Lakers Optimistic Despite Transition
As we approach the dawn of a new NBA season players, coaches and fans alike wait with bated breath in anticipation. Media day, much like the first day of school, is where you are able to roll out the new clothes (or uniform), see both new and familiar faces, and approach the season with a rejuvenated sense of excitement over the uncertainties and unknown variables surrounding the team’s ultimate chances. One thing that is certain, this 2013-14 Lakers squad already seems to have a greater sense of togetherness than last year’s ill-fated team ever displayed.
There were no 73-9 W/L predictions, although, admittedly, we miss you already, Metta World Peace.
There were no discussions over “whose team this was?” or “what player(s) would be taking the last shot?”
There wasn’t even too much of a focus upon what is likely to become a somewhat nauseating, season-long summer of 2014 free agency discussion.
The overbearing tone of the day was one of relief, and a seemingly unified belief in this team’s capability of proving its “doubters” and “naysayers” wrong.
While there were several veiled references to the turmoil of last year that eventually resulted in center Dwight Howard leaving for Houston via free agency, the overwhelming majority of discussions centered around how excited everyone was to be back, healthy or on the mend, and relieved to be free of the unparalleled amount of hype, hoopla and expectations that weighed down upon last year’s injury-riddled team like a steel press.
“Summertime is nice, because we can forget about all that stuff,” Lakers point guard Steve Blake said to HOOPSWORLD. “This is definitely a new start, a lot of new faces. Nice to have coach (Mike) D’Antoni back, and I think we’ll feel more comfortable in everything we do.”
Coach D’Antoni, you’ll remember, didn’t join the Lakers’ sideline until the 11th game of 2012-13, following Mike Brown’s termination. With a full offseason and training camp, coach D’Antoni will finally have the opportunity to fully implement his system, and is equipped with a roster of players that not only possess the skill sets to play his brand effectively, but are all willing to play the roles established for them.
Regardless of the roster, a significant percentage of the Lakers fans expect a strong season, even if they aren’t ultimately contenders.
“I’m a big believer that players have to know their role, their positions,” D’Antoni said. “Some players, feel as though as long as everything goes their way and they are the focal point and get the ball whenever they want.”
After a somewhat disappointing season that actually saw D’Antoni’s team finish 2012-13 on a 28-12 run before ultimately being swept in the first round, coach D’Antoni, knows better than anyone that establishing and cultivating roles from the start is mandatory.
While relieved to return, he also knows coaches in today’s NBA are quite possibly on their shortest “leash” in memory. If the 13 replacements at the head coaching position following last season were not enough to prove that point, the additional pressure and demands of leading what is arguably the league’s preeminent franchise make it abundantly clear for the former Coach of the Year.
“Everybody is on a hot seat,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously, this is LA. I don’t sit around and fret about it, but I think if you asked 29 other coaches they probably feel the exact same way. We’re excited, and know that we’re lucky to have one of 30 jobs.”
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, each in the final years of their contracts, are also both returning from offseason procedures. Where Gasol (knees) is expected to be fully healthy and ready to go when the season begins, the jury is still out regarding Bryant (Achilles). Unlike last year, this roster is better-equipped to handle Bryant’s absence from the lineup in the event the he is unable to start the season.
A point, Jordan Farmar isn’t necessarily ready to concede.
“I don’t know that that’s the case, to be honest with you,” Farmar said when asked about Bryant’s potential absence. “I don’t vote against Kobe Bryant, in any way. It’s still a month away until the season opens, but right now we’re just looking at going through training camp together under coach D’Antoni so we can start out from day-one on the same page.”
For an organization desperately in need of stability, a familiar face in a returning Farmar is a more than welcomed addition. Farmar, like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and Chris Kaman, reportedly turned down a more lucrative offer for the opportunity to come back to Los Angeles.
“Well, this is my eighth year, but I’m still only 26 years old, so I have some of the younger legs at the point guard spot,” Farmar said. “I look forward to pushing the tempo and running the show when Steve Nash isn’t in the game. Steve Blake and I will share that responsibility. I’m really looking forward to playing for coach D’Antoni, and really just being back home and wearing these colors.
“It’s not about one guy leaving, and a few guys coming in. We’re going to have to all pitch-in together to figure this thing out. Basketball is a team sport. I think the thing that happened last year is they were lacking chemistry. They had a ton of talent, but were never on the same page. They were never all healthy. Those are things that have to go right for you over the course of the season in order to be successful.”
To a man, each free agent addition discussed how the opportunity to play in coach D’Antoni’s system played a factor in their decision to join the Lakers.
“I fit into what they’re trying to do,” Farmar said. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from the people that make decisions. Coach D’Antoni and Steve Nash built this system together. For me, still being a young guy in the league, I still a lot of a lot of room to grow, and there is no better person to be around everyday than Steve Nash.”
Nash, finally healthy and officially the league’s oldest player, is reportedly open to the idea of playing limited minutes in order to preserve his body. With Farmar and Blake, the Lakers have three complementary players that can each lead this team, and most importantly seem eager to embrace the responsibility together. Not to mention, the most NBA-ready depth at the position in years.
Time will tell just how well all of these parts meld, but at least on the surface, it certainly appears to be a better fit than last year. For a team heading into a major period of transition, not even eight months removed from the passing of Dr. Buss, these Lakers could use a season to simply recuperate and gather themselves. As an NBA observer, the league-wide sensation of new-found hope is replenishing, to say the least.