The Lakers somewhat officially(?) kicked off their 2019–20 campaign Friday with media day, echoing all the same optimism the franchise had last year when LeBron James was in his first season with the team, Magic Johnson ran the basketball operations, and Anthony Davis was still a Pelican. So much has obviously changed since then, both for the Lakers and the rest of the league. L.A.’s biggest rival has moved south, from the Bay Area to across the hall. Davis is wearing the purple and gold. And Rob Pelinka, who survived last season’s disappointment, has made it clear last year’s failures have turned into lessons.
For example, when discussing the remade roster Friday, Pelinka admitted to looking for more shooting, a concern that followed the Lakers immediately after they filled out the roster post-LeBron. This season, L.A. is putting guys like Danny Green and Avery Bradley around James and Davis, in addition to holdovers like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso. Pelinka also made it clear that he consulted James and Davis heavily when putting together the supporting cast, saying he solicited their opinions on three-way calls and over group texts.
That last bit is what seems like the most important thing for the Lakers moving forward: Making sure everyone in the organization is on the same page. For all of L.A.’s issues on the court last season, there were plenty off of it, as well. There was Rich Paul expressing concerns about Luke Walton. There was the public pursuit of Davis and its effect on the younger players. There was Magic Johnson’s abrupt resignation. The competing interests and conflicting agendas appeared to take a toll, and the Lakers entered this summer in a messy position.
The trade for Davis has changed so much of that. Speaking to the media in his glistening, gold No. 3 uniform, AD gleefully mentioned Friday how players were texting him asking if they could join him and LeBron in Los Angeles. The roster for this season is now more coherent, and seemingly built very much to the preference of its superstars, something that seemed to be absent in the immediate aftermath of LeBron‘s arrival. No longer is L.A. trying to mix young and old. Davis may be in the early stages of his career, but everyone here is on a championship timeline. From the veteran-laden coaching staff—led by Frank Vogel, who is flanked by Lionel Hollins and Jason Kidd—to the experienced role players in Green, Rajon Rondo, and Jared Dudley, the Lakers just make so much more sense than this time a year ago.
Pelinka, who has been criticized by guys like me, deserves credit for pulling off such a high-stakes rebuild. There’s no time to waste with James aging. Pelinka, now in charge of all basketball operations himself, hasn’t put together a perfect roster, but the Lakers appear to be significantly closer to a championship this season than at any other point this decade.
Of course, there will be road bumps. And questions still remain. Can Vogel command the respect of this locker room? Who is going to play center? How will the frontcourt-heavy rotation balance itself out? The spotlight on this team will be immense, the scrutiny even more focused than a year ago, and even though AD says him and LeBron haven’t talked about it, Davis especially is going to face a level of expectation he never has before in his career.
The Lakers may not meet every single one of these challenges with the perfect response. But from Pelinka to LeBron, they look to be in a much better position in James’s second season to handle adversity. The pieces on the roster fit better. The coaching staff is loaded with experience. The front office is aligned under a singular vision. And James and Davis are as good as any superstar combo in the league. All of this may not be enough to make the Lakers favorites on Day 1 of the season. But after a year filled with turmoil from the floor to the front office, the Lakers seem to be tipping off this season with much more clarity.