The Los Angeles Lakers are all-in on the vision of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, and thus far everything’s going according to plan. They have their hand-picked young protege in Lonzo Ball, free agency has gone without a hiccup and the purple and gold are already feeling the effects of the culture overhaul taking place.
The Lakers have been clear about wanting to improve the mentality of the franchise from top to bottom, across every facet of every branch of the team. Building a better culture is something that’s been stressed time and time again since the leadership change at the top.
Major progress is already being made on that front.
"I think the biggest improvement is there has been a transformation in just the mentality of our team. And we're getting that from outsiders, basketball folks that come in here and say ‘wow just the core of your team feels different,’” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said during Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s introductory press conference.
What was slated as a chance to meet with the Lakers’ latest and only free agency addition became the right opportunity for the brain trust guiding the franchise to reflect on what’s been an exciting summer.
Sure, winning a summer league championship pales in comparison to the 16 golden spheres the Lakers have captured during their illustrious history, but in the present, it’s important to establish success wherever they can. The young team did that in Las Vegas, led by Summer League Most Valuable Player Ball and summer league breakout star Kyle Kuzma.
Pelinka and Johnson gushed about how proud they were of the camaraderie they’re seeing the infancy stages of in the little time the group has had to settle in together.
It’s why Magic was so openly gracious to Brandon Ingram for staying with the team through all of summer league despite being pulled after the first game, and Pelinka was quick to point out that all of their core players — aside from Brook Lopez — were at the training facility to show support of their new teammate.
"This is a team of basketball players. Guys that want to win and play together and play the right way. That's what we really wanted to do with the draft, and free agency and with the trade we made. We feel like our entire roster now is set with guys that have a genuine basketball mentality that's committed, and I think that's where the improvement is right away,” Pelinka said.
Johnson echoed the confidence of his first-year general manager.
"The whole mentality and attitude has changed around here and we've just gotta keep it going. We've got the right guys in the building now and I feel confident that we're going to have a good season. And we're just going to build, build and build, and that's what it's about,” Johnson said.
Much of the logistical talk about the team was focused on the versatility they’re hoping they’ve found with the overhauled roster. Summer league was a taste of how a player like Kuzma can fit into their plans in many different ways. Caldwell-Pope is another piece they hope adds to the “positionless” style head coach Luke Walton is embracing.
"I’m excited. I think we've got the right mix and balance of players that can do different things, that can play multiple positions. That's what we wanted. Rob and I talked about making a versatile roster where guys can play multiple positions and we have that,” Johnson said.
Having talent across the board, from player 1 to 15, is something the Lakers hope brings out the best of the talent they’ve gathered. Adding players like Kuzma, Josh Hart, Thomas Bryant and Alex Caruso give a competitive, young dimension to the team that should help drive the best out of everyone.
They’re focused on finding players that are hungry each and every moment they’re a Laker.
“Our practices are going to be amazing, and that will lead to us being better when we hit the games. We're going to be competitive in practice and I think Luke is excited about even the roster we have today, and once we we fill in the last two guys we're going to have an exciting team,” Magic said.
It’s a great time to be a Lakers fan, and Magic and Pelinka made sure to paint with the brightest and most vivid colors they could find after they watched their creation succeed beyond expectations in Las Vegas.
The franchise may have left Sin City, but they’re hoping the electric atmosphere every night in the Thomas and Mack Center made the trip back to Los Angeles with them.
"I would not want to miss a Laker game this season because it's going to be exciting every single night. Just like we saw in summer league. It was exciting every game, it's going to happen in the regular season too. It's going to be amazing.
“We're excited, we're ready to get going. I'm tired of press conferences, I'm ready to go,” Johnson said, clearly eager to fast forward to training camp.
The craziest part? Magic might be more right than not. Vegas was the tip of the iceberg of what the Lakers believe has been not a step, but a leap in the right direction.
*All quotes transcribed via Periscope