Lakers media day takeaways: Pelinka ready to trade first-round picks;  Westbrook emphasizes professionalism

Lakers media day takeaways: Pelinka ready to trade first-round picks; Westbrook emphasizes professionalism

After a disappointing 2021-22 season that ended without even a trip to the qualifying round, the Los Angeles Lakers needed to make massive changes ahead of the 2022-23 campaign. On some level, they did just that. Only five players have returned from last year’s debacle, but with Russell Westbrook among them, the fundamental issues of limited depth, defense and shooting that doomed the Lakers a season ago continue to plague the purple and l ‘gold. So expectations will remain relatively low until the Lakers prove they don’t need to make another move.

On Monday, all the key characters on the team attempted to do so. New head coach Darvin Ham, president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and the entire roster (except Dennis Schroder, who is dealing with a visa issue) spoke at media day of the nightmarish season they’ve just had, the one that’s yet to come and everything in between. Here are the biggest takeaways from the media day as the Lakers try to get back into the championship picture.

Lakers ready to distribute two first-round picks … for the good return

The biggest question of the offseason was originally when the Lakers would trade Westbrook. As the months passed, he moved on to why Westbrook hadn’t been traded. There were plenty of theories. Ham made it clear he had a plan for Westbrook, so maybe he wasn’t as optimistic about sending him on as others. There are obvious financial motivations to keep Westbrook. And of course, there’s the dreaded Lakers tax, a supposed premium team that burdens the NBA’s hottest team in negotiations, especially when desperate.

But Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, and the simplest explanation here is that Westbrook is widely seen as a negative asset and the Lakers don’t want to give up assets just to remove him from the team. Recovering anything of value would mean giving up their two available first-round picks. Pelinka has made it clear that he is ready to give these awards.

“One thing that needs to be clear is that there’s been a lot of speculation, will the Lakers trade picks? Won’t they trade picks? Let me be very clear: we have the “one of the great LeBron James players to ever play the game on our team. He’s signed up with us on a long-term contract, a three-year deal. So of course we’ll do everything we can, pick included “, to make deals that will give us a chance to help LeBron get through. He’s committed to our organization. It’s got to be a two-way commitment, and it’s there.”

That’s where things get tricky: as this offseason has proven, he’s not going to give up on those picks just for the sake of it. As Pelinka pointed out, “You have a chance to make a trade with multiple picks, so if you make that trade, and I’m not talking about a particular player on our team, but if you make that trade, it You only get one chance to do so, so we’re very keen on decisions about when and how to use project capital in a way that will improve our roster.

The implication is that the Lakers were unhappy with the offers on the table. As far as news reports tell us, the two main deals discussed involved Indiana’s Myles Turner and Buddy Hield or Bojan Bogdanovic and a selection of other Jazz players. The Lakers may have already traded Westbrook if Kyrie Irving was really on the table, but all signs suggest he wasn’t, and he’s set to play the final year of his contract in Brooklyn. If the Lakers are waiting for another player of Irving’s caliber to become available, well, they might never make a trade. Roleplayer offers will be available all season. Ultimately, the Lakers will have to decide how much season they’re willing to sacrifice while waiting for the perfect trade.

Availability is the best capacity

Over the past two seasons, LeBron James has only played 101 games. Anthony Davis has played in even less, just 76. Whether Westbrook is there or not, the Lakers have no fighting chance without their two best players. Keeping them healthy is going to be a priority this season, and Ham has promised to do his part. “I don’t need LeBron or AD to play playoff minutes in October, November or December,” the new coach said. Notably, Ham comes from Milwaukee, whose head coach, Mike Budenholzer, is known to be stingy with minutes for his stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo has never exceeded 33 minutes per game since Budenholzer took over as Milwaukee coach.

James has generally been against reducing his workload. “I think this whole ‘LeBron needs more rest’ narrative or I should take more rest or I should take some time here, it’s gotten a lot bigger than it actually is,” said James to reporters after a 2021 loss to Washington. “I never talked about it, I don’t talk about it, I don’t believe in it. We all need more rest, shit. It’s a quick turnaround from last season, and we wish all of us could have more rest, but I’m here to work, I’m here to punch my clock and be available for my teammates.

But James sang a different tune on media day. James said he was fully healthy after an injury-riddled season and said he would “focus my game on being available”. Exactly what that means remains to be seen, but on a team loaded with ball handlers, the Lakers are likely hoping to limit his minutes as he approaches his 38th birthday.

The new culture

According to Anthony Davis, the Lakers had training camp shirts made with the word “chip” on them to represent the chip the team has on its shoulder at the start of the season. For the first time since Davis arrived in Los Angeles, the Lakers are the underdogs. They are not a super team or a defending champion. They’re just trying to prove they belong in the playoff picture. It apparently changed the whole culture of the team.

No player embodies this culture better than Patrick Beverley. When discussing what went wrong last season, Beverley, as an outsider, cited the “willpower factor” as something that worked against them. “Are they going to come back on defense? Are they ready to do little things? I didn’t think so with the unit they had last season. It’s not a discredit to anyone. But as a basketball player, I feel like I have the best- 10, top 11 mind when it comes to IQ in basketball, coming from a player like that, me, I didn’t know if they had the will factor. I didn’t know if they wanted to do the extra spin. I didn’t know if they wanted to get down, get dirty, scratch their knees getting a loose ball. I didn’t know. As a leader, going to a team like that, if they didn’t do it, I’m going to do it. Hopefully they pick it up from there.

Beverley is used to instilling such a culture in the teams he plays for. He embodies the underdog spirit that the Lakers will now have to embrace. For now, he’s the guy who constantly does these things. If the Lakers want to win anything this season, it will have to rub off on the rest of the team.

A business relationship

When Westbrook parted ways with longtime agent Thad Foucher this offseason, Foucher’s statement indicated that Westbrook just didn’t want to stay in Los Angeles. The feeling was, in all likelihood, mutual. But as Westbrook explained on Monday, it ultimately doesn’t matter.

“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter. My job is to be professional, to show up for work like I always have up to now, to do my job to the best of my ability. way possible, and that’s it. We’ve all had jobs that sometimes the people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us, as you can probably attest to in any other job across the world. As a professional and as a worker, I have to do my job and do it in the best way I know how to support my family and that’s what I will do.”

A resounding endorsement of his relationship with the Lakers, it was not. Pelinka has gone out of his way to praise Westbrook, but the fact remains that he’s making $47 million this season on a roster with no negotiable salary. If the Lakers are going to trade those two first-round picks, like Pelinka said they would for the right deal, Westbrook must be almost in the deal.

Until there? His future is unclear. Ham refused to commit to a starting line-up but spoke positively about Westbrook’s attitude this offseason. “He’s been awesome,” Ham said. “Everything I asked of him, he did. It was all about being selfless, being team-oriented, defending.” Of course, these were frequently repeated talking points before last season. Lakers fans can be forgiven for not believing it until they see it.

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