Davis, James begin Lakers partnership with sky-high hopes
The 26-year-old superstar engineered his move from New Orleans to Hollywood knowing that championships are the only acceptable result to the Lakers’ legions of demanding fans. After spending his entire NBA career struggling to lift the underdog Pelicans, he welcomed the chance to play for a team and in a city where every game means something big.
And Davis doesn’t have to carry his new team, either. LeBron James is here to share the work.
“We’re going to feed off each other tremendously,” Davis said. “I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win. When we have two guys like that, it makes both of our jobs easier.”
James has spent his entire adult life facing championship pressure, and his chances of meeting those expectations for a fourth time got exponentially better when the Lakers put these two superstars together. James looks forward to finding chemistry with Davis to create an immediate winner — and to persuade Davis to stick around when he hits free agency next summer.
“We’ve got a brand-new coaching staff and brand-new players coming to our system, but we do all know how good Anthony Davis is,” James said. “If we’re not playing through Anthony Davis while he’s on the floor, then it makes no sense to have him on the floor, because he’s that great.”
This 16-time championship franchise is currently mired in a record six-year postseason drought, but everything is different and everything is possible this winter. The buzz around the Lakers never truly dissipates in LA, but it hasn’t been this loud since 2012.
“When your starting point of your roster is two of the best players in the universe, that’s a really strong starting point,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said.
Frank Vogel is spending his first few months as the Lakers’ coach figuring out how to mold a cohesive team around his two superstars. He’ll experiment with lineups, rotations and rest while the Lakers figure out how to play together in a season they expect to last well into the spring.
“The belief is strong in what we can be as a team,” Vogel said. “Everybody is looking at their teammates, and there’s a healthy respect going into the season. When the belief is strong at the outset, it’s just about focusing in on the work.”
Here are more things to watch in a tantalizing season in Lakerland:
Kyle Kuzma is the only component remaining from the Lakers’ talented young core after Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart were shipped to New Orleans for Davis. Kuzma didn’t participate in training camp while dealing with a stress injury in his leg, but he should be ready soon. The high-scoring forward’s skill set could fit well alongside the Lakers’ two superstars, and Kuzma realizes he has a golden opportunity. “I’m looking forward to reaching the next level with my own game,” he said. “This is a great chance for me to reach my potential.”
The Lakers’ decision to re-sign Dwight Howard might have been the most shocking development of the entire offseason. The mercurial center spent one season with the Lakers in 2012-13 before clashing with Kobe Bryant and then fleeing town as a free agent. Howard has been booed mercilessly at Staples Center ever since, but he became the Lakers’ backup plan in the middle after DeMarcus Cousins tore a knee ligament shortly after signing with LA. Howard campaigned for a spot with the Lakers, and they gave him a non-guaranteed contract. If the newly humbled Howard recaptures his game, the Lakers will have an enormous asset at a minor cost.
The Lakers supplemented their roster with an intriguing mix of veterans, including newcomers Danny Green, Jared Dudley, Avery Bradley, Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook. Vogel will look for perimeter scoring to complement James’ drives and Davis’ inside play, with Green and Daniels particularly expected to provide 3-point shooting proficiency. Every signee probably will get ample opportunity to play their way into a regular rotation spot while competing with holdovers Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo.
When they replaced Luke Walton after three straight losing seasons, the Lakers chose the 46-year-old Vogel over Tyronn Lue, who landed down the hallway with the Clippers instead of reteaming with James. Vogel got impressive results with limited resources in Indiana, but he has never coached stars of the Lakers’ dual magnitude. He also has a coaching staff including Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins, two former NBA head coaches. The early results from this arranged marriage are promising, with James praising Vogel’s attention to detail.
James wasn’t joking when he labeled Staples Center as the true winner of the NBA’s offseason moves. The Lakers and the Clippers both created probable title contenders, and their shared arena will be the center of basketball for much of the winter, with 82 sold-out games a distinct possibility. Out-of-towners shouldn’t get it twisted about which team is preferred in their shared hometown, however: The Lakers’ fan base wildly outnumbers the Clippers’ faithful, to the point where Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have already been booed while attending other sports events around Los Angeles. The teams meet Tuesday in their season openers, and again on Christmas.