The Los Angeles Lakers are enjoying the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the 2017-2018 NBA season, gathering at their new training facility for media day. Training camp is officially on once media clears out from the UCLA Health Training Center, and by the sounds of things, it’s going to be an intense experience for a spirited young group.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is wrapping up his first offseason since being brought on as Magic Johnson’s right-hand man, and what he’s seeing develop out on the court day in and day out has him ozzing with optimism about a very bright future.
Pelinka took the podium as a general manager on media day for the first time in his life, and as we’ve learned about his tendencies in recent months, he unsurprisingly opened up the celebration of a new season by telling a story.
“Bill Bertka is one of our longtime Lakers employees. He's got five decades of being around the NBA. The other day he kind of shuffled into my office, and I knew he had something on his mind because he just kind of gives you that look like 'I've been thinking about something' and he walked in and he said ‘50 years, but I have never seen a young group like this,’ in terms of being back in the offseason, working early on their game, being in the weight room, being on the court doing extra stuff.
“I think the message that Earvin and I tried to share at the exit meetings last year was to come back in world class fitness. The whole mentality of this team has been flipped. We see that every day in this building with the energy they bring, and how they're working,” Pelinka said.
The Lakers have been wearing the hard work of their players all summer on their sleeve, sharing pictures and videos day-after-day on social media. Sometimes it’s Brandon Ingram in the weight room. Other times, it’s Julius Randle working on his jumper. Lonzo Ball is diving for loose balls in scrimmages, as Pelinka described while trying to explain how intense things have been in the gym.
These all look like the components of a recipe for success next season, but Pelinka wouldn’t guarantee an improvement in the wins column. What he did promise, though, was a team that’s going to compete at an elite level consistently.
“I will give a guarantee, and the guarantee I'll give is that the fans, and you guys and women in the room, are going to love watching this team. In terms of hitting that mark, every night you're going to see the competition level is going to be at a 10-out-of-10.
“We are young, and we are developing, and we know that it's going to be a continuum in terms of how that unfolds. But there's going to be major points of engagement to see that process unfold,” Pelinka said.
This type of mentality — a Mamba-like Mentality, you could say — is what the front office hopes makes the “DNA” of the team they’re building. Identifying the Lakers’ “DNA” is something Magic, Rob and Luke spent time discussing when they looked at the blend of characteristics they want from players on their roster.
“One of the things we've tried to do is in our study of both free agents and draft picks, Magic, and Luke, and I the first day we got together, we said ‘what is the DNA of a Lakers player? What does it mean to put on the gold jersey?’ And we came up with a list of our DNA, and it has a lot of those things in it. In fact, you'll see we gave the guys some training camp t-shirts that have the Lakers logo with those DNA components embedded in it,” Pelinka said.
Is the “DNA” bit corny? Sure, but Pelinka speaks with such conviction it’s hard to lose focus on the message he’s trying to get across in each of his carefully crafted statements. To build a new culture takes incredible belief from those preaching it, and Pelinka speaks like someone who’s never missed his purple and gold vitamins.
That may be a good thing for these young Lakers, who can lean on Pelinka’s experience as an agent for wisdom. A man armed with the knowledge he has, that’s enthusiastic to share it with those he’s tasked with grooming for greatness, is a powerful tool for the Lakers.
“I always used to say to my clients when I was an agent, if you just do what the team tells you to do you'll probably be a middle-of-the-pack player because that's what every player in the NBA is doing. But if you want to go from a middle-of-the-pack-player to the top, it's that extra stuff you have to put in,” Pelinka said.
“I remember seeing workouts when Kobe would literally work on the angle of his jab step and break it down to the centimeters for an hour so that he could perfect attacking the defensive opponent. I think telling those stories to our young guys helps them understand what it means to go from good, to elite.”
Can these Lakers sweep fans off their feet, rinsing away wasted seasons of frustrating basketball for good? If you’re ready to believe in Pelinka and the team he’s built with Magic, a new era has finally come.
“Trust me, it's a tidal wave that you can't help but feel, and we're just so excited for our fans to experience that when the games start.”
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com