Lakers set to open season with many questions, few answers

Darvin Ham went barefoot to the media on Sunday, his socks just holding up for the spot. He was all business on Monday, sneakers laced and laced. The season was just a day away.

This wasn’t the time to slip up.

Between the last game and Monday, the Lakers did a lot to ensure they could finish a miserable 11th place finish in the Western Conference last season.

The team fired championship coach Frank Vogel and hired a championship player and championship assistant in Ham. They watched as each of their free agents entered the open market and never brought a single one back. They dealt Talen Horton-Tucker for Patrick Beverley, but otherwise they’ve made a U-turn since last offseason, prioritizing youth and athleticism over experience and achievement.

But for all those changes, the Lakers need to take a quick look back Tuesday as they open the season. The warriors are the defending champions and receive their rings. Whether the Lakers think about it or not, Golden State’s performance can also be seen as a final reminder of the Lakers’ 2021-22 failures.

“Hats to them, they did a hell of a job last season but it’s a new year,” Ham said, pointing to “Lakers” on his jersey. “I’m motivated to just walk through this building and wear that across my chest. My motivation is built in to turn this around and have a much better year than what happened here last year. So kudos to the Warriors, last year’s champions. But this year is a whole new season and we’re hungry. We have a chip on our shoulder.”

The Lakers will also carry a handful of questions in addition to that chip.

At the forefront is Russell Westbrook’s uncertain status on multiple fronts. He’s still grappling with a hamstring injury he picked up just five minutes after the Lakers’ first experiment, when he brought what was once a most valuable player off the bench. There is also the question of whether this experiment will continue if Westbrook is able to return to court.

“It’s the start of the season man and now it’s time to make sure guys who are struggling with physical issues really get well,” said Ham. “Time is on our side now, we don’t really have to push it back through anything. But yeah, definitely, it wasn’t even a small sample size. I thought he had a great start and made a few plays for his teammates. But then you have to exit the game, that’s the last look you get. We will continue to work through it and continue to evaluate our roster and continue to see which rotation fits – not just the starters.

Westbrook hit the injury report with a probable designation, a strong sign he’ll be playing the Warriors. Anthony Davis (back) and LeBron James (foot) are also both listed as likely.

Ham declined to name his starters Monday for the season opener, the big questions about Westbrook, the starting wings and whether Davis or a traditional center – likely Damian Jones – will start.

Center Thomas Bryant is among the players also struggling with injuries, along with reserve guard Dennis Schroder, who will be absent for at least the first three weeks after surgery Monday to repair a ligament in his right thumb. Troy Brown Jr. (back) will miss the opener, as will Bryant and Schroder (back).

It’s not an ideal situation for the Lakers to hobble into the season after a 1-5 preseason in which the team tried different lineups and rotations.

“On defense, we made teams take hard hits,” James said when asked what he saw when the Lakers were at their best over the past three weeks. “We made good rebounds, played offensively with a lot of speed and moved the ball a lot. This is very important.”

If the Lakers do all of that and stay healthy, they could be a contender for the Western Conference. However, the Warriors are going into the season as one of the favorites.

They, too, are dealing with some turbulence – most notably a preseason training hit from Draymond Green that dropped Jordan Poole.

Green and Klay Thompson, who is still dealing with numerous knee and leg injuries, are expected to play for Golden State.

If circumstances were different, perhaps the Lakers would see the Golden State get their championship rings and dream of their own opportunities. The Lakers followed up their 2020 title with two disappointing straight years and no combined playoff series wins.

“We are motivated to get back to where we belong. The last two seasons have not been what we had imagined. It wasn’t Lakers basketball and we know that. Not what is the standard of our organization,” Davis said. “Our standard is to fight for championships and in the last two seasons we haven’t done that. So, it’s motivation and hunger from every guy on the floor. Everyone in the locker room, all the coaches, the front office to make sure we get back to the level of basketball we know we can play.

NEXT

IN THE GOLDEN STATE

When: 19 o’clock

In the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 710, 1330

To update: The Lakers are opening the regular season after a 1-5 preseason that did little to answer some of the fitness and health questions. Most importantly, they should have LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook available as they attempt to spoil the Warriors ring night celebrating last season’s title. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson should be a big test for Darvin Ham’s new defensive plans as the Lakers look to get off to a good start against a very difficult early schedule.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-10-17/los-angeles-lakers-vs-golden-state-warriors-game-preview Lakers set to open season with many questions, few answers

Emma Bowman

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