Lakers media day takeaways: Pelinka willing to trade first-round picks; Westbrook emphasizes professionalism – CBS Sports

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

After a disappointing 2021-22 season that ended without even a trip to the play-in-round, the Los Angeles Lakers were expected to make massive changes before the 2022-23 campaign got underway. On some level, they did just that. Only five players are back from last year’s debacle, but with Russell Westbrook among them, the core issues of limited depth, defense and shooting that doomed the Lakers last season continue to plague the purple and gold. Expectations will therefore remain relatively low until the Lakers prove they don’t need to make another move.

On Monday, all the main characters of the team tried to do just that. New head coach Darvin Ham, president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and the entire roster (except for Dennis Schroder, who is processing a visa) spoke at media day about the nightmare season they just endured, the one yet to come and all in. between Here are the biggest takeaways from media day as the Lakers try to get back into the championship picture.

Lakers willing to deal two first-round picks… for the right return

The biggest question of the offseason was originally when the Lakers would trade Westbrook. As the months passed, it changed to why Westbrook wasn’t traded. There were many theories. Ham explained that he had a plan for Westbrook, so maybe he wasn’t as brave to send him as others. It is obvious financial motives to keep Westbrook. And of course, there’s the dreaded Lakers tax, supposed high-quality teams charge the NBA’s top team in negotiations, especially when they’re desperate.

But Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and the simplest explanation here is that Westbrook is widely viewed as a negative asset and the Lakers don’t want to give up assets just to get him off the team . Getting anything of value back would mean giving up both of their available first-round picks. Pelinka explained that he is ready to give those options.

“One thing that needs to be made clear is that there has been a lot of speculation, are the Lakers going to trade their picks? Are they not going to trade their picks? Let me be abundantly clear: we have one of the greatest players in LeBron James ever . play the game on our team. He’s committed to us with a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So of course, we’re going to do everything we can, picks included, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He’s committed to our organization . That has to be a two-way commitment, and it’s there.”

Here’s where things get tough: As this offseason proved, he doesn’t give up those picks just to do so. As Pelinka pointed out, “you have one shot to make a trade with multiple picks, so if you make that trade, and I’m not talking about any particular player on our team, but if you make that trade, it has to be the right one. You have one chance to do it. So we’re very thoughtful about the decisions about when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

The implication is that the Lakers weren’t satisfied with the offers on the table. According to the report we are told, the two main deals discussed involved Myles Turner and Buddy Hield from Indiana or Bojan Bogdanovic and a selection of other role players from the Jazz. The Lakers might have traded Westbrook already if Kyrie Irving was truly on the table, but all signs suggest he wasn’t, and he’s set to play out the final year of his contract in Brooklyn. If the Lakers wait for another player of Irving’s caliber to become available, well, they may never make a trade. Roleplayer deals will be available throughout the season. Ultimately, the Lakers will have to decide how much of the season they are willing to sacrifice while waiting for the perfect trade.

Availability is the best skill

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

James was usually against reducing his workload. “I think this whole story of ‘LeBron needs more rest’ or I should take more rest or I should take time out here, it’s gotten a lot bigger than what it actually is,” James. told 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, s—. This is a quick turnaround from last season, and we all wish we 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 is fully healthy after an injury-riddled season and said he would “focus on my game while being available.” What exactly 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 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 going into the season. For the first time since Davis arrived in Los Angeles, the Lakers are underdogs. They are not a super team or defending champion. They are just trying to prove that they belong in the final picture. That apparently changed the entire culture of the team.

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

Beverley has a history of instilling such a culture in the teams he plays for. He embodies the underdog spirit that the Lakers will now have to embrace. Nowadays, he’s the guy who consistently does those things. If the Lakers are going to win anything this season, it will have to rub off on the rest of the team.

Business relationship

When Westbrook split with longtime agent Thad Foucher that offseason, Foucher’s statement indicated that Westbrook simply did not want to stay in Los Angeles. The feeling was probably mutual. But as Westbrook made clear on Monday, it ultimately doesn’t matter.

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

Sound support of his relationship with the Lakers, that was not. Pelinka went out of his way to praise Westbrook, but the fact remains that he’s making $47 million this season on a non-tradeable salary. If the Lakers trade those two first-round picks, as Pelinka said they would for the right offer, Westbrook almost has to be in the deal.

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

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