EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As the Los Angeles Lakers were making most of their free agency additions, the team was in Las Vegas for summer league, and given the setting, one would have been forgiven for thinking that most of the additions were made from the casino floor.
Because the Lakers waited out the first several days of free agency for Kawhi Leonard to make his decision, by the time he chose the LA Clippers a lot of the top options on the market had committed elsewhere. That left the Lakers with two options: Overpay for solid bud underwhelming players who they’d generally know what to expect from, or throw down low-money bets on a bunch of low-odds plays and hope they all hit, leaving the team greater than the sum of the parts that went into building the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers mostly chose the second door, bringing back JaVale McGee after an up-and-down year, signing Avery Bradley following the worst several seasons of his career and hoping he’s finally healthy and can play well enough to outperform his deal, as well as adding DeMarcus Cousins on a cheap contract and hoping he could rediscover his form and stay healthy. They even continued the trend later in the summer by adding Dwight Howard in the hopes he can bounce back and play the right way after their bet on Cousins went bust.
The overall theme of the offseason seemed to be grabbing players with theoretically high — but somewhat unlikely — ceilings who could help the Lakers reach the top if they all performed to the peak of their abilities, with the mindset that if they didn’t, the Lakers weren’t going to win a title without someone like them doing so anyway.
It was a gamble that we won’t get the final results on for quite some time, but according to their teammate LeBron James, so far, so good on that front.
“I like our team,” James said after the Lakers’ third morning practice of training camp, before repeating himself two more times for emphasis. “I thought Dwight and JaVale, they’ve been very good if not great since practice has started. I love what they’re able to do.”
James loving what Howard and McGee can bring to the table is good news, because they’re both the types of rim-rolling play-finishers that will need a little love from James in order to be at their best.
Outside of James, this Lakers roster doesn’t have a ton of playmaking, and McGee and James already demonstrated good chemistry on that front, with James assisting on more baskets to McGee (88) than he did any teammate other than Kyle Kuzma (120) last season.
In theory — i.e. if he plays the way the Lakers want him to — Howard could be a similar sort of lob threat for James, and if he’s impressed James so far, it’s a fair guess that he’s at least doing the right things through three days of training camp.
Given that Anthony Davis (understandably) doesn’t want to wear himself down with tons of minutes at center during the regular season, if James is able to get the most out of McGee and Howard, it will help them help the Lakers more during what looks set to be a fair amount of floor time for each player.
But it isn’t just Howard and McGee who have impressed James so far during training camp. In addition to liking what he’s seen from Frank Vogel and the new coaching staff, James — like seemingly everyone else — has thought Bradley has been a highlight of camp, and he actually thinks the entire rest of the roster has come in an shown out in their own ways.
“Avery continues to stand out obviously with just his defensive tenacity,” James said. “You can tell everyone did something in the summertime. Everyone came in in the best possible shape you can be in without playing basketball... Everybody looks pretty good.”
It’s still early, but all the Lakers can do is impress in the opportunities they’re given. In an exceedingly small sample size so far, it appears so far they’ve done just that, which should be good news for everyone hoping the team’s bets pay off this year.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.