Danny Green on Lakers Veterans: ‘It's About the Team’
Only a select few people in the world have spent significant time inside an NBA film-room theater. It’s the lab where far more of the team chemistry and athletic physics of this league get cooked than the casual fan really understands. The air in there as corrections are made and improvements are sought is sometimes refreshing, sometimes awkwardly stuffy, very often depending on what the standings look like.
The other clearest trigger dictating the vibe in that room lies in how much experience a particular team has.
Younger teams need teaching and more teaching and then re-teaching of those same lessons. Young players accustomed to praise are often sensitive to personal criticism, too, getting defensive in the non-basketball sense and slowing the fix-it process. The more that guys can focus on one fundamental goal inside that room—coaches or teammates who flat-out know stuff are trying to help everyone understand that stuff as soon as possible—the better it is for all.
Gather a group of mostly veteran players, and you can have a video session that is a veritable graduate-school level seminar of professional basketball. When the players in there could teach those lecture-room intro classes, the discussion can become elevated and evolved. Communication is more direct, those who make mistakes take responsibility for correcting those mistakes, and that accountability translates into sharper execution for every future game.
The 2019-20 Lakers are, as general manager Rob Pelinka said, “a really serious team of veterans.” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel got his start in the NBA as a video coordinator. He flat-out learned how to teach basketball via the video process. His Pacers players used to wonder if they spent more time in the film room than on the practice court. Suffice it to say that this is going to be downright heavenly for Vogel, with assistants Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins uncommonly rich in their own head-coaching experience, to break it all down in that room with these Lakers players.
“There’s really very little I’m going to introduce,” Vogel said about setting up this season, “that they have not seen already.” As excited as everyone should be about the sheer talent on this roster led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, don’t gloss over how important it is that those two have a veteran supporting cast that can talk and execute basketball at their level.
“Last year our young guys were really focused. It’s just as far as knowledge of the game: You can’t coach experience,” Rajon Rondo said. “So many guys on the team now are above the 30-year mark; there’s about five or six of us.
“I’m looking forward to moving on things a lot quicker than last year. You don’t have to teach as much.”
The average experience for an NBA player entering last season was 4.8 seasons. The Lakers go into this season with only three of their projected top 13 players having less than that: Kyle Kuzma (two years), Alex Caruso (two years) and Quinn Cook (three years). The other top 10 Lakers have an average of more than 10 years of NBA experience: That’s twice the league standard and then some.
Kuzma, Caruso and Cook actually offer their own depth of experience, too: Caruso and Cook were four-year college players, and Kuzma was a redshirt freshman at the University of Utah before playing the next three years. The intangible that the successful Golden State Warriors reinforced in recent years was that experience of that ilk also helps: Draymond Green was a four-year college player, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both stayed in school for three years.
The Lakers’ recent rebuilding process was invigorating in many ways because of the youthful energy. As young players try to figure out their own games and catch on to proven NBA ways, it’s fun to dream of their unlimited potential. Lakers scouting director Jesse Buss made a name for himself by identifying young talent in all shapes, sizes and draft slots, and Pelinka made a point to thank youngsters Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart for being so good that the Lakers could make the trade to bring Davis to town.
All that said, it’s a chess-vs.-checkers thing when Ball talks about how much he is learning by going home and watching the entire game over again with his manager/friend on TV—while the franchise has seen Kobe Bryant requesting tailored video edits of every single time he touches the ball delivered within minutes postgame for portable digestion and immediate edification. James and Rondo are renowned for having perhaps the highest basketball IQs of any active players, and it will be fascinating to see how their playmaking goes this season with teammates who better understand the nuances of working with them.
Davis will openly tell you how much he learned from Rondo, a Kobe-like videophile, when they were together in New Orleans. Now Rondo sees Davis advancing to a new level after seven years in the league with additional veteran influence.
“A.D.’s a sponge,” Rondo said. “LeBron’s a great mentor—and he’s a great listener, as well. He’s going to be able to teach A.D. so many different things that he probably hasn’t been able to experience in his career.”
Davis posted a career average of 1.9 assists through his first six seasons and then suddenly came through with 3.9 assists per game last season. His ability to set up teammates stands to improve again this season simply because of teammates who know better how to be set up.
“We have all the right pieces to do what we want to do and reach our ultimate goal,” Davis said. “Now it’s about just going out, buckling down and doing it.”
When it comes to experience, the Lakers have long carried exalted status in this league. Their winning history has led to a pretty amazing depth chart of winners who comprise a fraternity that continues to advise younger generations how to win as well. That makes it keenly interesting that this Lakers team’s experience is not dependent on any of that.
James, of course, has won big most of his career and won titles in both Miami and Cleveland while rivaling Bryant as the league’s preeminent player. The closest that newcomer Jared Dudley came to an NBA title was against Bryant’s Lakers, losing with in the 2010 Western Conference Finals with Phoenix.
But these Lakers also have two championships from JaVale McGee with those Warriors, who assumed that spot as the league’s latest marquee franchise. Cook comes to the Lakers now with a 2018 ring from Golden State, too. The Lakers also brought back Rondo, who won his NBA title against the Lakers back in 2008 while representing the Lakers’ rivals, the Boston Celtics.
Now there’s Danny Green, who delivers to Lakers a huge slice of San Antonio’s past success from playing eight of his 10 NBA seasons with Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. They served as the most regular Lakers foil in the Western Conference through many years. And even though Green won another NBA championship last season for Toronto to go with his 2014 title for San Antonio, the way the first names of “Timmy, Tony and Manu” fly off Green’s tongue is a reminder of the brotherhood he shared with Spurs legends carrying the last names of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
Whereas the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs for six seasons, Green has for nine consecutive seasons now. He brings his own profound understanding of what veteran savvy and teammate support mean.
“Your superstars are going to do what they do, but most teams win playoff games by what role players step up,” Green said. “That usually determines how far you’re going to go and how much you’re going to win. When your role players start stepping up and playing good basketball, it’s a good sign. Those are the teams that usually win or can be the last team standing.”
James made big news Monday for his involvement in the passage of Senate Bill 206 in California, the Fair Pay to Play Act seeking to provide endorsement money to college athletes. James wore a bright red shirt with “More Than an Athlete” on the front as he answered media inquiries about the bill after Lakers practice. Yet James understood the early momentum for his team this season is too valuable to lose for even his most prized causes. James eventually told reporters: “Last question on this …” in an effort to shift the topic.
“We’re here at the Lakers facility, and I don’t want to take away from what I’m here (for) now,” he said. “This is the season; this is the Lakers. But it’s a great day, we believe, going forward.” This is what it’s like on a veteran team. The expectation is that distractions will be kept to a minimum. The team-wide agenda is simple: to win … and that agenda runs through everything and everyone like the widest freeway, not some occasional walking trail.
That’s why Lakers players took it upon themselves to jump-start chemistry with a three-day mini-camp in Las Vegas before training camp. Pelinka was thrilled, saying: “Being able to go and at least observe how the team has started to come together in Vegas—LeBron and Anthony hosted a little bonding time for the team—you can just tell there’s a seriousness and a professionalism to what they want to accomplish.”
Said Davis: “It was the first time we had everyone together, so that was pretty cool. Enjoyed each other’s company.”
Many of those conversations over long lunches and dinners were strictly social, unrelated to the players’ vast basketball experiences. Other conversations, though, were just about that—and were conducted with veteran minds wonderfully wide open to what could be learned from others’ experiences.
“I see it here now already,” Green said. “Guys understand who we have. Guys are learning from each other, asking each other questions about organizations that they’ve played in and how things went. Even if you have five-to-10 years in, you’re still asking questions, not being the strong personality in terms of trying to be: ‘This is about me.’ “It’s about the team. Everybody knows that.”
Kevin Ding is an independent sports writer and the statements and views expressed by him do not necessarily represent the views of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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