Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka

Pelinka's Pre-Preseason Presser

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The first press conference of the 2021-22 season was handled by Lakers VP of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka on Thursday afternoon, when he shared an important piece of information regarding the team’s potential availability on the court.

“We’ve worked really hard with our UCLA Health partners, and our team doctors, our players, agents and family members … We will be, on opening night when we play the Golden State Warriors, all of the players that are currently signed on our roster that night will be deemed fully vaccinated. We’re grateful for that.”

With COVID-19 absences impacting every NBA team last season, the vaccination status of the Lakers is significant as they make their push to try and bring another title to Los Angeles following the injury-plagued previous season that ultimately ended in Round 1.

In aiming to reach the same goal that was accomplished in 2020 with a championship, Pelinka said there were three things he and his staff aimed to get done through the free agency period.

“One was adding a primary playmaker,” he explained. “Two was shooting. And three was shifting back to, especially defensively, a model of two rebounding, defensive centers like we had when we won the championship in 2020. Those were the goals we had in mind, and I think if you look at the complexion of the roster, we feel like we addressed each of those three goals. We feel good about that.”

Russell Westbrook – who led the NBA with 11.7 assists per game last season – certainly answers the “primary playmaker” question, with Rajon Rondo’s return boosting the bench, not to mention Kendrick Nunn.

Wayne Ellington is best known for his shooting, coming off a year in which he hit 42.2% from three for Detroit on 6.0 attempts, while Carmelo Anthony (40.9%), Kent Bazemore (40.8%) and Malik Monk (40.1%) all address that goal as well.

Meanwhile, Pelinka’s reference to the 2020 squad’s center pairing of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee (now with Phoenix) was accomplished through the acquisition of DeAndre Jordan to pair with Howard himself, who returns after a season in Philadelphia.

Yet of course, it all revolves around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“LeBron has been in working hard,” said Pelinka. “The thing that stands out is his fitness level. He’s slimmed up. We all know LeBron studies the greats, and adds things into his game, and I think going into this stage of his career, he’s made a decision to come back a little bit leaner, and I think that’s going to translate into his explosiveness and his quickness. He’s been very, very locked in with his training.”

AD is a quiet worker – he goes about his business,” Pelinka continued. “He’s been in the building a few times, and all of us can just tell the work that he’s put in and how serious he is about it. When you get into AD’s mindset, I think there are two primary goals. One is to win a championship, for sure, he talks about that with his team. And then two, he knows that he belongs to be in that (conversation) of the most dominant, best two-way player in the game. I think he has those skills and he is that player, and he worked very hard this offseason. I think you’ll see him accomplish those two things with this season.”

The unique ability Davis has on the defensive end will be paramount as always, as the Lakers did lose some defensive talent. Pelinka did note that there will be a “massive commitment to defense and rebounding,” which Frank Vogel has always done a good job bringing out of his teams.

The roster currently stands at 13, which will change soon as they add at least one more player. Pelinka noted that the Lakers have two open spots, and that the 15th will likely remain open due in part to tax implications, plus the flexibility to add someone there later in the season. For 14th spot, they’re making final evaluations to fill it ahead of training camp next week, with the regular season opener now less than one month away.

One of the most difficult elements of the previous season was the lack of fans able to come to Staples Center due to COVID-19 protocols, a fact mentioned often by all of the players, most of all LeBron. But with the expectation of a full building, Pelinka relayed the team’s excitement for the season opener on Oct. 19.

“We’re excited that it looks like Staples Center will be full with Lakers fans for opening night,” said Pelinka. “Obviously in a safe way, and following all the guidelines. In talking with our guys, just getting the energy of our fans back is going to be incredible.

“I know coach (Vogel) has talked about Russell and the first game, being at home, all the energy he brings, we may have to take a time out after 90 seconds because he’ll be so gassed up to get going.”

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