LAS VEGAS — The Los Angeles Lakers have won their first championship since the 2010 season, breaking a seven-year drought for the purple and gold.
But while their Las Vegas Summer League championship is a nice barometer of just how promising their young talent in, the fact that the Lakers have so acquired so many talented young players with high draft picks is also an indicator of just how far they have to go to return to their glory days.
The Lakers understand that, and know that to get back to hanging banners, they can’t just hang around this offseason. They’re going to have to put in work over the rest of the offseason until training camp begins.
All NBA Summer League Second Team honoree Kyle Kuzma may have earned Las Vegas Summer League MVP with his 30-point, 10-rebound performance in the Lakers’ 110-98 finals win over the Portland Trail Blazers, but he knows he still has a lot of room for improvement.
"I want to get stronger. I need to get stronger,” Kuzma said. “I think that's the biggest thing I need to focus on."
Lonzo Ball — who won Las Vegas Summer League MVP with averages of 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and a Las Vegas-leading 9.3 assists while swiping 2.5 steals before sitting out the finals with cramps — has similar offseason goals as his fellow rookie first-round pick.
“If I had to put one thing out there I'd say definitely getting stronger,” Ball said, but he also didn’t want to only pick one thing to improve on, saying that he wants to get better at “everything” this summer.
“I just try to be the best player I can and help my team every time I suit up,” Ball said.
For players like Matt Thomas and Vander Blue, who are without NBA contracts and just hoping to make it to Lakers training camp, summer league was their main chance to show the coaching staff they belonged.
Thomas said he hadn’t spoken with the coaching staff about what he should work on due to the whole team being focused on winning the summer league title, although he did feel he showed them what he could do in a Las Vegas Summer League stint he concluded with a 23-point game in which he made all five of his 3-point attempts.
"I think at times I showed a little bit of what I could do putting the ball on the floor in pick and rolls a little bit, but my role on this team was just spacing the floor a little bit and knocking down shots,” Thomas said. “I tried to do that to the best of my ability."
Blue — the final D-League MVP before the minor league re-branded as the G League — also didn’t have many specifics to help him earn his NBA shot after he scored 20 points and dished six assists to help the Lakers clinch a title on his 25th birthday.
"I want to tighten up everything,” Blue said after revealing he had played in all of summer league with an injured shoulder. “I had to fight through the pain and play through this. Get fully healthy, get to camp. I pray it's this camp, but we'll see what happens."
In addition to learning what they need to improve moving forward, the Lakers also learned a few new things about themselves.
"I didn't know I was that aggressive. I wasn't like that in college, I definitely wasn't that aggressive. When I'm locked in and focused, I can do pretty much anything I want I feel like,” Kuzma said. “Being in that Lakers jersey gives you more confidence."
After the Lakers got back to winning in Las Vegas, Kuzma had reason to be confident in the purple and gold armor. It remains to be seen how long it will take the Lakers to truly break their title drought, but the Lakers summer league championship showed they’re off to a good start, and their offseason work plans will help ensure they reach the championship-soaked locker room at the finish line.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.