Lakers Caruso

Lakers Zoom Roundup: Day 1

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

You’ve been on Zoom a lot lately, right?

Like, since March? Us too!

On Thursday, several returning Lakers from the 2019-20 championship campaign had respective Zoom calls after completing individual workouts at the UCLA Health Training Center. We pulled out some of the nuggets you need to know as training camp gets underway:

MARKIEFF MORRIS

MARKIEFF MORRIS

  • Morris first touched upon his reason for coming back to the Lakers: “It was a crazy free agency, and I felt like this was the best place for me. I’m trying to, most likely, back-to-back it. That’s what the whole thing is about, trying to win this championship.”
  • Morris likes how the front office added to the core of the team that’s returning: “It puts us in great position (to repeat). I don’t think there was anybody else as good as these guys out there to get … bringing those guys in is going to help us make it through the year and set us up for another championship.”
  • Keef was asked specifically about Montrezl Harrell, with whom he could share some bench minutes: “I’ve been competing against Trezl now for a couple years since he’s been in the league. He’s gonna help the team a lot. Another dog on the team. I’d call him a junkyard dog because he does everything in the post, he battles down there, and we need that on this team.”
  • The leadership the Lakers got from LeBron James, as well as Anthony Davis and some other vets like Jared Dudley (and now-departed Rajon Rondo) was important last season. Morris was asked how the Lakers can avoid any letdown this season coming off the title: “We’re led by the best player in the world, and the second best player in the world. One A and One B … they’re also great leaders off the court. They make sure we do team things, we do a lot of team bonding, because you need that when you go into battle. We’re going to welcome (new) guys with open arms. It’s going to be another great year off the court and on the court. We’re just ready.”

  • For the coming season, Morris said he thinks he can “Shoot the three ball a little bit better. I know I shot my career high last year, but I feel like I can do a lot better than that.” In fact, Morris hit an above average 38.6 percent in the regular season, and a terrific 42.0% of his postseason 3’s (29 of 69) which was tops on the Lakers (minimum 5 attempts).

KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE

KCP

  • How did KCP come to his decision to return? “My agent and I took the time to consider everything, the offers that I had, but my decision was to be in L.A. … this decision we made was the best fit for me. Just having a chance to repeat that championship we did win (is huge).”
  • KCP on team chemistry, which was great last season, having a chance to get better: “(Being defending champs is) going to lock us in mentally. Right now we do have that target on our backs. Everybody is trying to knock us down, and I feel like it’s going to bring us closer together where our chemistry is going to be even stronger than it was last year. We have most of the guys here from last year. It’s all going to gel together with the veteran guys that we did bring in.”
  • Caldwell-Pope was asked about his new teammates: “Marc (Gasol) has won a championship with Toronto, so that’s more championship mentality (coming in). We just got a lot of competitors. Dennis (Schroder), Montrezl (Harrell) and Wesley Matthews … and our two team leaders, ‘Bron and AD, it’s going to be not as hard to have that chemistry. That’s two great leaders we have. They keep everything together.”
  • It wasn’t always the easiest of seasons for KCP, mostly because he shot poorly in the first two regular season games, which brought some (unwarranted) criticism of his play. His teammates and coaching staff were super supportive, however, and KCP was actually quite consistently productive throughout the rest of the season and playoffs. He was always solid defensively, regardless of if his shot was falling on a given night. It was in the playoffs specifically where he flourished, though, and where he said his confidence really took a big step forward: “I’m very confident … the stuff I did in the Bubble and in the playoffs, that’s really me. Hard-nosed, giving it all I got. It really built a lot of confidence … the Bubble really made me sit down and focus, be mentally ready.” Aside from hitting big shots in key moments, KCP was consistent as a shooter, hitting a team-high 45 3’s in the playoffs, and shooting 37.8% overall, including 47.3% vs. HOU in the WCSF.
  • KCP on why the team won’t take anything for granted: “We have LeBron James. His mindset, the way he approaches the game, it’s just going to rub off on everybody else. I know he’s coming back ready to compete, especially for that second championship. He’s going to let us know from the jump what time it is.”

JARED DUDLEY

Jared Dudley

Much to the glee of his teammates and coaching staff, Jared Dudley is returning for his second season in Purple and Gold:

  • During the Zoom call, Dudley – a key to the team’s chemistry in 2019-20 – explained how the team would evolve with so many new players: “You have your core back of main guys, led by LeBron and AD. It’s hard to teach chemistry. It’s getting along, having the right personalities mesh together … but it’s easy with us … we bond as a team. We don’t like anybody go off on their own. We like to do everything together. Usually it’s easy to conform when you have nine or 10 guys already leading the pack.”
  • Dudley explained the “perfect marriage” between who he is and his role on the team, which is to bridge the gap between young guys and vets, to break down film, to call out the best players if needed, and be a link between the coaching staff and what needs to be executed on the floor.
  • Dudley quipped: “I should have done a four-year minimum deal so LeBron, AD and I could link up together."
  • Dudley had some interesting thoughts about the potential next step that Anthony Davis – who was an All-NBA First Team selection last season, and the runner up for DPOY – next season: “AD is officially entering his prime (at age 27). I’m expecting AD to go for the MVP. I’m expecting him to set the tone. We know LeBron and his years played in this league and the accolades he has, but AD doesn’t have some of those accolades. He has the talent, he has the determination. So I’m expecting AD to set the tone early on … he’s the future, he’s the now.”
  • Dudley added that, playing around two stars like LeBron and AD, guys are going to see their numbers fall. That’s just natural with how much stars should have the ball. But, that doesn’t mean that “your value has to go down.” Dudley cited role players like Joe Harris (Brooklyn) and Davis Bertans (Washington) signing big contracts for being stars in their roles, and cited defense, and offensive efficiency as ways to make up for lower usage.
  • Dudley said the Lakers are truly 11 deep, and then after that, it’s him. He’ll be ready to play when needed, especially if guys miss games. He also cited the development of Talen Horton-Tucker, the just-turned 20-year-old who flashed some real talent in the Bubble, and who he thinks will earn real minutes.

ALEX CARUSO

Alex Caruso

  • AC Fresh doesn’t necessarily have just one thing to work on to improve what was a terrific 2019-20 campaign. He tries to get better at everything: “Keep trying to find ways to get better … keep trying to find ways to impact the game that other people can’t.
  • Caruso had some interesting thoughts about how L.A.’s playing well into October in the NBA Finals actually could help them: “I honestly feel there’s a little bit of a positive to take from this. Us and the Heat have had the shortest amount of time off between playing meaningful games and games where you have to be on your P’s and Q’s, being locked in and ready to play. I think that’s helped me. Even when I’ve played a little pick up and going through some skill work, I feel like I’ve had better carryover from last season to now than I have in previous seasons to my summer workouts just because there was a shortened amount of time. In that aspect I’m a little excited about getting back and playing.” It’s a good point in the context of players competing for their national teams in the summer in Olympic or World Championship years, where they come into the NBA season in better rhythm and shape.
  • Of course, that’s balanced by making sure they stay healthy: “Vice versa, getting the body back to where it needs to be, I took a couple weeks of not doing a lot, maybe lifting a couple of times a week, just to get the wrist, back, knees, get everything to equilibrium.”
  • Caruso was asked about the defense heading into this season, after the team’s dominant performance in the Bubble in which some of the personnel (Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee) is gone: “It’s going to be a different look. We lost two enforces inside … at the same time, I think the pieces we added fit great. I don’t think it’s a step backwards. It’s just different. We have the IQ to put together a great system.”
  • A factual statement: "Lakers fans already were in love with me I think, now it's just doubled over." Caruso also thinks "Mental fortitude” will again be key in the NBA this season, and he feels the Lakers have an advantage there up and down the roster.
  • Caruso said the front office did a "great job" of bringing in players that fit well and bring a different element to LAL. “There will be different lineups, different people playing different minutes … I’m looking forward to getting to work w/t (new players)."

KYLE KUZMA

Kyle Kuzma

  • Kyle Kuzma said he didn’t really take much time off after the season. He’s been “putting work in” trying to get ready during an unprecedented offseason in terms of how short it is. Kuz averaged 25 minutes per game in the regular season, and 23 in the postseason, which is not particularly taxing for him. He has more to give, and wants to keep growing, but he also realizes the level of talent on the roster.
  • He’s also focused on staying safe COVID-19 wise, in terms of mask wearing, distancing and so on. He acknowledged the importance of players being available to play this season, which was of course so critical during the playoff run last year.
  • Unlike Caruso, Kuz said he thinks having to turn around and start the season so soon after the playoffs is a disadvantage for the Lakers. We’ll have to see, of course, but perhaps younger players like Kuz and Caruso will both actually benefit from this, while some of the vets may need to be more cognizant of the lack of a typical offseason.
  • On a possible extension: “They’re working through things, so we’ll see.” ‘They’ would be his agent and LAL’s front office led by Rob Pelinka, of course.
  • Kuzma was asked where he wants to keep growing this season: “I just want to build on what I did in the playoffs from a defensive standpoint ... and improve my all-around game.” His defensive performance certainly got better last season. Not that defensive rating is a tell all by any means, but he had a 104.5 DEF RTG in the regular season in 2019-20, compared to a 109.7 DEF RTG the previous season.

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