With an exciting new head coach, a budding young core and the addition of some veteran free agents, the Los Angeles Lakers appear confident that they can start building something special for this upcoming season.
The team held its annual media day on Monday the day before training camp officially begins, and there are plenty of newsworthy headlines surrounding the Lakers. They return quality young talent in Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell while welcoming head coach Luke Walton and experienced free agents Jose Calderon, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.
In the first day of the post-Kobe Bryant era, Los Angeles will have varying expectations for its emerging stars. Some players have an increased comfort level with the organization while others will be adjusting to new roles, but here are three storylines to note for this Lakers team as the preseason kicks off.
Russell Already Buying Into New Coaching Staff
In order for the Lakers to continue growing, they need their star point guard to thrive in Walton's high-pace, floor-spacing system. It appears Russell is on his way towards doing just that.
The second-year guard raved about Walton on Monday and in the days leading up to media day, as he seems to be fully on board with what his new coach is bringing to the team, as are his teammates. As a result, Russell has a new sense of confidence heading into training camp, per Joey Ramirez of the Lakers' official website.
“I feel like everybody’s buying in and wants to take steps forward in winning and coming together as a team,” Russell said. “I’m really looking forward to going into training camp with that one year under my belt as experience. ... Just going into training camp, I know what to expect and I’m kind of prepared.”
Walton also has confidence in his young floor general, saying Russell has the skills to become a leader of the Los Angeles team, per Ramirez.
This is a far cry from last year's relationship between Russell and former head coach Byron Scott. The two were rarely on the same page, with Scott routinely benching Russell in favor of veteran players. After Scott was fired, he called Russell "entitled" on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t CBSSports.com) while Russell said the new coaching staff is different in that "the atmosphere they bring every day is a winning mentality," per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.
Russell seems to have a more positive attitude with a new leader at the helm, as he also spoke of how much he respects Walton, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding on Sept. 23.
"At this level, I don't really know what it takes to win," Russell said. "So from a guy who knows what it takes to win, I can't do anything but sit back and listen."
This all has to be nothing but good news for Lakers fans. Russell already shredded the NBA Summer League to the tune of 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and four assists per game, according to Ramirez, and his quickness and passing ability are perfect for a system that emphasizes penetration to create space for outside shooters.
If Russell and Walton continue to mesh this well, the future will become blindingly bright for the Lakers.
Randle Aiming to Increase Leadership Role
The Lakers are young, but they need their core players to step up into leadership roles for the team moving forward. Randle seems to be up for the task.
When speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet about his goals for the upcoming season, Randle expressed a desire to become someone that his teammates can look up to.
“Going into my third year, or second year or whatever, we got so many young guys, and I’m kind of looked at as one of the leaders of the team,” said Randle (h/t SB Nation's Gary Kester). “I think it starts with me, D’Angelo, whoever it may be, to be over ourselves. Stats don't matter. It’s about playing for each other.”
Walton seconded this notion, which becomes even more urgent with Bryant's retirement, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina:
After averaging a double-double last season with 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, Randle will undoubtedly be a huge part of the Lakers' success this year and beyond. He is a versatile forward who has the strength to battle inside while also having the mobility to contribute out on the perimeter. He should benefit greatly from Walton's system as he can utilize extra space to win one-on-one matchups.
If this all comes together on the court, Randle will have even more potential to become a leader off of it. Especially with veterans like Deng and Metta World Peace around, Randle will have some solid examples to learn from.
What Will be Ingram's Role?
Ingram is obviously a major part of Los Angeles' foundation, but the team is not going to rush him early in the season.
It appears Deng will start as the top option at the three spot, which he seems OK with, per Medina:
This will allow Ingram to learn behind an established NBA player with tremendous postseason experience, from Deng's days in Chicago and Miami. Deng also has a proven track record of success in the league, averaging 15.5 points for his 12-year career.
Ingram is excited to learn behind Deng and earn his way into the starting lineup, per Ramirez.
“I think if (a starting spot) was given it wouldn’t drive me as much to be the best player I could be,” Ingram said. “Just coming off the bench and showing that I can be one of the best players on the floor, it gives me motivation to work hard each and every day.”
As a freshman at Duke last season, Ingram displayed a phenomenal scoring touch that resulted in 17.3 points per game and a 41 percent rate from three-point range.
A spot-up shooter off of the bench is where Ingram will likely find himself early in the year. Yet, expect him to become a major contributor by the end of the season as the 19-year-old becomes more comfortable with Walton's offense and the speed of the NBA game.
Statistics are from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.