With what seems to be a complete, improved roster, the Los Angeles Lakers begin the march toward next season.
There's a lot of work to do. D'Angelo Russell was a fine get in the draft, but he will have to learn to play nice with others, including Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant. So was Lou Williams in free agency, who must do the same.
Down low, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the front office can only hope Julius Randle will remain healthy while learning from Brandon Bass and pairing with Roy Hibbert.
Again, the Lakers will be one of the hottest topics all summer. To stay in the loop, here's the latest.
Roy Hibbert's Changes
Call it a last chance for Hibbert.
The Georgetown product spent seven odd years with the Indiana Pacers, and at 7'2" and 290 pounds, he was a solid defender but never managed to average even 13 points per game in a season.
At 28 years old, it's hard to know how much longer Hibbert has as a starter if something doesn't change. It sounds like he's working on adapting after joining the Lakers, though, per ESPN's Mike Trudell:
The Lakers brought Hibbert on to help mentor someone such as Randle and play strong defense. Kupchak touched on expectations with Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News:
We haven’t had length here in a couple of years, at least somebody you would say that has length and a defensive presence. If he can do that, rebound and take up space and protect at the rim and divert guys in the paint that beat our guys on the perimeter, then that’s going to be a really good year.
Hibbert faces a similar challenge many in the Association do thanks to run-happy teams like the Golden State Warriors.
For the former Georgetown star, it's all about balancing what the Lakers brought him on to do and tuning his body and game toward league longevity.
Bryant and the New Additions
On a more humorous note, it seems Bryant and the team's new players are not off on the right foot.
Everyone knows Bryant is the Lakers and vice versa. Everyone knows Bryant doesn't always mesh well with new teammates and things can get awkward on the court at times if the team has too many shooters.
Everyone also knows the media will want to know about the relationship between new players and Bryant, so why in the world this awkward press conference happened is beyond comprehension, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin:
Bryant's a busy man, of course, and so are Hibbert, Bass and Williams.
But again, everyone knew this was coming. Maybe it was a joke on the part of the new guys.
If not, though, in the age of social media, where even a little tweet can say quite a lot in a few words, it's odd if there has been zero communication to the point professional athletes trained for media encounters risk a PR nightmare like this.
A PR nightmare it is, for one reason or another. Like it or not, Bryant's mix with the news guys just stepped into the spotlight for good.
The on-court mix will always take precedence, though.
Kupchak and Lakers coach Byron Scott have something the team has missed for years in the lineup—options.
At the point, Russell and Clarkson are viable. Bryant sits at the 2 with one of the league's best sixth men, Williams. Don't forget about Nick Young, whom the team was unable to trade. He's flanked by Ryan Kelly.
Randle and Bass form a strong duo at power forward, but don't forget Tarik Black, who showed flashes, and rookie Larry Nance. Hibbert occupies center, but Robert Sacre also showed flashes and Robert Upshaw was a major steal if the off-court stuff stays steady.
According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, it sounds like the Lakers will mimic the league's popular guard-heavy approach: "Scott sees Russell, Clarkson and newly signed Lou Williams composing the Lakers' new three-guard rotation. And he sees Bryant playing more small forward next season."
It's an interesting approach, but it meshes well with most of the league. As Scott goes on to explain, it will also keep Bryant effective and fresh:
If we don't get another guard, then Kobe's in that mix. I'm kind of going through those scenarios. But not necessarily as far as who's starting and who doesn't ... I think (Bryant) will play more three than two. If we can get him at the elbows and at the mid-post, the more effective he'll be. I don't think he needs to be using up the whole 94-foot floor. If we can cut that down some, I think that saves his legs as much as possible.
In such a scenario, the defensive side of things will become quite interesting for the Lakers. For now, though, it seems the team wants to extend Bryant's playing time and get younger guys at key positions as much time as possible in prep for future years.
While early, it seems the Lakers' vision for next year and into the future continues to crystallize.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.