New Coach. New Players. New Attitude: The Lakers Are Finally Smiling Again

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterSeptember 27, 2016

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Julius Randle #30, D'Angelo Russell #1, Luke Walton, and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a photograph for team photographer Andrew D. Bernstein during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The common belief behind rebuilding is that you have to hit rock bottom.

You have to feel so bad that you're truly motivated to feel good again.

Dig a deep ditch—then build the big building.

It's not necessarily true.

Rebuilding in sports can occur with the right talent, personality or break.

Or it can begin with the right feeling.

The Los Angeles Lakers finally have that right feeling.

All they want is to grow.

Therein you have the purest hope we can have in sports—or life, frankly.

Lakers media day on Monday was different than in past years. No Kobe Bryant. So, no stars, really.

Just the basketball equivalent of a bunch of gaffers and sound mixers and aspiring actors—and all of them smiling, the optimistic sort of expression you wear when you know the show today will be fun and trust that the show tomorrow will be a little better.

"It's a new everything when you walk in here," Nick Young said.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Nick Young #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a photo for team photographer Andrew D. Bernstein during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harr
Harry How/Getty Images
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Indeed, most of these Lakers would be really, truly happy if L.A. won 30 games—because the young talent would have really, truly progressed.

When Young arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, he was flanked not just by Bryant but by Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.

That team won 27 games.

And it was absolutely maddening for the Purple and Gold.

Missing the playoffs hadn't happened for nine years. It had happened only twice in 37 years. Losing 55 games in a season had never happened.

It was unacceptable and embarrassing.

Except…the Lakers set new franchise records for losses in 2014-15 and 2015-16, which leads us to today.

The Lakers and their fans no longer want to be sad or mad. It's that simple. There has been too much of that by now. Too much frustration with old players and their injuries, too much anger directed at Dwight Howard and Byron Scott.

It's human nature to tap back into that reservoir of hope when you feel ready. Luke Walton's arrival and the end of the Bryant farewell tour have given the organization a fresh faith.

"He's definitely telling us positive things, on and off the court," rookie Brandon Ingram said of his new head coach, who is already angling to turn Ingram into a monster defensive weapon.

Music is going to be playing in the gym during practice, which will make for a fun game of "Who gets to pick the songs?" All that the even-handed Walton knows for sure is that he'll be kickin' it grade-school with these millennials and letting players set the playlist on their birthdays.

Here's hoping Jose Calderon, who turns 35 Wednesday on the second day of practice, hits his young teammates with some Spanish flamenco dance tunes and moves. Being one of the few elder statesmen on the team, it only seems logical he would be given the respect accorded to a veteran tasked with teaching these kids.

Jose Calderon of the 2016 Los Angeles Lakers meets with the press during media day on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California ahead of the start of the 2016-17 NBA season.. / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/

He won't be the only veteran voice, though.

Amazingly, Young intends to pursue a new role this year, removed from that of class clown.

"I'm Uncle P now," Young said, smiling. "I want to transition from Swaggy P to Uncle P."

Young is 31, and his "nephews" are this crew of young teammates—many of whom, as Young points out, sport high hairdos that mirror Young's past style.

"B.I. (Ingram) is Nick III," Young said.

Young's playfulness was one of the few bright spots on that 2013-14 Lakers team, earning him a new contract—but his immaturity was one of the many problems on the subsequent teams that were even worse.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has so far resisted dumping Young, who actually said this season he's "trying to be a better me." Kupchak would love Young's redemption to be part of this Luke-led revival story, but trading or waiving Young remain options if he doesn't quickly prove useful on the practice court and likable in the locker room during training camp.

Much uncertainty remains about the higher leadership of this organization, with team president Jeanie Buss and her ownership siblings in position to move on from their brother, Jim, as head of basketball operations after the season.

But doubts about Jim Buss and Kupchak are part of the debilitating pain that Lakers fans know remains but are weary of feeling.

The recovery began, ironically enough, with the end of the Bryant era, when Kobe demonstrated for a night that joyous, celebratory, hope-renewing moments remain possible for the glorious Lakers.

Bryant's grand finale was a sprinkler to dance through, and now the Lakers are ready to float in the pool of true rebuilding, however long it takes.

There is no agenda but to meet the simplest of goals.

"I haven't even thought about how many games we're going to try to win this year," Walton said. "I'm focused on and excited about the process of getting there."

Sep 26, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton (right) talks with forward Zach Auguste (27) at media day at Toyota Sports Center.. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The journey has started with a raft of changes already. Many longtime Lakers staffers (including team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo) have gone. New, young thinkers have moved in, populating areas like the Lakers' bolstered analytics department. The team's new UCLA Health Training Center will open in 2017. Walton brought assistant coach Theo Robertson over from the Golden State Warriors to focus on developing the Lakers' young players. And at 29, Robertson is younger than Young.

"Everything we do, we're going to try to do with joy and with an extreme level of competitiveness," Robertson said. "If we can do those two things and keep that in mind as we move forward, I think you're able to withstand some of the turbulence you're going to endure."

"With the Warriors, it wasn't the other team was better than us," Walton said. "It was we didn't play to a certain standard….I hope the way it works out [with the Lakers] is that even if we lose games, I take satisfaction and joy in the idea that we competed that game the right way.

"Right now, it's more focusing on did we compete the right way, share the ball, and if we did that all and we still lost, you should be able to sleep at night."

And if you can sleep at night, that means you can rightly and freely dream.

It's the only tangible reward for reveling in the rebuilding process.


Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.


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