps and putting in the work,” he told me. “If I were to put on the mass and not shoot the ball, then it would feel a little weird. Of course, I’m coupling the two together. … There’s no disconnect there.”
The Lakers will buoy AD with Hayes and Wood instead of a bulkier, defensive-minded 5. Hayes believes he has the skillset — switch-ability, verticality — to thrive with Davis or adequately hold down the fort in his stead (AD will mainly play center, but the Lakers will tinker with two-big lineups, and every other combination).
Hayes joined the New Orleans Pelicans shortly after AD's departure, so much of his first season was spent crunching Davis tape. Hayes said he's “excited to learn straight from the source” in Los Angeles. Hayes believes he can help the Lakers' transition defense, arguably the team's biggest weakness in 2022-23, too.
How the Lakers defend when Davis sits will be critical in the long run.
At long last, Reddish is a Laker. The organization has flirted with the rangy wing since the 2018 NBA Draft, including at numerous trade deadlines.
Reddish was elated when the Lakers rang (and not just because he was at a wedding when it happened).
“I actually think this was the first call that I got (in free agency),” said the former lottery pick, who's already played for three different franchises. “I felt the love. I felt wanted. Even now that I'm here, it's still been positive vibes, good vibes. That's big for me, especially. My last couple years have been up and down. So far, so good.”
Reddish will compete with Christie for backup wing minutes.
For now, the Lakers first-round pick is “all ears and all eyes” as he learns from his backcourt-mates (he told me he doesn't have one mentor yet, but all the Lakers veterans have been helpful).
JHS admitted the speed and spacing of the NBA game posed challenges at Summer League. He struggled to make 3s and to keep up with quicker defenders in Las Vegas, although his unique pace and halfcourt-carving was evident. It'll be fun watch him adjust to another level up in the preseason.
The ex-Pepperdine Wave — who hails from a family of Lakers fans — was all smiles at his first Media Day.
Thanks to a stipulation in the new CBA, the Lakers were able to sign the 2023 second-round pick to a four-year contract.
“That consideration, and them trading up seven spots to get me was just a blessing,” Lewis told ClutchPoints. “They must have wanted me. Something I was doing, they liked. So, just sticking to that. It’s still surreal. I’m just happy to be here, and it’s a blessing.”