Last year, the Toronto Raptors had a single season to convince a somewhat wary Kawhi Leonard to stick around for longer than a year. The best way to go about that: To win a championship, which they did. Unfortunately for Toronto, that wound up not being enough to get Leonard to stay, but it was at least a start.
During a conference call with reporters last week, Danny Green was asked how that team came together so quickly and was able to accomplish that goal even despite Leonard’s decision hanging over them the entire year.
”A lot of things had to happen, and a good amount of it was luck. We got lucky with a lot of things, but the timing of it, getting the pieces we got even at the deadline like Marc Gasol, staying healthy and other teams not being healthy,” Green said.
“Obviously we still had faith and belief that we were one of the best teams out there and we could beat them if they were healthy, but things kind of fell in line for us. It was just our time, it seemed like, but a lot things had to go right in order for us to win a championship, and it started off with us getting the pieces and staying healthy.”
While Leonard was still making up his mind, the luck he, Green and Toronto enjoyed during last year’s playoffs went kind of ignored. This isn’t to say their title run should have an asterisk or anything lame like that, only that it’s mentally healthy to recognize luck when you get some.
Now, Green and the Lakers find themselves in a similar situation this season with Anthony Davis under contract only through to next summer (he has a player option for 2020-21 that he almost assuredly will pass on). Davis seems exponentially more open to returning beyond this next season than Leonard was with Toronto, but it’s still a huge decision hanging over the Lakers’ heads.
The best way to ensure that decision is made quickly in the direction the Lakers need it to go? Win, and win big.
So, are there any lessons Green could bring over from last year in Toronto to this year’s Lakers? Green thinks so.
”Just getting to know each other off the court. Preseason. Going to camp, being in a different atmosphere, sharing a locker room, seeing where guys come from and what experiences they’ve had on other teams,” Green said. “Once you get to know each other, then you’re more comfortable with each other on the court. And obviously following the coach’s lead and doing the little things he asks us to do, whether it’s defensive rotations or going through drills, or just buying in. But we’ve got to get to know each other first, I think that’s most important, first and foremost.”
Green’s response is a fascinating look into what matters during the process of vying for a championship. Now, his answer might differ from other players, obviously, but starting from the intangible process of literally getting to know one another isn’t usually how we analyze things.
While we might be focused on lineups, spacing and schematics, these are still people we’re talking about, and the human element goes a long way in the eventual ceiling a team might have. Sure, talent usually wins out, but it is just easier to push yourself when you fully understand and care about the person you’re trying to win alongside.
For the first time in damn near a decade, the Lakers will start next season as legitimate title contenders. In a league as wide open as the NBA will be next year, the little things will matter more. So long as the Lakers take Green’s advice, that’s a great way to ensure they can take advantage of those margins, as indefinable as they might be at times.