Mike's Mailbag

Did you know that we’re only two weeks away from the start of Lakers training camp? Two weeks!

With that in mind, on Wednesday, I sent out the following tweet – plus an Instagram post – asking for your questions.

Thank you for complying!

Let’s start with some similar questions about the potential rotation:

Question from @crownroyalpapi: Have you thought of what you would like to see as the starting lineup and the primary bench unit?
Q from @RealreckonsRell: Who's going to be our starting center?
Q from @anime3706m: Should Caruso be the starting point guard? I think so!
Q from @MIM_mmelo: What’s the rotation looking like for SF and SG?
Q from @chukwuka_eneh: Is Kyle Kuzma gonna be in the staring line up???
Q from @kyuunxlee: What will be the starting backcourt? With Rondo, Cook, Avery, DG, KCP on the roster there's a lot of possible starting combinations:

Trudell: I took an initial stab at the rotation in my 2019-20 Lakers Schedule Breakdown article, before we learned about the DeMarcus Cousins injury:

PG: Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook
SG: Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker
PF: Anthony Davis, Jared Dudley, Kostas Antetokounmpo (2-way)
C: DeMarcus Cousins, JaVale McGee

I then took a longer look at Caruso, and think he has a chance to earn the starting PG job … though that of course depends how Bradley looks, and what Vogel thinks about Rondo and Cook. One thing Caruso has going for him, with a small-sample-size disclaimer: he was much better on the court next to LeBron than Rondo last season:

Two-Man Line Up Data
Rondo+LeBron: 105.5 ORTG. 110.9 DRTG. -5.4 NET in 602 minutes (35 games)
Caruso+LeBron: 111.7 ORTG. 102.6 DRTG. +9.1 NET in 147 minutes (10 games)

I’d pencil McGee in as the starting center to open camp, but we’ll also have to wait and see how Dwight Howard looks coming off a season in which he played only nine games.

I think of the SG and SF spots a bit differently for offense and defense. On D, Green is the player who I think can guard any SG or SF (and hold up on PG's as well), while other guys split differently: KCP/Caruso = PG’s, SG’s and small SF’s; Kuzma = some SG’s, SF’s and small PF’s; Dudley = some SG’s, SF’s and PF’s.

Kuz could start on many teams, but no other team (aside from LAC) has two potential All-NBA First Team forwards; since AD prefers to play with a classic center, and LeBron is more often defending 3’s or 4’s despite having the ball the most on offense, that means Kuzma would most likely be the first guy off the bench.

Q from @LuadoLeBron: Last year we had one of the fastest paces in the league, what you expect for this year? We don't have a lot of young players anymore. We're good w/ Dwight and McGee? Any chance of another center?
Trudell: The Lakers finished the 2018-19 season No. 4 in pace (103.6), and I’d expect that to drop off considerably. Davis, Kuzma, Caruso and KCP are all 26 or under and can run, but L.A. will have such an advantage in the half court due to LeBron + AD’s presence that they won’t need to push tempo to create good looks. That was more often the case last season with a bevy of young players who were still developing in half-court situations. As for another center – that’ll be Davis or LeBron when the team goes small. Could be a punishing offensive line up and a versatile defensive group (think Davis, LeBron, Kuzma, Green and Caruso on D, or the firsrt four plus Cook for O). That's not to say a stretch 5 wouldn't have some value on the team's roster, and I'm sure the front office will evaluate all options as the season goes on, as always.

Q from @G_d_P_: Considering the strengths and weaknesses of the roster, our coach's past experiences and AD's preference for playing as 4 what kind of #defense can we envision? Perimeter oriented, channeling inside or what? Glad to have your Q&A back, Mike !
Trudell: Always a pleasure to hear from Italy’s No. 1 Lakers fan, Giuseppe … now, Frank Vogel addressed your question in his introductory presser, so I’ll quote him: “With all the talk of the 3-point line, it’s still most important to build your defense inside to out. The basket is still the top priority. The paint is still the top priority. And then you spray out and guard the 3-point line.” Between Davis, McGee and Howard, you have three of the best shot blockers in the NBA (combined career 6.0 blocks per game), and LeBron can be deadly coming over as a weak side rim protector as well. While Caruso, Bradley and Green are all good perimeter defenders, it does seem like the channeling you mentioned would fit the personnel. Even if, in the modern NBA, you have to constantly show multiple looks and schemes on defense.

Q: from @Jannemann7: From Jan, Cologne, Germany: entering his third year, on what did Kyle Kuzma focus the most in the off season and does he want the Lakers-Fan around the world to expect from him in 2019/2020?
Trudell: Shout out to Cologne! I lived at the Dorint Sofitel for four months with the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe back in 2006. Amazing city. Now, the ever-confident Kuz has said he wants to be an All-Star, and added during exit interviews that being a “totally different shooter” can be the biggest difference from last season (18.7 ppg, but just 30.3% from 3). His 3-point stroke did look much improved for Team USA before an ankle ended up keeping him off the final World Cup roster, highlighted by his nailing 4 of 5 3’s in an exhibition against Australia. I do think his experience with Team USA, even if cut short, will help him considerably to start the season. The things he was asked to do – play defense, rebound, cut to the hoop, hit open 3’s – all translate directly to what he’ll need to do for Frank Vogel.

Q from @realjasonsarkis: What do you think would be a successful percentage of 3-pointers made this season? Especially considering the addition of Green & Kuzma’s development?
Trudell: Last season, the Lakers hit only 33.3% of their 3’s, which ranked 29th in the NBA (only Phoenix was worse). Here’s what GM Rob Pelinka added: Danny Green (45.5% last season/40.4% career); Quinn Cook (40.5%/41.8%); Troy Daniels (38.1%/40.0%) and Jared Dudley (35.1%/39.2%). Davis just did an interview stating that he’s been focusing on his 3-point shooting in the offseason. Caruso shot the three really well in a small sample size last season (48% on 50 attempts), and KCP has had moments where he’s been hot. Ultimately, with LeBron and Davis on the court together, opponents will have to leave some shooters open, and that should raise the overall percentage more as well. As for a specific percentage? Let’s say 36.0% would be a good goal … only seven teams shot better than that last season, and while it’s not a mandate by any means, it’s something to shoot for.

Q from @MrGlim: How much will the approach of injury and prevention management differ from other seasons? Was it just pure bad luck in regards to the injuries last season?
Trudell: First of all, Lakers fans probable remember the well-respected Dr. Judy Seto from her previous stint with the team and especially with Kobe Bryant … well, she’s back! In May, Dr. Seto was hired as the Director of Sports Performance. From the team’s press release: “Seto will report to General Manager Rob Pelinka and will oversee the medical care and optimize the health and performance of Lakers players.” The team also announced the promotion of Nina Hsieh to Head Athletic Trainer, after three seasons as the assistant trainer.

Q from @SkeletonKey_LA: If a rift between the players breaks out mid-season, which coach/assistant coach will command more oxygen in the locker room?
Trudell: Every coaching staff is different, but that hypothetical situation does sound like something that assistants often deal with. One benefit of having former head coaches like Lionel Hollins and Jason Kidd on Frank Vogel’s staff is that there’s hardly a locker room situation that they haven’t seen in all their years as both players and coaches … but that doesn’t mean it has to be them that would command the most oxygen. More specifically, it would totally depend on the situation, and what players were involved, because certain assistants are tighter with certain players than others. By the way, don’t discount Phil Handy, who’s terrific at dealing with players, and well-respected by many stars and role players alike around the NBA (including LeBron).

Q from @mattosso83: Do you think it's realistic to believe AD will make it through an entire regular season without suffering another injury?
Trudell: Let’s first knock on wood that every player avoids injury. Now, because Davis didn’t play 70 games in any of his first four seasons (64, 67, 68, 61), we started to think of him a certain way in terms of injuries. But he actually played in 75 games of both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, and was mostly healthy last season, in which he missed several games and played fewer minutes due to the situation with a potential trade. I haven’t asked Davis this, but it does seem like he’s evolved about how to stay strong and maintain his health during a season, which can take players several years.

Q from @KennyOurSavior: Are there any plans on acquiring any additional players that are currently free agents or off waivers?
Trudell: Rob Pelinka would be able to answer that best, but I know he’s mentioned in the past that an NBA front office is never done looking to make the roster better. So, if an opportunity to improve the team comes up, whether by picking a player up, claiming someone off waivers, or making a trade, I’m guessing they’d look into it.

Q from @PazTeam: Is there anyway you see Kuzma starting and not coming off the bench?
Q from @MTS_MO: With Anthony Davis’s reluctance to play Center, is Kuzma projected to start at SF or does he come off the bench?

Trudell: We mostly got to these at the start, but I think about the Davis-playing-center thing like this: to start games and the second half, you’ll almost always see a center next to Davis (McGee/Howard). But in the current NBA, most teams go small, and playing “center” against a small line up isn’t the same as playing center to start a game. In other words, if the Lakers put a line up out there with Davis at the “center” spot, the other team may be forced to put a smaller player out there who can move his feet with Davis on the perimeter. That matchup wouldn’t feature a lot of banging inside. And that’s not to say Davis can’t do some of that, because he spent an entire playoff sweep of Portland starting at the 5, and was awesome (33.0 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 1.8 spg). I wrote more about Davis and the position question here.

Q from @thordurfr: Which backcourt players will play more than 22 mpg for the first half of the season?
Trudell: This is a good question, because I’m not sure even Frank Vogel knows the answer just yet … at least aside from Green, whom we can plug in as the starting SG who should play 30+ mpg. The most likely candidates: Bradley, Caruso and KCP, since all three can play on both ends of the court.

Q from @JinnyRufino: Is Penberthy really back as shooting coach?
Trudell: Indeed. From the Lakers press release: “(Mike) Penberthy was a member of the New Orleans Pelicans staff during each of the last two seasons. He previously worked as a private trainer for some of the league’s top talent and was an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014-15. Penberthy played two seasons for the Lakers from 2000-02 and was a member of the 2001 championship team.” He obviously has a relationship with Davis from their time in New Orleans.

Q from @JSoleymani: With the change in how players have more and more power with shorter contracts and changing teams, is it now impossible to build a dynasty?
Trudell: I wouldn’t say that! If I agree that players have more power – and I do – that can also go the other way, and ensure the likelihood that they could team up. Of course, only so many players have the kind of power to dictate where they go, and it’s certainly not easy to line things up given the larger league context … but I wouldn’t bet against another dynasty evolving soon enough. I also think it’s most often a good thing to have a dynasty in any sport.

Q from @StarMusic214: Do they plan to have any load management for Lebron/AD/Kuz this year? If so, what do they have in mind?
Trudell: Kawhi Leonard was the name most often invoked when discussing “load management” last season, but I found his case to be an anomaly. Leonard was coming off a 2017-18 season in which he played only nine games due to a relatively unique injury, and so the Raptors devised a play specifically for him in which he ended up playing 60 games. He didn’t miss 22 games just for general “load management,” but specifically for his case coming off injury. You mentioned LeBron, AD and Kuzma … none is coming off an injury, let alone a major injury. Could “load management” be referenced if any player misses a game here and there, especially in a back-to-back setting? Sure. But that’s up to the player/training staff/front office, and every player and situation is different.

Q from @erichoopz: Who’s stopping Lou Williams?
Trudell: I’ll assume you’re talking about the Lakers-Clippers matchup, which we’ll get to see on opening night (Oct. 22). So, the Lou Williams – Montrezl Harrell screen/roll was one of the better scoring combinations in the NBA, and though they come off the bench, the pair finished most games. That was their best scoring set last season, but now they add both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both of whom will see a lot of the basketball (39.8 combined FGA’s per game). Will they go small and close with those four players plus Patrick Beverley? Will they go big with Ivica Zubac and play Williams at the point? If they’re prioritizing defense, will Williams still be on the floor given that Leonard or George may have the ball more on offense anyways, and Beverley’s the far superior defensive player? We’ll see. Regardless, the Lakers should be able to defend that screen/roll combo better this season than last thanks mostly to Anthony Davis on the backside, and either Green, Caruso or Bradley on the ball. Davis is the biggest difference maker defensively for the Lakers, because of his devastating length on and off the ball, and how much of the floor he can eat up.

Q from @DEC1MUS: Hi Mike I want to hear what its like in the Laker locker room when discussing the clippers and kawhi. Obviously the Lakers are going to think they are better but I want to know if they feel the weight of the gravity of the whole city and the country. The most popular sports team.
Trudell: Hey hey … since training camp hasn’t begun, I haven’t gotten a read on anything like that just yet. But I do think the players think about that stuff much less than fans or media members. The players are probably thinking about the Clippers in the same way as they think about the Rockets, Warriors or Nuggets: as a threat to win the West. The players are trying to win a championship, and that’s the only really important area of focus.

Q from @DTU167: What role will DH play? Any initial first impressions from the team/management on how he will gel with this group?
Trudell: Howard appears to be in fantastic shape, and said all the right things during his conference call with reporters, and at a TV interviews for Spectrum SportsNet with Chris McGee. Frank Vogel can better answer this question, since he was just asked about Howard in an NBA.com interview: “I think he’s excited about this opportunity with the Lakers. It’s very different from the first time he came through. Then, he was a mega-star coming in with two other mega-stars [Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash]. This time around, he’s had a few teams where they haven’t had great success. And he’s at a different point, age-wise, in his career. So he’s excited just to be part of something, in any way he can help. He knows it’s going to be more of a role player type of role.”

Q from @ElChefSoule: To what capacity will rookie THT be helping the squad? How do you think he’ll mesh with this predominantly-veteran team?
Q from @DBecky93: Is there a world that exists where THT plays any meaningful minutes this year? Do they view him as more of a secondary ball handler or wing? Thanks Mike!

Trudell: Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see rookie Talen Horton-Tucker at summer league, so this is really a question better answered once he’s able to get on the floor with his teammates to see how his talent and body adjusts to the NBA level. There’s definitely plenty of talent, but without even a look in Vegas, it’s tough to say much just yet.

Q from @rubenchavira: Is Caruso really jacked?
Trudell: Yes. That dude is both a gym rat and a weight room rat.

Q from @NickCocco18: Whatever happened to Sun Yue and Vladimir Radmonovic?
Trudell: Haven’t heard those names in a while! Sun and I actually came to the Lakers at the same time, just prior to the 2008-09 (championship) season. He only played 28 total minutes throughout the season, scoring six points, but was positive and well-liked around the team. Wikipedia tells me that the 33-year-old’s last season playing for the Beijing Ducks in China was in 2017. As for Vlad Rad was a Laker between 2006-09, before short stints with four other NBA teams (seven total) before he retired in 2013. I’d love to know if he’s back in his native Serbia or here in the States at the moment, and what he’s up to. I realize I basically just gave you info that’s readily available with a quick search and provided little else, but it was nice to hear those names, so thank you!

Q from @ajhuerta1225: How can I get @KingJames to sign my jersey when the @Lakers visit the @warriors Feb 9 2020??
Trudell: Unfortunately, I cannot help you with this request personally, as I need to keep a professional boundary with the players whom I interview (I wouldn’t consider asking even for my wife, kids or mother!). But I think the best bet, generally, is to buy tickets to a game and either sit as close as possible to the tunnels where players run in and out of towards the locker room.

Q from @TheLifeofP24: When is the parade?
Trudell: Hey, nothing wrong with a little optimism. Most Las Vegas sports books have the Lakers listed as the 2nd most likely team to win the title.

Q from @Bump4Dayzz: Kobe or LeBron!?
Trudell: Man. I can’t get into this now! That’s a whole book right there!

OK, let’s move over to Instagram:

Q from @savvy_amusing: Will AD & Lebron be the best one two punch in the NBA this coming season?
Trudell: Definitely. And shout out to one of the funnier Insta/Twitter accounts in the game, Savvy!

Q from @mr_skribbleskratch: Who is Whyte Mike?
Trudell: That’s what my buddies on the football team – like you – called me at Northwestern. Roger, couldn’t you have at least included a Lakers-Rockets question since you live in Houston but love both teams? I’ll just comment that the Westbrook-Harden pairing should work just fine in the regular season. While Houston isn’t deep, the starting lineup has a lot of continuity with Harden-Gordon-Tucker-Capela, and D’Antoni will figure out a smart way to maximize Westbrook’s athleticism around that. But I’d still put the Lakers and Clippers ahead of the Rockets in a 7-game series, as at that point, the L.A. dynamic duos fit a bit more seamlessly – and are better defensively – than Houston’s, especially in crunch time.

Q from @savs17: Why did Lebron decide to give AD 23? And will it really happen next season?
Trudell: I’ll leave it to LeBron to answer that if he’s asked – and I’m sure he will be – but it just seemed like a nice gesture towards a player he’s clearly thrilled to be playing alongside. James is one of the brightest basketball minds of all time, and he sees how great of a fit Davis should be next to him on the court on both ends of the floor.

Q from @thenewhwon: Has Lebron and AD sat with Dwight to talk about expectations and his role for the upcoming season?
Trudell: There were reports suggesting that they did, but neither has spoken on the record about it yet. This is something that media folks like me will ask about during training camp.

Q from @djnebs: Who will be the biggest challenge for the lakers in the west in terms of getting to the finals?
Trudell: Selecting just one team out of the mix of Denver, LAC, Houston, Utah and Golden State is difficult and depends in large part on health to the team’s stars. For example, reports suggest that Paul George could miss a few weeks to start the season due to offseason shoulder surgery, and that alone will make an impact on regular season standings. Meanwhile, Denver and Utah have excellent continuity and that could help towards regular season wins, but is their top-end talent enough to beat LeBron/AD or Kawhi/PG13 in a 7-game series? When does Klay Thompson return for the Warriors, and how does D’Angelo Russell integrate? But at the end of the day, this is more of a playoff question, and I do think that the L.A. teams have the two best duos, with role players around them, and that’s ideal for a playoff series.

Q from @m0neybaag.e: Which Laker do you look forward to interviewing this year @MikeTrudell?
Trudell: Another good question that could have a lot of answers, but I’ll go with Jared Dudley. I’ve found his interviews to be an excellent mix of insightful and funny, and he’s clearly one of the more intelligent players in the NBA. I will note that I always look forward to interviewing LeBron, as he’s (obviously) another of the most intelligent players, and you can learn a lot about basketball just by listening to the way he describes the game.

Q from @polodowntothasocks: Should Davis play 5? Should Lebron play Defense or no? Should Lebron run point?
Trudell: Davis will play the 5 plenty; for somebody that’s among the all-time leaders in minutes spent on an NBA court (including being No. 1 all time in playoff minutes), LeBron’s pretty good at picking his spots defensively throughout the course of a season and ramping things up especially late in games, and in the postseason; LeBron has always run “point” on offense as the primary ballhandler on his teams.

Q from @ kingkeshav23: Whose gonna win MVP? LeBron or AD?
Trudell: You can make a compelling case for either star, but the clearest path to MVP contention has been team success. If the Lakers are among the NBA’s top teams at the end of the regular season, LeBron and AD will both have the kind of numbers to make them contenders. I still think LeBron is the best all-around NBA player – the guy I’d pick first if I had to win one game, or a playoff series. At age 34 entering his 17th season, it’s all about how much energy he exerts in the regular season as opposed to the 26-year-old Davis. A few things help LeBron: after eight straight trips to the Finals in June, LeBron has been off since March, his longest period of rest since 2005. And he’s also had to hear opinions about other players – Kevin Durant before his injury, or Kawhi Leonard after the Finals – potentially overtaking him. But with that said, LeBron has never needed extra motivation to be great. If the true legends of the game in any sport don’t have something to motivate them, they create it.

Q from @silosara: Who is most likely facing the Lakers in the NBA Finals?
Trudell: Milwaukee and Philadelphia are the two best teams in the East, at least on paper. While Boston and Toronto should be pesky in the playoffs, the Bucks and Sixers have a clear edge in talent. As for who’d win that theoretical matchup, it depends upon a few things: how much has Giannis improved his jump shot? Ditto for Ben Simmons? How much do the Bucks miss Malcolm Brogdon? How does Philly change with Al Horford and Josh Richardson coming in, and Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick going out? What kind of shape will Joel Embiid be in? My instinct is to pick Philly. I still think teams can pack the paint enough on Giannis to slow the Bucks, and a healthy Sixers team is massive and nasty defensively. But it’s so close, the real answer is probably whichever team is more healthy.

Q from @metallloyd: How many hours of sleep does an NBA schedule allow players to get with all the training, practices, and traveling between States?
Trudell: There’s no question it’s a ton of traveling. I detailed in my schedule breakdown that the Lakers will be spending 42,732 miles in the air on their Delta charter … and that’s actually a ton less than usual, as they flew 53,455 last season. But in fairness, the team also has to fly 6,500 miles to Shanghai, China, and 7,000+ miles back from Shenzhen, which more than evens things out. That said, NBA teams do a great job of providing the maximum amount of rest within that schedule. During the season, especially on the road, teams practice far less than they used to, in favor of a team meeting or walk through at the hotel. They are fed very well and frequently at the hotel and on the plane, and almost entirely left to their own devices aside from shootaround or a short practice/film session. For those that have small kids at home, it may actually be more restful to be on the road than at home, as of course we all want to spend as much time with family as possible. As for the actual hours of sleep? That varies from player to player, and some guys need more rest than others. Radio PXP voice John Ireland, from our broadcast crew, sleeps FAR less than the average person and still functions very well, for example.

Q from @arubero328: What will prevent the Lakers of winning the championship if any?
Trudell: An injury to a key player (go ahead and knock on wood John Gruden style).

Q from @cmaxcorp: If Lebron changes #s as well as AD. And now Dwight has changed #s...
Let’s say they win a championship- all 3 of these guys go to HOF - you think Lakers Retire and hang all of their jerseys? Lots of if’s haha keep up the great work Mike

Trudell: HOF is the first qualifier … and championships the next. All three of those players are future Hall of Famers, so if a title(s) is won, the conversation can be had. Of course, the level of contribution towards a title and towards the franchise has to be weighed individually.

Q from @pinksusbus: Anthony is shooting for DPOY, how do you feel about that?
Trudell: It must have been absolute music to the ears of the Lakers front office and coaching staff to hear those comments Davis made about his goal for Defensive Player of the Year. Of course, it’s also not surprising to hear, since Davis finished third in DPOY voting in 2017-18 (Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid). One potential difference for him this season is that he’s never had a teammate that could even sniff the impact of LeBron James on the offensive end, meaning he’s going to get more easy baskets and less defensive attention. That should allow him to save a bit of energy on that end, leaving more for the defensive side of the floor.

Q from @jfive213: Can you ask them if they are working on their handshakes lol lebron always had some dope ones lol?
Trudell: I need not ask … of course they are. What I’m most curious about is who among the new players will be the best bench cheerleader/dancer. My odds-on favorite is Jared Dudley, with Quinn Cook right there.

Q from @philflo87: Does the Lakers Alex Caruso mix tape confirm he’s the starting PG?
Trudell: There is absolutely no connection there, but the video was dope!

Q from @mpauletich824: What do you think will be the Lakers biggest single strength and weakness this year?
Trudell: Strength = half court offense thanks to LeBron and AD … teams won’t be able to guard their screen/roll or pick-and-pop action. Weakness: could be lack of continuity, though that’s mitigated by players likely to know their roles behind the two stars … so I’ll say secondary playmaking behind LeBron.

Q from @carolc: How long into the season until we really begin to see the team's chemistry come together?
Trudell: A pertinent question that’s hard to say given how many incoming players there are. But as I just mentioned, it helps to have clearly defined roles, and with LeBron and AD’s unquestioned place, the rest of the guys know by nature that they need to fill in on what else is needed around that. So, it could happen sooner than on other teams with so much turnover.

Q from @rudysainzjr: Do you still get star struck by famous NBA players? And who haven't you met that you always wanted to meet?
Trudell: My childhood athlete hero was Michael Jordan, and I was really lucky to “meet” him when I covered a practice for a Chicago cable station as an intern while I was in college in 2001 (he was in town with the Wizards). When I say “meet,” I mean, “hold a microphone and try to stumble out a few questions.” So after that, I figured there wasn’t much else to be nervous about, and I’ve always just tried to treat the players like normal human beings. Because aside from having an insane talent specific to basketball, that’s what they are. The first thing to connect about is basketball, and I’m obsessed with the NBA so that helps. But it’s also about trying to find something to relate on – hip hop, other sports, video games, kids – and just being … well … normal.