Less than two months away from a title run in which they conquered not only their NBA rivals, but plenty of challenging conditions in the NBA bubble, the Lakers now feel more prepared for the unknown than before.
But even the defending champions admit that they are not quite sure what they are getting into.
As individual practice for training camp has begun, the organization is both buzzing about the roster – which is the oddsmakers’ favorite to repeat as champions this season – but the pandemic has so far limited their ability to start a band. Jared Dudley was at the practice facility in El Segundo on Thursday-morning and saw new teammate Dennis Schröder pass. While the two hope to play together for the Lakers’ first preseason game on December 11, they still have to spend some time together in the same room.
“I was hoping that when the season comes it would loosen up a bit, where we can be teammates again and hang out, talk,” Dudley said Thursday, as several Lakers players spoke to the media through Zoom before the start of camp. ‘We’ll see if there is some leeway. But COVID is here to stay. ”
Not long after the Lakers conquer the bubble, a new season begins, with restrictive protocols, daily tests, but standard travel. The players voted with the rest of the league to resume play on December 22, but those returning from last season’s run admit that they are still reeling from the brief turnaround.
Aside from short trips to Las Vegas and San Diego, the normally months-long victory lap was cut from a low season to weeks without a parade. Markieff Morris acknowledged that he first picked up a basketball about a week ago in this off-season. While Alex Caruso said he expected some transfer from last season to this season, Kyle Kuzma was more skeptical that a short off-season would be especially helpful for the older players.
“To warm up and warm up their bodies again, it’s a short time,” he said. “It will certainly be a disadvantage for teams that had late runs in the playoffs compared to the teams that didn’t make it to the bubble and left the bubble early.”
Adding to the uncertainty is COVID-19, which has already disrupted plans in football and college basketball seasons as teams deal with the consequences of positive tests. The NBA announced on Wednesday that there were 48 positive tests among 546 players who had been tested between November 24 and 30. The Lakers have not disclosed whether players have been unable to train due to a positive diagnosis of the coronavirus.
It’s a huge departure from the Orlando bubble, which had zero positive tests among the players who passed quarantine. Part of the upcoming season’s mindset, the Lakers acknowledged, will be prepared to intervene when players test positive, requiring a minimum of 12 days to clear protocols.
As a veteran group, the Lakers expect a high degree of responsibility for lowering risks out of court – wearing masks, isolating hands, and washing / disinfecting – but mistakes, they recognized, are inevitable.
“Yes, it is clearly going to be difficult,” said Kuzma. “As you can see in the league, there have been many positive tests from other players in those organizations. It goes all year round. I can’t stop guys from actively doing whatever they want in life. ”
Caruso pointed to the uncertainty with a quirk of the NBA schedule, which will be released in two parts starting Friday afternoon. Different players think it is possible that the playoffs will be held in a different bubble if the pandemic continues into spring.
“Last year we just dipped our toes in the water to see what it would be like,” said Caruso. ‘You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to play for several minutes on different nights, given the conditions of rest, COVID, of travel – whatever comes up, just be ready. I think one of the big things this year will be the mental strength of all teams. ”
The returning Lakers feel that the talent they brought in – Schröder, center Marc Gasol, forward / center Montrezl Harrell and wing Wesley Matthews most prominently – will fit well into their existing culture. While several players acknowledged that building chemistry will be more difficult this season than last, when group activities on road trips helped spur the process, they also think that with eight players returning, much of that chemistry is intact.
LeBron James, who signed a contract extension until 2023 on Wednesday, will be a key figure in pursuing championship culture, she added.
“Shoot, we’ve got LeBron James,” said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “His thinking and the way he approaches the game will rub off on everyone. I know he will be back, ready to compete. Especially for that second championship and he will let us know what time it is from the jump. ”