It’s one of the most buzzed about terms in NBA parlance, but how important is culture really to a professional basketball team? According to Larry Nance, Jr., very, and he explained why to Alex Kennedy on the Basketball Insiders podcast.
"The way I put it is imagine going to work, imagine going to your cubicle and it's just a toxic work environment. There are guys around you that you don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with. Your boss is kind of demanding, it's just a drag going to work every day,” said Nance, Jr., describing an undesirable work environment. “Less gets done, you aren't as productive, there's kind of a bad attitude around.
“Then you go to an environment where the boss is flexible, you've got guys around you that you can talk and mess around with, you go to dinner after work and stuff like that, and it's makes time fly. It makes you really not dread going to work as much,” Nance, Jr. continued. “Granted it's a little different because we're in the NBA, but at least this summer I've really enjoyed going to the gym and seeing the faces and people that are with us now. That's kind of the culture change that's going on.”
Nance, Jr. chalked up two main reasons for the change. For one, the Lakers have a new head coach.
“Since Luke [Walton] has gotten here, our culture has kind of changed. Now he is on the court working with us, and the assistants are on the court working with us, and kind of implementing in our game what they'd like to see in our offense,” sais Nance, Jr. “[Walton] just brings a whole new young, up-tempo, refreshing feel to everything.”
But Walton isn’t the only newcomer to the Lakers this year. The team also acquired veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in free agency, in addition to picking up Jose Calderon in a trade. Nance, Jr. is confident that those three veterans will help Walton establish a more positive and professional locker room.
“You hear guys like Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Mozgov, and it's just like 'they're true pro's pros.' They just come in and just get it done every single night, good locker room guys, guys that really are great cornerstones to establish a culture,” said Nance, Jr. “I mentioned that they're really good locker room guys and things like that, but they're pretty darn good players as well. Mozgov is an NBA champ, so we've got really good pieces that we brought in.”
Nance, Jr. likes the pieces enough that while he wouldn’t predict win total, he thinks he and his teammate are “gearing up to surprise some people,” in addition to making it clear they weren’t exactly thrilled with so many analysts counting them out already.
“All of us saw that ESPN came out and said 'oh, you guys are supposed to finish last in the Western Conference.' We all kind of scoffed at that because I think we're going to be better than people think we are,” said Nance, Jr. “So we take stuff like that and use it is motivation, so I don't know if there's an exact number [of wins] that we want to hit, but it's going to be higher than what most people think."
Even if it’s not, Nance, Jr. was adamant that the improved chemistry between himself and his teammates will help the Lakers build an environment that makes players want to work hard for each other, a change he says he can already see this summer.
“You go to the gym and you see Luke down there on the court with Julius and they're laughing. You see Jordan and D'Angelo and they're shooting halfcourt shots and messing around and they're laughing, and the strength coach is getting guys pumped up, and you wake up in the morning and think 'all right, let's go! I'm ready to be a part of this, let's go!’” said Nance, Jr. “If you enjoy where you're working, you're going to want to work that much harder to bring up everybody around you."
The other benefit of enjoying where you work? It begins to feel less like a job at all, a point Nance, Jr. says the Lakers are getting pretty close to.
“Basketball is supposed to be fun, it's a game, and it's getting back to that point."
All quotes transcribed via the Basketball Insiders podcast. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.