Would it mean a little something extra to Kent Bazemore to start alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on this Lakers team loaded with iconic players from his era? Let’s get that part out of the way.
“1,000%,” he says, but during an especially candid session with the local media, the veteran shooting guard also made it clear that he’s unsure if he deserves the spot. Despite injuries to basically every other shooting guard on the team potentially clearing the way for him to start at the 2, after a preseason that saw him shoot 37.5% from the field and 36% from three, Bazemore is clearly unhappy with how he’s played, and not quite sure if he’s earned the chance to have his name called with the Lakers’ first five.
“I’m still figuring things out. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had coach experimenting with lineups,” Bazemore said. “A lot of times I watch myself on film and it’s kind of like a deer in the headlights just trying to read these guys.”
“The most simple way I could put it is like having a new job,” Bazemore continued. “This is my fourth team in three seasons. New playbooks, personnel, it’s been a lot of moving parts around me, and it’s just been a little bit of an identity crisis at times.”
That’s a far more harsh self-evaluation than players normally offer up publicly during the usually kumbaya press conferences of training camp, but Bazemore said that it’s part of the process with how much he’s bounced around over the last two years.
Since the summer of 2019, Bazemore has played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. In a new situation again in Los Angeles, he’s just trying to acclimate as quickly as possible.
“You play for different teams, and teams put you in different spots. You play the 3 with different teams, you play the 2, you’re the secondary ballhandler on a second unit. There’s just so many different places you get put in and they get scrambled a bit,” Bazemore said. “It’s just figuring all that out.”
But make no mistake: Bazemore hasn’t given up. He didn’t reject a bigger offer from the Warriors to come to Los Angeles because he doesn’t think he can fit. He still thinks he can impact this team, he’s just not happy with how he’s played to this point.
“This is a great team,” Bazemore said. “I see myself being a huge part of this team’s success with the pieces that I bring to the game. Defense, the trey-ball, positivity, optimism and so many things that I bring. It’s just about figuring it out.”
“The energy and effort is there,” Bazemore added. “All (the other) stuff will come in due time. I understood when I came here that it would be a process. Winning a championship with some franchises takes a couple years for a unit to get it done, and we’re trying to do it in one. So that’s the beauty in all of this. I’m just taking it day-by-day.”
Still, in the moments Bazemore allows himself to think about the future, he can admit it would mean a more to start on this team than it would on others.
“I was fortunate enough to get to start a couple games in Atlanta with four All-Stars back in 2015. (Jeff) Teague, (Kyle) Korver, (Paul) Millsap and (Al) Horford,” Bazemore said. “Coming from where I’m from and having an outside shot at the beginning to even make it, to even get a contract, you fast forward 10 years, to get to share the court with some of the greats of my era, it’s a humbling experience.”
Bazemore says that he’s been waiting the whole preseason for someone to ask him what he did that day, just so that he can enthusiastically reply “I played basketball with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook!” Whether he starts beside them or not, all offseason he’s been transparently excited about even getting the opportunity to be a part of a team with so many Hall-of-Famers, and to potentially play a big role on it.
“I think with my upbringing, continuing to be grounded allows me to appreciate those things and not take it for granted. I think I’ve done a good job this year in my own right of just kind of staying the course,” Bazemore said. “It’s easy to kind of get frustrated with how things have been going. If you look at the results, it’s easy to get frustrated. But if you watch the film, you see the growth. You see the glimpses of what this team is going to be, and that just gets you fired up to get working.”