Lakers Media Day
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Ten Media Day Takeaways

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

After a too-long offseason, the Lakers officially tipped off their 2019-20 campaign with Friday’s Media Day at the UCLA Health Training Center, as GM Rob Pelinka, head coach Frank Vogel and the players answered questions from assembled media members.

Here are 10 takeaways from the press session:

1) Rob Pelinka is pleased with the roster, but is always looking to improve upon it if possible:
As shown with this quote: “When the starting point of your roster is two of the best players in the universe that’s a great starting point. It puts us in a position to be the last team standing … Our job is to always have an eye on improving the team. We’re going to constantly look for opportunities to make this the best team we can.”

2) LeBron is coming off his longest offseason since 2005, providing him the most time to rest and work on his body:
Frank Vogel’s thoughts: “That’s good news for us and bad news for the rest of the league.” Since James prides himself on working out year round and essentially always being in shape, he didn’t note a huge difference aside from starting his program earlier than usual. But not playing in his usual 20+ playoff games alone should show in how fresh his legs look in comparison to last season. LeBron always looks imposing physically, but did appear to be a bit more trim even than usual today.

3) Shooting appears to be a strength … not a concern:
Pelinka said it’s always important to learn from mistakes, in reference to the lack of shooting on the roster the past two years. The Lakers ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season, and Pelinka definitely addressed it in free agency, adding Danny Green (45.5% last season), Quinn Cook (41.8% career), Troy Daniels (40.0%) and Jared Dudley (39.2%). Anthony Davis said he worked hard on his 3-ball all offseason, Alex Caruso shot it really well (48.0% in a limited sample size) last year, while KCP and Kuzma both promise to up their percentages from last season. "The shooting improvement, I hope it’s dramatic from where we were last year,” added Vogel.

4) Everybody, most notably LeBron, is looking to make Anthony Davis as comfortable as possible, and to do whatever it takes to maximize his unique set of skills:
LeBron waxed poetic about Davis, and when Davis was told of his comments about making AD the focal point of the team, Davis said: “That’s very kind of him. We’re going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win. When you have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs a lot easier.” I followed up by asking Davis how it can impact him offensively playing alongside a player who draws similar attention from the D for the first time in his career: “It opens up the floor. It opens up opportunities for other guys. He’s a great passer out of double teams … it will open up my game a lot, a lot of 1-on-1 and single coverages. I think it’ll put the defense in a bind when you have two guys you have to worry about every time down the floor.” Basically, Davis is feeling good: “We definitely have an opportunity to do something special this year. All you can ask for is a chance in this league.”

5) LeBron MAY be carrying a lil’ extra motivation, but you won’t hear it from him!
The true greats in any sport don’t need extra motivation. Or, at least, if they don’t hear it on the outside, they’ll just create it internally. Here’s how LeBron answered a question about it: “I’m very motivated. But I’m not in talking-about-it mode. I’ve been very quiet this summer for a reason. My mom always told me, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’” Suffering his first significant injury (Christmas Day last season, to his groin), missing the playoffs, hearing talk about other players being the best … whatever. Letting his play do the talking sounds fun to watch.

6) Kyle Kuzma appears optimistic that his injury isn’t serious, and he was in high spirits:
The team’s primary injury concern heading into the first practice first surfaced in August, when Kuzma – who’d been playing really well – had to come back from Australia after he woke up following a 4-for-5-from-3 performance in a tune up to the World Cup for Team USA. “At first I was disappointed because … that’s been one of my dreams,” he said. “But at the same time it was good that we caught what I have at the right time." Kuz did say his confidence went to a whole new level playing with Team USA, and he thinks it’ll absolutely benefit him this season. Meanwhile, he’s been doing various forms of conditioning, like swimming and bicycling, but obviously he can’t be running with the stress reaction of his foot. There’s an MRI scheduled upon the team’s return from China, and he said he’s hopeful that he can participate in training camp. Of course, there will be no timeline until that MRI occurs. The Lakers absolutely need Kuzma at full strength to contend for a title, but can get by in the short term with some additional work from Jared Dudley. Speaking of Dudley…

7) Jared Dudley is already showing why he's going to be such a helpful vet:
Dudley still has the skills to help the Lakers on the floor with his basketball IQ on both ends, 3-point shooting and ability to guard multiple positions. But he’s also known for his excellent locker room IQ, and has already picked a young player to focus upon: “My guy would be Kyle Kuzma. What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential? He’s really the key for us.” Dudley said he did it last year with D’Angelo Russell in Brooklyn, and previously with Devin Booker in Phoenix. We already know what LeBron and AD can do, but Dudley thinks Kuz has some untapped potential/upside, and plans to hand down all the advice that he can, just like Steve Nash and Grant Hill did for him.

8) How to fast track cohesion? Ask Danny Green:
Last year, the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title despite having three new starters: Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol (added at the trade deadline) and Green. How did that work in Toronto and what does he see here in L.A? "Guys understand the importance of the opportunity and the magnitude of the situation. It’s a win-now situation. (In Toronto) guys put their pride and egos to the side, and knew it was (more about) the team. I see it here already. Guys are asking each other questions about other organizations … not being a strong personality in terms of this is about me. It’s about the team, and everybody knows that. In order for us to make it, we have to continue that attitude moving forward." He’s not the only Laker to mention that the chemistry side of things is off to a really good start. The team gathering that LeBron organized in Vegas for this prior week certainly helped, but perhaps more than anything, it’s the personnel: you have two clear stars, and the rest are veterans who came to, or stayed in, L.A. to be supportive role players. Who starts and what the rotation is of course has to be figured out, but there doesn’t seem to be much ego involved at the moment.

9) Dwight Howard is in great shape physically.
Rob Pelinka mentioned near the start of the press conference that Howard “put his money where his mouth was” by sacrificing cash to be bought out of his old deal, and then sign a non-guaranteed minimum contract with the Lakers. When he came in for his workout, he was extremely humble, and talked to Pelinka, Vogel and some players about how he’s worked hard to change his character. In the workout, the “talent was extraordinary and physically he looked great.” Meanwhile, Howard said he feels “amazing” physically, that he’s at a “pretty good weight,” and he certainly looks lean. He of course has a lot to prove once camp starts on Saturday, but so far, he’s looked and talked the part.

10) The example of Alex Caruso is already proving fruitful:
At the end of the media session, two-way contract players with the South Bay Lakers Kostas Antetokounmpo and Zach Norvell spoke together, followed by Exhibit 10 guys Jordan Caroline, Devontae Cacok and Demetrius Jackson. They’re all very much aware of the path that Alex Caruso has taken, because it’s now the one that they’re hoping to replicate. Caruso went from an undrafted rookie to spending a year in the G League (OKC), to earning L.A.’s two-way contract that he performed very well under for the prior two seasons. Now, he has secured a full roster spot with the Lakers. Caruso said he’s enjoyed the journey, that he’s just been himself the whole time, and that “basketball for me is such a joy.” Now his focus is on the big team: “I think the mindset of this team is we want to win. For me it’s never been about starting, scoring points, coming off the bench … my entire career has revolved around playing hard. Whatever I have to do to help us win is what I’m going to do.” But moving forward? Jordan Caroline summed up what Caruso’s path means to him and his young teammates with SBL: “It gives you hope.”

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