EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — LeBron James is once again getting to the gym at dawn and putting in long hours as he prepares to begin his 21st NBA season.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka believes he has assembled a roster that will allow the top scorer in NBA history to rest a little bit easier this year.
“I think we were very intentional about the versatility that this roster has, the depth that the roster has,” Pelinka said Thursday. “I think there’s upgrades (in) spacing and shooting, top to bottom. That was all done knowing LeBron is going into the 21st year. We have to partner with him to help him get all the way to the end, because that’s his goal. Adding the depth, the versatility, the shooting, all of those things are going to help us manage that.”
Indeed, the Lakers kept most of last season’s roster and supplemented it with several promising additions in a bid to build a complete contender around James and Anthony Davis, who will lead their teammates back to training camp next week. After watching his team go 18-8 out of the trade deadline before winning a play-in game and two postseason rounds, Pelinka wanted to see what this group could do with a full year together.
With full seasons from midseason acquisitions D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura alongside five new veterans, the Lakers appear to have their strongest roster since raising their last championship banner in late 2020.
“We have, top to bottom, what we feel like is a highly balanced, skilled, athletic, younger team of guys that have logged a ton of NBA minutes,” coach Darvin Ham said. “We can surround both (James) and AD with these players who are coming in eager to contribute, eager to show they can impact winning. That’s going to allow us to be more efficient with (James’) game-to-game minutes. … He was grandfathered in by the rest rule. I was happy to see that.”
Indeed, James is among a handful of highly experienced NBA veterans allowed to have special rest exemptions under the league’s new player participation policy, which is designed to compel teams to put their top players in more games. But Pelinka and Ham both spoke in favor of the policy, and they don’t anticipate James or Davis missing many games — when they’re healthy, which was never a given in recent seasons.
“The team that’s around (James) now, the pieces that we have in place, those guys are going to step up and do a lot of heavy lifting early,” Ham said.
Los Angeles retained Davis, Russell, Austin Reaves, Vanderbilt and Hachimura from last season’s Western Conference finalists while acquiring Jaxson Hayes, Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent, Cam Reddish and Christian Wood.
The Lakers’ biggest financial commitment was a three-year, $186 million extension for Davis, the gifted big man who has been outstanding in Los Angeles when he isn’t dealing with injuries.
“He’s only 30 years old, so there’s a huge, huge road still ahead of him in how he can lead the franchise and hopefully put some more banners up here,” Ham said. “I’m excited for the type of year he’s going to have.”
Pelinka said the Lakers were eager to bet on their big man.
“We believe in the character of Anthony Davis, just the person he is,” Pelinka said. “Nobody in life can prevent health stuff happening unexpectedly. … We think, at 30 years old, he’s heading into the peak of his career.”
Normally shy to divulge any day-to-day lineup decisions, Ham announced Thursday that his starting backcourt will be Russell and Reaves, who both re-signed with the Lakers in July.
Although Russell’s successful return to LA ended with a diminished role in the conference finals against Denver, Ham expects his point guard to stand out after a summer that included workouts together with just James and Davis.
The Lakers also expect continued growth from Reaves, whose breakout second season ended with a starting role before his impressive performance for the U.S. team at the World Cup.
Pelinka, who was Kobe Bryant’s longtime agent, said Reaves “uniquely has that sort of Mamba gene, where it’s all about the work. It’s about playing competitive on every play. It’s about being a great teammate. Not caring about the personal accolades, but just the team winning.”
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