Lakers preview: 5 questions to consider as training camp opens

Everyone will be delighted. You will exude confidence. They will talk about righting wrongs. The tone at media days around the NBA is almost always the same, everyone is happy.

But the Lakers fared so badly last season that it’s difficult to have any meaningful optimism for a team that finished 11th last season and didn’t make a major offseason move without a new head coach.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of star power, a lot of drama and many questions for the media day on Monday. Here are the five biggest:

So what’s up with Russ?

Russell Westbrook’s inaugural camp with the Lakers would likely have come as a surprise early in the offseason, but his contract combined with the Lakers’ lack of draft picks and a mediocre group of tradable players makes the team poised to try and make it works with the future Hall of Fame guard – at least for now.

Westbrook attended the player-organized mini-camp in San Diego and was the most visible Laker this summer, appearing for Darvin Ham’s induction press conference, Summer League in Las Vegas and Patrick Beverley’s induction with the Lakers. All of this happened while the Lakers were looking for ways to ship Westbrook out of town.

One of those options – to Utah – evaporated last week when the Jazz forwarded Bojan Bogdanovic to Detroit. The Lakers, said people with knowledge of the situation who weren’t authorized to speak publicly, were willing to include a first-round pick in a trade for the shooter, but the team remained reluctant to enter into long-term deals — a sign that the Maintaining the salary cap next summer remains a top priority. The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs could potentially be trade partners, but there doesn’t seem to be a deal that works for either team in either scenario, although that could change.

It means the Lakers will roll forward with Westbrook in hopes that Ham, a second season of familiarity, the aftermath of a soft trade market and more will make things fit better than they did a year ago when they didn’t have much can fit worse.

How does Westbrook feel about being back with a team that traded and signed Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schroder for starting-level point guards last month? I can’t wait to hear it.

Can LeBron continue?

James will be targeting his 20th season with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record 38,387 points. James has 37,062 points and has only once scored less than 1,300 points in a season. James averaged 30.3 points per game last season and would have been in contention for the scoring title had it not been for injuries.

While staying healthy is crucial for James, perhaps the problem is that despite his excellent offensive play a year ago, James was unable to influence the win and cover for the glaring deficiencies of the Lakers around him.

All-Star forwards Anthony Davis and LeBron James clap their hands during a game last season.

All-Star forwards Anthony Davis (left) and LeBron James are heading into the season healthy and hoping to return to playoff contenders. Do you have the supporting cast for it?

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Critics of the Lakers’ summer are calling James one of the ultimate “go-for-broke” players, someone who gives you a credible shot at a championship. However, the Lakers were more calculated when it came to improving the roster.

The Lakers undoubtedly need him on the court, although he has only played more than 60 games since joining the franchise in 2019-20 when they won the title. But can they really ask him to carry them and reasonably expect it to be enough?

Can Anthony Davis be the guy?

That leaves Anthony Davis perhaps the most important Laker.

A healthy Davis in form, rhythm, and dominance would give the Lakers a great All-NBA man whose two-way ability could rival Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. The version the Lakers have had for the past two seasons has been a mix of inconsistency and bad luck with injuries.

If he’s healthy, the Lakers have a chance. If not, the hill is probably too steep to climb.

Can Patrick Beverly move the needle?

Taking over the guard was the biggest move the Lakers have made this offseason. While there weren’t really “3-and-D” options in their price range, the Lakers are hoping to throw the 6-foot-1 Beverly into the role. The other options on the list — Troy Brown Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV — aren’t nearly as proven as Beverley. They also don’t offer the same type of shooting or attitude.

For a team that a year ago often seemed uninterested in competing, Beverly should help. However, it’s more than fair to wonder if a 34-year-old roleplayer is enough to make such a big difference.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham operates a microphone while answering a question.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is at the helm of an NBA team for the first time and has many questions to answer.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

What awaits new coach Darvin Ham?

As for the challenges facing a first-time head coach, it’s hard to find greater ones. There shouldn’t be much runway to learn on a team with James and Davis. That means Ham will have to grapple with some big issues — including Westbrook’s role and head of utilization — as the team faces a tough preseason schedule.

Ham’s followers believe he’s the perfect blend of toughness and compassion with the right demeanor for the role. But some of Ham’s greatest allies in the NBA are realizing just how tough the job in front of him really is. Monday he will say the right things.

But as of Tuesday, one has to wonder if he’ll be able to do that.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-09-26/los-angeles-lakers-preview-five-questions-training-camp-opens Lakers preview: 5 questions to consider as training camp opens

Emma Bowman

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