The reinvented Los Angeles Lakers held Media Day at the UCLA Health Training Facility on Friday with the return of some familiar faces and a plethora of new ones. Two of the most recognizable faces were LeBron James, who returned for his second season in the purple and gold, and Anthony Davis, who was acquired in a blockbuster summer trade that sent the former Lakers’ young core to New Orleans.
It was quite the juxtaposition from last year’s Media Day when James took the podium for the first time as a Laker. Magic Johnson, who was then the Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, and the Lakers’ general manager Rob Pelinka sat alongside one another and spoke glowingly about their confidence in James to lead the franchise back to its glory days.
That day marked the beginning of the LeBron James era for the Lakers. By the season’s end, the team was decimated by injuries, there was tension in the front office that stemmed from who controlled the team and the young core that was once elated to play with James could sense their time with the Lakers was coming to an abrupt and bitter end. The team fell desperately short of their goal of returning to championship contention, and ironically ended last season with a losing record of 37-45 and missed the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
The LeBron James era needed a refresh and that’s exactly what the team has created. Johnson stepped down as the President of Basketball Operations. Pelinka stepped in to take over both roles as the team’s President and General Manager. The Lakers young core that once consisted of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart was traded away to New Orleans to acquire Davis, with the exception of Kyle Kuzma who remains a Laker. Finally, there was a split between the Lakers and Luke Walton that left a head coach vacancy filled by Frank Vogel.
“When LeBron put his trust in this organization and chose to come here as a free agent, we had to reciprocate the trust back and build a team that puts great players in a position to be the last team standing,” Pelinka stated.
As the Lakers pivoted in a drastically new direction, the reconstruction of this year’s roster had direct input from Davis and James on every free agent signing.
“I think the front office did a great job of including LeBron and myself in the decisions to build this team. Every guy that is on this team, me and LeBron had a say-so,” Davis said. “That’s very important. When you’re going to war with guys every day, it would be pretty weird to go to war with guys that you don’t like.”
“All you can ask for is a chance in this league, and we definitely have a chance to do something special. Some of the guys even texted me, like, ‘You and LeBron? Can I join?’ So, it was pretty easy on my end,” Davis added. “Now we have all the right pieces to do what we want to do and reach our ultimate goal.”
At this year’s Lakers’ Media Day, all the free agent signees Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Dwight Howard and Quinn Cook have championship pedigrees, proven shooting prowess and/or defensive mindsets. JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo, who re-signed with the Lakers this summer discussed their belief in this team’s ability to do something special.
DeMarcus Cousins, who signed a one-year deal with the Lakers this offseason, was not made available at Media Day after suffering an ACL injury that will sideline him for the 2019-20 season. Following his injury, a video recording from TMZ revealed Cousins threatening the mother of his son, which forced an arrest warrant to be issued and the NBA to launch a domestic violence investigation. Pelinka stated on Media Day that Cousins remains on the Lakers roster while the NBA conducts its investigation.
“I think the most important thing to say is the Lakers as an organization take allegations of domestic violence extremely seriously,” Pelinka commented. “That said, when allegations are made for any NBA player, the league takes over and handles that investigation, so, we’re gonna abide by the league’s lead on this as that’s being investigated and because that’s a legal matter, I can’t really speak any further about that.”
Pelinka also provided an update on the injury Kuzma sustained over the summer playing with Team USA.
“We have a lot of encouragement and hope around actually the progress Kyle is making and has made since we found out about his injury,” Pelinka started. “He’s working really closely with the staff and the progress he’s made has been terrific, so there’s a lot of optimism and not a whole lot of worry or concern or fear.”
It was clear from the comments and remarks made by players and management that the Lakers’ goal for the season is to win the championship, but a lot of euphemisms were used rather than making this statement directly.
“When the belief is strong at the outset, it’s about focusing in on the work, and we’re looking forward to getting after it,” Vogel said.
“Obviously it’s a different feeling just from the simple fact that like you said for the past few years it’s been about development because we had a lot of different young guys and a young core,” Kuzma said during his press conference. “When you bring in those type of caliber guys that we brought in, we’re not just trying to develop.”
In sum, the consensus on media day from the players, coaches and front office was the belief that this team has the potential to win a championship this season. Contrary to last year’s Media Day, the Lakers were cautiously optimistic about their chances of winning a championship or at least making a deep playoff push. For most, anything short of making the playoffs in light of the Lakers’ recent history would be failure.