In recent years, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a young team. For context, during the 2017-18 season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was one of the more experienced players on the team despite being just 24 years old.
The Lakers to tried to add veteran talent to their young team last season, when they signed LeBron James to a four-year, $154 million contract, but things didn’t come together in time, and their playoff drought extended to six years. Additionally, James’ 13-year playoff streak came to an end.
With a 35-year-old James on their roster, the Lakers went into win-now mode and traded nearly all of their young talent for Anthony Davis last summer. Then, they surrounded their superstar tandem with a veteran supporting cast. And not just any veteran supporting cast: a veteran supporting cast made up of players that have won NBA championships as recently as last year.
Of the six players the Lakers signed or re-signed in free agency last summer, five of them had already made the NBA Finals at least once, and four of them have won at least one NBA championship. In total, the Lakers have seven players that have played in the NBA Finals at least once in their careers.
The player on the team that most recently won a championship is Danny Green, who was the shooting guard for the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors. Green believes that the team’s collective experience of playing and winning on the NBA’s biggest stage will be beneficial for them in this year’s Finals, where they’ll see a Miami Heat team composed of young players making their first-ever Finals appearances.
“It’s a group of guys that don’t care about accolades, don’t care about getting their numbers, or points or winning MVP. It’s just a bunch of old guys that have been there before and are trying to get it done again,” Green said. “We’ve done it on different teams, in difference conferences, different coasts: JaVale and Quinn in Golden State, Rondo in Boston, myself in other cities, Bron in different cities.
“We have a lot of guys that have played in the Finals, Western Conference Finals at different times, and we’ve all played against each other and respect each other. And when you’re able to do it, it’s special to be able to come together and do it together as a group,” Green said. “I think we have that edge on most teams. Hopefully we can put it together and figure it out. We’ve been figuring things out on the fly a lot better than I’ve noticed with other groups that I’ve been with.”
Not everyone on the Lakers has that experience, though. For example, Frank Vogel, the team’s head coach, has never been to the Finals, thanks in no small part to the Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra (and LeBron). Davis will be making his first Finals appearance this season as well.
So how have they managed to have a collective championship mindset this season, you might ask? By acting like they’ve been there before.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have never been here before that already behave like champions,” Vogel said. “There’s that old phrase ‘champions behave like champions before they’re champions.’ Obviously the experience brings value, but the guys that are here having that hunger whether they’ve been there or not.”
That’s obviously a lot easier said than done — just ask every team the Lakers have played in the playoffs so far, and the ones that didn’t make it — but it’s easier to adopt a winning mindset with leaders that have seen and done it all. Add in a few players that are ready for the moment already, and you’ve got a good mix.
“That ability to perform at a level to become a champion, that’s what’s most important,” Vogel said. “That’s what I feel like our whole roster represents.”