The type of media horde that assembled in El Segundo for Lakers media day on Monday morning usually only converges for the NBA Finals, but with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their fresh purple and gold outfits, a massive contingent of journalists was to be expected.
Yet with each one having been the media’s go-to guy on an NBA roster, being just one of four was a piece of cake, producing a bevy of interesting story lines.
Here’s what stood out from our first chance to hear from the Lakers ahead of what promises to be an intriguing season:
- Kobe Bryant carried a pleasant, chill demeanor at his 17th NBA media day. And who can blame him, as he comes in feeling as healthy as he could be physically, and now has Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to flank him on his quest for a sixth championship. It’s hard to think of two players better equipped to do just that, All Stars whose games fit in such a complimentary way around Bryant, who is still best at simply scoring the basketball. Bryant suggested in many different ways that he’s thrilled to cede ball handling duties to Nash; there is no conflict in terms of who’s going to run the offense. That’s the Canadian’s job now, and Bryant can’t wait to benefit from Nash’s brilliance and in doing so push the team to more wins.
- Pau Gasol is fully healthy coming off a great individual performance at the Olympics, and in excellent shape mentally after a season full of trade rumors and uncertainty. The Spaniard did well to try and keep all the noise from affecting his play in 2011-12, but it’s fair to expect a boost on the court for the coming season. Gasol said it’d be hard to believe that he’d stay with the team in addition to the acquisitions of Howard and Nash — shout out from Gasol to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss — but couldn’t be happier with how things worked out. New assistant Eddie Jordan can’t wait to get his hands on Gasol, still the NBA’s most skilled big if you ask the guys drawing up the plays, to work on the offensive additions that he and Mike Brown are putting in for the season.
- Dwight Howard stressed that his rehabilitation process is going extremely well, and he fully expects to be back at 100 percent soon enough. Howard, as the Lakers have suggested since his acquisition, will not put a direct timetable on his return, but he has had no setbacks and has now fully integrated his program with L.A.’s training staff. You can expect daily Dwight updates on Lakers.com, but everything has been pretty positive thus far. His teammates and coaches are universally thrilled with what they’ve seen from him, especially in on-court drills with L.A.’s assistants. As far as his comments in interviews, Dwight directly stated that he and his teammates all need to sacrifice their individual goals to unite towards the lone goal of winning. Given his unique on-court impact and level of energy, if he buys in to that degree the Lakers will reap tangible rewards.
WATCH DWIGHT WORK OUT.
- Steve Nash was asked whose team it is: “I think this is Kobe’s team,” he responded. “But anyone who’s ever played on a basketball team, it’s also our team. The team needs to share in that responsibility. Kobe can’t do everything. He’s going to be great at what he’s great at, and the rest of us got to pick up the pieces that get to us … (Kobe’s) been here his whole career. He’s won championships. And he’s the best player on the team. We (have) to be there for him every day, so it’s essentially our team as well.”
A big part of what you get when Nash is on your team is a real sense of unity and common purpose, and the positivity he doles out is equal from Kobe down to the last guy on the bench. That intangible element, that leadership, is a massive boost to the Lakers locker room. Nash simply makes guys feel good with his words and his body language, then physically rewards them by setting up easy baskets. He’ll high five you whether you make or miss, every time. All of that, and we haven’t mentioned that his skills made him a two-time MVP. That’s why everyone is excited to play with Nash.
- Metta World Peace is, by all accounts, in fantastic shape. He’s about 256 pounds, by his accounts, after coming in around 271 last season. That’s the first thing that his teammates and coaches in particular have noticed. The nature of MWP being in such great shape gives L.A. an advantage, because he’s going to be the starter paid the least amount of attention on the offensive end, and the one initiating the perimeter defense on the other. Being in peak shape allows him the best chance to take advantage of that additional time and space.
- Head coach Mike Brown’s certainly excited to have those five players in his starting line up, and mentioned how much deeper his team promises to be this season thanks to the offseason acquisitions of guys like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. But he’s most excited to simply have a full training camp with which to put in his system and establish a culture that was difficult for a new coaching in the lockout shortened season. For a guy that loves the practice floor and the film room, it’s the difference between high school junior varsity hoops and the NBA.
- This training camp promises to be the most competitive in recent seasons for the Lakers, due to the depth on the back end of the roster. Certain spots have already been won (the starters, Jamison, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake); others like Jodie Meeks and Deven Ebanks look like favorites to earn addition back up minutes. From there, it’s less clear.
Chris Duhon and Earl Clark came over with Howard in the Orlando trade and have shown respective reasons for backup consideration; Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre were all second round picks from the past two drafts, and each has a specific skill set the Lakers like; Chris Douglas-Roberts has had scoring success in the NBA and just signed with the team today; Greg Somogyi and Reeves Nelson had some bright spots in the Vegas summer league; and Ronnie Aguilar is another recent signing who’s been working out with the team the past few weeks.
At least five of those names won’t be on the roster come opening night. NBA teams can keep as many as 15 guys on the roster, but the Lakers have trimmed things down to at most 13 or 14 in recent years to help keep the already massive payroll a bit more lean. Needless to say, training camp practices and preseason games are going to be a battle for many guys on the current roster.