The Los Angeles Lakers finished their third day of training camp on Friday afternoon, their second-to-last practice before their first preseason game. This was the third day in a row that the Lakers played some 5-on-5, as Frank Vogel continues to instruct the players on their systems and practices, something that I’m sure will take more than a few days given all of the roster turnover.
Either way, this unfamiliar team seems to be having some fun getting back to work and getting to know each other. Even the “old heads” are getting in on the excitement, including Carmelo Anthony, who spoke to reporters on Friday.
Carmelo Anthony is fine with whatever the Lakers need from him
Many of the new Lakers have preached the idea of sacrifice, knowing that the size of their roles on previous teams may not be the same on this talent-heavy Lakers roster. That idea applies to the 37-year-old Carmelo Anthony as much as it applies to, say, a 23-year-old Malik Monk, as sacrifice will be needed from nearly everyone (even the Lakers’ three superstars) if the team is to compete for a championship.
When Anthony was asked after Friday’s practice about starting or coming off the bench this season, he continued to exhibit this mantra.
“I don’t know, man. I had to adjust to that last year,” Anthony said when asked if he would start or come off the bench. “It was cool after I got my feet wet and understood what my role was gonna be on that team. It’s the same here.
“With this team, I kind of look at it like the USA Team,” Anthony continued. “There’s so much talent that you’ve got to figure out what works together, what doesn’t work together and how it works together, and how well it comes together. And again, at this point man, whatever we need to do, let’s do it. I can’t sit and be like ‘I want to start’ or ‘I want to come off the bench.’ Whatever it is, it is. I’ve had and experienced being a starter for 17, 18 years, and had the experience of coming off the bench for one year. So it’s not something I think about.”
Yes, that’s right, folks. The 2021-22 Lakers are as good as Team USA. You heard the man.
Some may scoff at the idea of Anthony being okay with the idea of coming off the bench for the likes of say Trevor Ariza and/or Wayne Ellington (two players who are reportedly likely to start), but this isn’t new territory for him. As he said, Anthony had to accept a full-time reserve role with the Trail Blazers last season after starting nearly every game he played with them in the prior season. At the time, Anthony did admit it was hard for him, saying at the time it was tough to “swallow that pill”.
The Trail Blazers definitely have some top-heavy talent in the form of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but the talent of that team was nothing compared to the combined talent at the top of the Lakers’ roster with LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook. In addition to that, the roster is deep all the way down to the bottom, much deeper than last season’s Blazers.
If Anthony eventually became fine with the situation in Portland, then he should have no problem with whatever role he receives in L.A. He said as much when asked if he’s even discussed his role with Vogel and the coaching staff.
“Nah, I haven’t,” Anthony said. “I’m not even thinking about it. Whatever you want, let’s do it. I’m not even tripping about that at this point. It’s let’s go. Let’s go win.”
With all that said, the Lakers’ roster is set up in a way where Anthony should come close to the 24.5 minutes per game he saw last year. Although Rob Pelinka definitely added some shooters in the offseason, there may always be a need in that department on this team given Russell Westbrook’s lack of 3-point shooting, which will cause opposing defenses to pack the paint more than they usually would.
Anthony should play often when you think about his ability to provide shooting (40.9% on 4.7 3-point attempts per game last season) combined with his experience playing the 4. With him at the 4, you can still surround Westbrook in a bench lineup with competent shooters at the 2 and 3 and get away with that spacing, even if you have a non-shooter at the 5 like Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan.
And even if Anthony finds himself nearing 20, 15, or even 10 minutes per game, it’s reassuring that he says that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time, and it’s even more comforting that this isn’t his first time making a personal sacrifice for the betterment of his team.
Frank Vogel “excited” about the Lakers offense
Our resident Ted Lasso spoke to reporters after Friday’s practice as well. In the virtual scrum, Vogel was asked by Lakers reporter Mike Trudell if clarity and cohesion are hard to come by given the rampant roster turnover the team had this offseason, with only three players returning.
“Well, it doesn’t change for me and my coaching staff. It changes for the new guys,” Vogel said. “They have to get up to speed with the way we do things. But, like I said, they’re picking it up very quickly. We’re doing some things differently offensively that we’re all figuring out, processing, just trying to best utilize this year’s personnel, trying to tailor it to their strengths and weaknesses. That’s something that I’m pretty excited about, and I feel like our guys are getting on the same page with as well.”
And if there’s one area that Vogel struggles with as a coach, it’s offense. He’s received his much-deserved praise for his work on the Lakers’ defense (ranked No. 1 in defensive rating last season despite Anthony Davis’ absence for nearly 3 months), but he’s struggled to get the team near the top of the league’s best offenses even with LeBron and Davis heavily involved (No. 11 in offensive rating in the 2019-20 regular season, the year the team won the title).
Russell Westbrook should definitely aid in that regard, but LeBron, Davis, and the Lakers’ coaching staff will have to adapt to fit Westbrook into their system. It’s much easier to plug-and-play with a player like Dennis Schröder (although that didn’t work well either) given his respectable 3-point shooting. Vogel will not only have to come up with specific lineups to cover up Westbrook’s poor shooting, but he will have to change core principles of the way the Lakers play offense.
Given the team’s aspirations this season, it's refreshing to hear that they’re already doing all that on day three of camp.
Notes and Updates
- Frank Vogel gave us some bad (but not surprising) news, saying LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Trevor Ariza will all sit out the Lakers’ opening preseason game on Sunday against the Nets. He added that Anthony Davis will play, but only in the first quarter.
- Carmelo Anthony appeared to have a minor black eye when speaking to reporters on Friday. When asked, Anthony joked that they should “Ask Anthony Davis” as it seems he may have inadvertently caught a shot in the face from Davis.
Melo, asked about the shiner on his eye:— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 1, 2021
"Ask Anthony Davis... He tried to take me out early."
- Anthony seemed to be in a joking mood overall, as he had some quips to being asked if he had given thought to how long he’ll play. Dave McMenamin of ESPN stated that Tom Brady is going to play until he’s 50 years old, with Anthony responding with “Brady’s got an offensive line,” among other jokes.
Here is Melo's full exchange with the media after being asked if he's thought about how much longer he wants to play: pic.twitter.com/YpI9Z62AnD— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 1, 2021
- Kendrick Nunn also spoke after Friday’s practice, discussing why he signed with Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports and what the coaching staff has told him about his role this year.
Kendrick Nunn, on why he signed with Klutch.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 1, 2021
"It was a big decision for me. Obviously every year I want to elevate my game, man, and this year I wanted to also elevate my reputation. That's why I signed with Klutch."
The Lakers will practice again on Saturday before hosting the Nets in their preseason opener on Sunday.