EL SEGUNDO, CA – With a stack of championship banners hanging above him, two trusty Hall of Fame mates who are in the gym with him and a team roster that will cost the Los Angeles Lakers a hair under $175 million, Anthony DavisA statement about the upcoming season seemed almost out of the question.
“We treat this season like we’ve got a chip on our shoulder. We’re the underdogs,” Davis told ESPN during Monday’s annual team media day. “Obviously the world is looking forward to see what we’re doing. But… they don’t talk about us, and that’s okay. You know, we’d rather be under the radar.”
Lakers? The underdogs? with this team? It’s kind of an extension. However, Davis’ announcement only served to underscore just how disastrous last season was for Los Angeles, when the Lakers didn’t even qualify for the playoff tournament, having entered as the top betting odds for the championship.
Davis missed 42 games with ankle and knee injuries. LeBron James 26 matches. Russell Westbrook He struggled to fit in during his first season with the team. Los Angeles sniffed at many of the veteran free agency signings. The Lakers ranked 21st in team defense and 22nd in shooting the team with three points. Coach Frank Vogel was fired, less than two years after steering the franchise to its first title in a decade in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Davis has vowed to get the Lakers back on track by getting as close to this season as he did when he was first traded to Los Angeles in 2019-20 and said he felt he had something to prove after not having a huge success for the team in New Orleans.
“Be more aggressive,” Davis told ESPN. “I started thinking a lot in my head last year. I don’t think a lot of people know that… just know how much better I could have been.”
He wasn’t the only one who struggled. Westbrook has never found a consistent level of playing comfort for Vogel, something Westbrook says he and new coach Darvin Ham have already established.
“Darvin and I have been in touch since day one,” Westbrook said. “Just being able to communicate with him on the spot was extremely important to me.”
With that regard, Westbrook said he is open to any training Hamm offers, even if it means coming off the bench, something Westbrook has only done 17 times in 1,021 professional games and not since the junior season.
“Whatever I was told, I was told,” Westbrook said. “I am so happy and blessed to be able to play the game I love.”
However, Westbrook will have a springboard in the starting point competition to start training camp. Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said that Dennis Schroederwho signed the minimum veterans contract earlier this month, is “working through visa issues” in his native Germany and may not be able to inform the team for another week.
Hamm and James are anticipating a turnaround season in the league’s Most Valuable Player of 2017.
“It was fantastic,” Hamm said of Westbrook. “Everything I asked of him, he did. …Anytime we asked him, we talked to him, it was all about being selfless, being team oriented, having a defensive mindset and sticking with that—words that came out of his mouth. He, you know, will be at a very high level defensively alongside the rest of our roster.”
James said Westbrook can “absolutely” help the Lakers win this season.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of his journey with him this year, and I’m looking forward to an amazing year for him,” said James, who is starting his 20th NBA season. “I will be there with him.”
As long as Westbrook is still wearing purple and gold, that is.
Pelinka said Westbrook is “a huge part of our team,” but the Lakers chief executive added, “If we have to keep upgrading our roster all season, we’ll do it.”
Pelinka has made it clear that if it means breaking up with the Lakers’ first-round picks for 2027 and 2029 in a deal that includes Westbrook, he’ll be open to the right deal.
“Let me be absolutely clear: We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and we’ve committed to a long-term contract, a three-year contract,” Pelinka said, referring to the contract extension, referring to the contract extension. James signed in August to keep him in Los Angeles until the 2024-25 season. “Of course, we’ll do everything we can, including choices, to make deals to give us a chance to help LeBron get to the finish line. He’s committed to our organization. This has to be a two-way commitment, and it’s there.”
Before deciding whether to shake up the trading roster, Ham wants to see how this group sticks to the defensive end.
“We’ll be able to get breakpoints,” Hamm said. “We have to be able to be one of the elite defensive teams. We’re going to work in it…we have the people for it. Now it’s all about activation and making it pay off.”