Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers prided themselves on being a team that was willing to make sacrifices for one another. Players that were used to playing big roles didn’t mind making room for someone else to come in and make their impact on the team. They trusted each other, and it paid off for them in a big way in the postseason.
That ethos is one that the returning players are hoping to instill in the locker room this season, even though minutes will be even harder to come by with the emergence of second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker in the preseason, and their acquisitions of Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder, who finished first and second in Sixth Man of the Year voting, respectively.
On paper, the Lakers got deeper, and at almost every position.
That depth is sure to cause problems for Frank Vogel this season, but not as a result of disgruntled players in the locker room. The players know how deep this team is, and they’re hopeful they’ll be able to use that depth to their advantage in a season where depth is expected the be the difference between a No. 1 seed and a No. 5 seed.
“Joining this team, you know it was deep already,” Markieff Morris said after practice on Monday. “Every day is going to be a battle but we had a short offseason, and we’re going to need 11 guys to play throughout the year. We don’t know how we’re going to do back-to-backs ... So I think we need 11 guys to be able to play every game.
“Some games you’re going to play a lot less than others, but just keeping that rhythm as a team for this long season is going to be good for us.”
However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition on the roster. In fact, Vogel said he’s already seen a few of his players go at each other in practice.
“When the guy next to you is playing out of his mind, it makes you want to play at a higher level too,” Vogel said on Monday. “In practice yesterday, there were several guys — I won’t mention names — that got really hot or had some incredible defensive spurts, and it was almost like literally in front of our eyes guys were pushing each other and elevating the level of their own play, and hopefully that carries over for us throughout the year.”
The player with the most potential to shake things up is Horton-Tucker. In the preseason, Horton-Tucker averaged 20.5 points per game on 54.7% shooting from the field and 53.8% shooting from behind the arc, while posting a plus-minus of 14.5. If he continues to be that productive in the regular season, Vogel will have no choice but to make room for him in the rotation.
That might mean fewer minutes for someone else on the roster, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope doesn’t anticipate that anyone will be too concerned with the size of their role because of a share understanding of what they’re building towards: Another championship.
“It don’t matter the minutes,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Talen is making a big push and trying to get some of the minutes, but I feel like everybody just has the mindset of one goal. We’re here to try and win another championship, and that’s the big goal in mind. I feel like everybody is just here for each other, no matter if we’re playing or not.”
That could change as the season goes on — especially if the Lakers don’t hit the ground running like they did last season — but for now, everyone seems to be on the same page. At this stage, that’s a god sign.