2017 Media Day Round Up
The 2017 Media Day at the glistening UCLA Health Training Center was my 10th covering the Lakers … which means Lonzo Ball was nine years old back when I was following Kobe, Pau and Phil Jackson around the Toyota Sports Center.
Below is a summary of what you need to know as the players went from interview, to photo shoot, to Spectrum TV or ESPN radio promo and more on Monday afternoon:
PELINKA STARTS WITH … A STORY, NATURALLY
As we've learned rather quickly, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka likes to tell stories. So it was no surprise that, when he kicked off Media Day with a noon press conference, he opened in kind.
The essence of it: legendary coach and scout and current Lakers consultant, 90-years-young Bill Bertka, told Pelinka he'd never seen a group of young players that are so competitive and eager to improve in all his years of watching hoops.
Pelinka added that he's excited about how many players have worked this summer to get into "world class shape," and that the Lakers could be described like a line he heard in the hit show "Hamilton," paraphrased such: "We're young, we're scrappy and we're hungry."
He did offer a guarantee, not about how many games the Lakers will win, but that fans are going to "love watching this team," because "every night you're going to see the competition level is going to be a 10 out of 10." Of course, it's very difficult to compete as hard or harder than another NBA team for 82 nights, but Pelinka wants that to be the standard.
INJURY QUICK HITTER
If you ask Magic Johnson, acquired-by-trade Brook Lopez is more important to the Lakers than some may think.
"People don't realize that the key to this team is really Lopez," Johnson said. "He's going to draw that center out, so Julius (Randle) will have more room to operate now once he attacks his man. When they run the pick-and-roll with Brook and Lonzo, that big man's got to make a decision."
As such, reports that Lopez has been limited of late due to a back issue needed to be addressed, even though Lopez did not appear to be too worried about it.
"Just some back spasms," he said. "Nothing serious at all. I'll be participating through training camp, doing a lot of the activities. It's, again, nothing serious. Just something we want to continue to monitor so it doesn't become serious."
Lopez went on to explain that nothing happened to cause the spasms that he knows of. There was no point of injury. The back just flared up on him.
Luke Walton took a question about the health of Lopez and the rest of the team.
"Brook will be limited," Walton said. "(Andrew) Bogut has some Visa thing going on, he won't be able to be out there. Josh Hart has a little bit of a hamstring thing, so he'll probably be limited at least for Day 1."
Stay tuned for updates on all three throughout the week.
THE MAIN ATTRACTION: LONZO
Since my first Media Day, Kobe Bryant was the guy that attracted the largest number of cameras and voice recorders, naturally. Today, perhaps obviously, that recognition went to Lonzo Ball.
When asked what he wants to focus the most upon in terms of improving, Ball mentioned his body. Simply getting stronger and developing in that way is going to help, given the fact that the 19-year-old is going against "grown men" on a daily basis.
I spent some time asking Ball's teammates and coaches about him, and was met with showers of praise. The players love both his game and his personality, which features a rare combination of confidence and humbleness, something that's already endeared him within the locker room. The coaches love his infectious style of play, the fact that he makes teammates better just be being next to them on the floor, and the basketball IQ that makes him quickly receptive to instruction.
"The way he plays, the unselfish brand is how we want to do it," said Walton. "We're changing up the style a little bit because we have a point guard that likes pushing the ball up the floor. We're going to tweak some of the offensive stuff we do around the fact that he plays the way he does, and hopefully (that) becomes contagious."
INGRAM EAGER TO SHOW HIS IMPROVEMENT
I'll refer you to this piece we did last week with Ingram for a closer look at everything he did in the offseason.
That noted, the thing that stood out about Ingram on Media Day was how everybody else talked about him. Sometimes responding to questions and sometimes just volunteering the info, several players noted Ingram's constant presence at the Lakers facility.
"When you see other people working hard, if you don't, you stick out," said Walton. "Ingram really set the tone last year with the way he did his training, his player development, meeting (assistant coach) Brian Keefe every single morning at 9 a.m. no matter what was going on with the schedule. He helped set that tone, and now with these other young players coming in seeing him do it, are doing it, and before you know it everyone behaves like that."
Ball said Ingram has really stepped up his leadership in the offseason, the guy everybody assumed was quiet turning out to be one of the more vocal leaders on the court, and backing it up with a really aggressive mentality.
Magic said the Lakers almost had to throw Ingram out of the gym.
"If we don't stop him from coming, he'll be here all day and night," he offered."
Johnson also suggested he thinks Ingram can lead the team in scoring and sees him as a clear breakout candidate.
RANDLE, NANCE, JR. AMONG THOSE IN RIDICULOUS SHAPE
To see how Julius Randle has developed his body over the season isn't hard. Just check out his Instagram page for that.
Nance, Jr., also looks like he could do an Olympic decathlon tomorrow. He told me he went from 10 percent body fat after the season to just five percent today. Now, being at four percent or below is such little fat that it's barely even healthy, so five percent is about as good of shape as one can be in.
As such a big leaper, a benefit to being a bit leaner with muscle for Nance, Jr. is less weight to upon landing and a more sinewy, stronger base in his legs to cushion his movement.
MAGIC EYES SIXTH MAN ROLE FOR CLARKSON
Johnson has a specific goal for Jordan Clarkson this season.
"I told (Clarkson) he should be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate," Johnson said. "All summer I've been stressing to him: 'Sixth Man of the Year. Sixth Man of the Year. Sixth Man of the Year.' I said, 'You have the skill, the talent and the ability to be in that situation. Now it's up to you. You've got to improve.'"
Clarkson has embraced that, and drew praise for spending increased time at the facility this offseason honing his craft, with a particular focus on his jumper. Clarkson shot 32.9 percent from 3 last year, a number he and the Lakers certainly expect to rise.
NEWLY-MOTIVATED ZUBAC EAGER TO PROVE VEGAS A FLUKE
If you watched Ivica Zubac play at the Las Vegas Summer League, you were likely surprised to see him struggle to do what he'd done so well during his rookie year. He looked a step slow all over the court, and just generally struggled even as he got better from game to game. Nobody was more frustrated than Zubac.
"I was happy we won the title but mad about my (individual) performance," he told me. "I felt slow. But I've been working like crazy since then. I feel quicker and more explosive."
Zubac canceled some trips he had planned so that he could stay in Los Angeles and come to the facility every day to work on his body and his game. He says he trimmed six percent off his body fat percentage, and initially lost some weight before building back some muscle to replace the fat.
Zu acknowledge that he was "too relaxed" in Vegas, thinking he'd score 20 points however he wanted.
"But I wasn't ready," he said. "Now I am. I've been playing really good in pickup games and I'm ready for the season."
Ingram told me last week that Zubac has indeed looked really good in the pick-up games they've been playing, and expects the 7-foot Croatian to return to form once the games that count start.
A FOCUS ON DEFENSE
Luke Walton has come out of the gate preaching defense to start the 2017-18 campaign.
"Our emphasis is going to be defense, defense, defense, and guys that are committed to playing defense are going to have a better shot than guys who aren't giving the same effort on defense," he said. "We're going to try different line ups, different groups together, but they've been in here working so hard all summer, they're just excited that it's here finally. They get to do it for real now."
He'll get his chance to start enforcing that message in the first of two practices tomorrow morning.