Will the new-look Los Angeles Lakers find yourself being worthy of the hype?

FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES earlier than tipoff on the Footprint Heart in Phoenix, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook take the courtroom for a joint exercise that Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Phil Helpful guides.

“We have been tied on the hip, just about, since we made the acquisition,” James says of Westbrook at media day. “We will proceed to be that. We will maintain one another accountable.”

He is not mendacity. Identical to at their first sweat session collectively as teammates in August on the Yeshiva College Excessive College’s health club simply north of Beverlywood, California, Helpful places them by means of their paces.

James, sporting a black durag and a gold chain alongside together with his Lakers-branded shorts and cutoff T-shirt, locations the jumbo-sized plastic jug he is holding on a luxurious sideline seat. What started as a monthlong problem between him and his spouse, Savannah, to drink a gallon of water a day in pre-pandemic instances has continued for the 19-year NBA veteran.

Over the course of the subsequent half-hour, James is soaked with perspiration, as he goes by means of Helpful’s skill-sharpening impediment course.

The pair pull off a sequence of strikes: a drive right into a spin capped by a pull-up jumper; a crossover, adopted by two hesitation dribbles, a spin, then a reverse spin, and completed with a baseline fadeaway.

Mixture after mixture. Time and again.

Because the exercise drags on, increasingly Suns and Lakers gamers exit the courtroom to go to their pregame locker rooms, and increasingly followers enter the world and make their method all the way down to the decrease bowl to observe the warm-up.

That is their glimpse of the new-look Lakers for the day — James and Westbrook elect to not play within the sport partly due to an irregular 3 p.m. tip time — and James obliges by entertaining.

When a drill requires a layup on the finish, James finishes with a ferocious dunk.

When he loses the ball out of bounds attempting to execute one spin, he screams, “F—!” in frustration, earlier than recognizing a father and his son out of the nook of his eye, forming a shaka signal (hold unfastened) together with his proper hand and waving towards them in acknowledgment as a form of mea culpa for his cuss phrase.

With the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” pumping in over the sound system whereas James is hunched over and catching his breath as he watches Westbrook take his flip, James is all of a sudden upright, breaking out only a trace of the salsa he confirmed off in a current tender drink business.

As James and Westbrook make their way from one side of the court to the other when the workout is over, two fans — one in an orange LeBron Cavs jersey and the other in a black LeBron Lakers jersey — start bowing in James’ direction like Wayne and Garth saying, “We’re not worthy.”

While the Lakers are on the short list for most fascinating teams of the upcoming NBA season, are they worthy of the hype? Tinseltown has put together its fair share of celebrity-laden casts that flopped at the box office no matter how impressive the names on the poster were.

As L.A. embarks on its fourth season with James, its third with Anthony Davis and its first with Westbrook, managing the expectation of a team some have slotted to come out of the Western Conference with the spectacle of marquee names all adjoined to a single roster will be its biggest challenge. With only five holdovers from the 2020 NBA title team and nine new faces to integrate, time to coalesce will be imperative, but these Lakers can’t escape the fact that they’ll be scrutinized from the very start.

The questions are as prevalent as the star power. Will the pieces fit? How much personality is too much personality? Don’t all those veterans make them vulnerable?

Fans could tune in to see something awesome. They also could find themselves not being able to turn away if it looks like something awful.

“The game is won between those four lines,” James says. “And it’s not won on the bottom ticker, it’s not won in a newspaper and it’s not won on sports talk shows or things of that nature. We come out and put the time in, we put the work in, we make our own narrative.”


IT’S NEARLY A week into training camp, and L.A.’s undisputed leader is directing traffic during a spirited scrimmage to complete the day’s practice.

“Russ! This side, Russ, come on,” James says.

James, Westbrook, Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk are going up against a team with Dwight Howard and a handful of the younger players rounding out the camp roster.

As James shoots up the court on the right wing, he surveys the floor and keeps in his teammates’ ears.

Westbrook finds Davis with a pass at the top of the key and then comes back to retrieve the ball from a dribble handoff. While that action is occurring, Monk cuts from the short corner to beyond the arc to get a feed from Westbrook, and Davis parks himself at the high post.

“Throw it to him,” James instructs. “Throw it to him!”

As soon as Monk bounces the entry pass into Davis, James resumes the diagramming.

“Cut, Russ!” James barks, with just a bit more urgency in his voice.

Westbrook runs from the top of the key to the right wing, replacing the spot James was just in, before James goes silent and flips the switch from coach on the floor back to being a player. James sprints from one wing to the other and gets the ball from Davis.

Davis sets James a screen that allows him to dribble back toward the middle of the court, but James chooses to drive left. Kent Bazemore defends him and contains him enough to thwart a baseline path right to the rim, but it doesn’t matter.

James fakes a spin move to the paint, picks up his dribble and shoots a teardrop fadeaway over Bazemore’s outstretched arm that falls through the net.

“Good s—, LB! Good s—, LB!” Davis yells as they clap hands on their way back down the floor.

In this moment, nothing about the team feels old. It is new. It is fresh. It is engaged.

“Our energy has been off-the-charts good,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel says in describing camp. “Really attentive to what we’re trying to install with regards to our system and our culture.”

On the very next possession, however, Lakers training camp invite Trevelin Queen — all springy legs and long arms at 6-foot-6 and 24 years of age — cuts baseline and pushes off of James as he pops back out to the wing, sending the 36-year-old hurtling to the floor.

“Oh, s—. Oh, s—!” James bellows as he rolls over on the court.

By the point James will get up, each arms unfold vast, imploring the assistant coaches who’re monitoring the sport to name a foul, Queen has completed dunking the ball.

And in that second, the reminder of the uncertainty surrounding this group’s outward ambition — normal supervisor Rob Pelinka says he’s “obsessed” with successful the 18th championship in franchise historical past to interrupt a tie with the rival Boston Celtics for probably the most ever — is putting.

Masterful as they is likely to be, the margin for error shrinks when contemplating the tons of, if not hundreds, of possessions identical to that one which the Lakers’ growing old roster should face up to over the course of an 82-game season earlier than the playoffs even start.

James has had two of his previous three seasons sabotaged by important accidents, lacking 26 video games due to a excessive ankle sprain in 2020-21 and 18 video games in 2018-19 attributable to a strained groin.

A sprinkle of dangerous luck — like being within the improper place on the improper time when Solomon Hill lunges for a steal — and anybody on the Lakers is vulnerable, irrespective of the age.

Earlier than the Lakers’ six-game preseason slate had even completed, 36-year-old Trevor Ariza damage his proper ankle and 20-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker injured his proper thumb. Each required surgical procedure, and they’ll miss the beginning of the season.

The Lakers’ recognized amount is its established core. Half of their roster has made the All-Star group. However even when James and Westbrook put within the additional time collectively to construct cohesion, every part can collapse with one premature damage. And even when the Lakers keep away from severe accidents late within the season, who’s to say the group chemistry will come rapidly sufficient for them to be those hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June?


THERE THEY STAND.

The three-time Defensive Participant of the 12 months, subsequent to the No. 10 scorer in NBA historical past, proper beside the man with extra triple-doubles than Oscar Robertson, flanking the three-time assists chief, who’s shoulder’s size other than the three-time blocks champ and the person on whose title will possible be included in each dialogue in regards to the best basketball participant of all time forevermore.

Dwight. Melo. Russ. Rondo. AD. And Bron.

It is the newest and best assortment of expertise by a Los Angeles Lakers franchise lengthy recognized for stocking its group with the perfect the game has to supply; Anthony’s addition implies that seven of the highest 10 scorers of all time slipped on the purple and gold in some unspecified time in the future of their careers.

The six of them are gathered for a bunch {photograph} on the Lakers media day in El Segundo, California.

“Thought it was tremendous uncommon to get a bunch picture with all these future Corridor of Famers directly,” says J Alexander Diaz, who works for the Lakers as a artistic director and organized for the portrait. “Really thought it was a protracted shot, however glad it labored out.”

If choreographing a photograph might be thought-about a protracted shot, then how daunting is capturing a championship?

Whereas they pose in entrance of a easy, white backdrop, the sheer assemblage of superstars may as properly have include a blinking neon signal floating behind them, asserting what everybody is considering them: This group higher win.

The final couple of instances the Lakers tried one thing like this, it went awry. Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2003, and whereas that group made the NBA Finals and misplaced, it was the final season O’Neal and Bryant would play collectively. Almost a decade later, in 2012, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined Bryant and Pau Gasol in what would turn into one of the crucial tumultuous seasons in franchise historical past, as accidents and infighting doomed that squad.

Rajon Rondo is requested if he sees any parallels between the Mamba/Diesel/Mailman/Glove version and L.A.’s new superteam.

“All people’s up there in age,” the 35-year-old Rondo quips. “We have got a pair extra guys. I feel they’ve 4 [Hall of Famers]; we supposedly have six … 5½. I do not know. … It was some time again, however I feel the similarities are clearly the age.”

The Lakers understand it will not be simple to keep away from earlier failed makes an attempt of placing collectively a superteam. However what good is anecdotal proof when your meant course is unprecedented? James and Anthony are the primary pair of 19-year veterans to ever play collectively, as an example.

“Each season is totally different. Each problem is totally different. Yearly is totally different. And I am unable to base any earlier group or any earlier state of affairs,” says James, after he, Westbrook and Davis play collectively for the primary time in a preseason loss to the Golden State Warriors. “This yr is about how a lot work we will put in, how a lot need we have now to get higher and higher.”

It requires a sure hubris to willingly tackle the problem the Lakers are going through this season, however massive concepts, when correctly executed, convey with them higher satisfaction than easy options do.

“We perceive, I perceive who’s on the group,” says Anthony, who together with Westbrook are the one ringless members of the six-pack. “Proper now, we perceive, OK, Bron, Melo, Russ, AD, Dwight … it goes on and on and on. We simply wish to come collectively. We wish to take pleasure in this.

“While you’re on the highway to attempt to go win one thing, lots of instances the enjoyable might be taken out of it. We wish to take pleasure in this journey, man.”

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