On Tuesday evening at Petros restaurant in Century City, the Lakers 710 ESPN radio broadcast team of John Ireland and Mychal Thompson sat down for an evening with Lakers executives Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka alongside coach Luke Walton.
Among the first topics discussed in an hour of conversation was the latest acquisition made by the front office, veteran big man Andrew Bogut.
“There was an analytic that the front office ran that said our team last year had one of the lowest percentages in stopping other teams at the rim,” Pelinka explained. “Teams would get by us on the perimeter and finish at the rim. So we addressed that with a guy like Andrew Bogut, who can come in and be a paint protector. I think the roster is retrofitted for better defense.”
Bogut’s defensive ability has been well proven in his 12-year career since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005, and he anchored the 2015 Warriors team that won the title. Injuries have been an issue in recent years, but Bogut does provide a counterpoint to likely starting center Brook Lopez, who put up 20.5 points per game last year in only 29.6 minutes.
It’s likely that Walton played a key role in why Bogut chose the Lakers.
“I said, ‘I would obviously love to have you,” Walton told Ireland and Thompson. “You can anchor our defense, you can pass the ball. The fact that you’re a champion around our young players is something that could be huge for us.’ … Bogut had other teams that were interested in him obviously, but he chose us.”
Pelinka conveyed his more global message about L.A.’s team by using 90 years young Bill Bertka, a legendary coach and scout who is quite impressed with the young core of players.
“(Bertka) came into my office just the other day, and he said, ‘In my 50 years, I’ve never seen a young group of Lakers players compete like this ever.'”
Pelinka also highlighted how recent No. 2 overall picks Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are “diving at halfcourt to get a loose ball” while working out daily at the brand new UCLA Health Training Center, and mentioned how impressively Julius Randle responded to Magic Johnson’s call about getting in world class shape.
“You see Julius Randle could be on the cover of ‘Men’s Fitness’ or something,” Pelinka relayed.
Randle made a big improvement in his overall game last season, and projects to start at the four, where there happen to be two other players that are fighting for minutes.
“There’s a great competition there between Julius and Larry (Nance, Jr.) and (Kyle) Kuzma, who can play some four too and is probably the best 3-point shooter out of the three of them.”
Fortunately for Walton, he can get away with playing either Randle or Nance, Jr. at both the four and the five, and Kuzma at the three and the four, in order to find more minutes for each.
Envisioning line ups throughout the offseason has been a bit easier for Walton since he’s had the benefit of watching each and every young player on his roster in the new gym.
“Jeanie and everyone else that was involved in that (UCLA Health Training Center) did an amazing job,” he said. “I’ve been in every gym in the NBA from playing to coaching. It is hands down the nicest practice facility in the NBA.
“You come in every day and we have the music on, players are in the weight room. Brandon Ingram’s in there at the same time every single day. You see the culture starting to happen.”
Towards that end, Walton got a call on Memorial weekend from his strength coach, asking if it was cool for Ingram to go get an early workout in on the holiday.
“That’s 8 a.m. on Memorial Day weekend when you have five months off,” he recalled. “(Ingram has) literally been doing that all summer. He loves to work. He loves to get better. We expect him to have a really nice jump.”
Though Walton didn’t want to give his starting line up, one could be forgiven for assuming that Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pop would join Randle and Lopez to go alongside one position where Walton has in fact already acknowledged a decision.
“Lonzo, who’s going to be our starting point guard, is the best point guard on our team,” said Luke. “So he deserves to start. But a lot of it, to me, comes down to training camp. Is Kuzma gonna outplay so-and-so? It’s all about earning time.”
Walton went on to detail a clear focus for training camp, which starts Monday.
“Defense is everything to start,” he said. “It’s defense, defense, defense, because we want to run. We want to run every opportunity we can. But it’s a lot easier to run when you can get stops and you’re not taking the ball out of the net … Our focus is going to be on getting that ball, getting it to Lonzo and getting on those wings and running as fast as we can.”
Jeanie Buss shared some thoughts on Kobe Bryant, as well, after announcing that his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys would be retired on Dec. 18.
“It was important to me that his numbers are on the wall when we host the 2018 All-Star Game at STAPLES Center,” she said. “And I wanted to make sure that he was represented, because he is the reason that building is hosting the All-Star Game in 2018.”
The Lakers owner, CEO and governor shared that Kobe is somebody she’s called and asked for advice, and that he’s very clear and focused upon looking at the big picture and being strategic. She wants to both represent Kobe’s contributions and also look ahead.
“Nobody has Kobe’s old locker,” she offered. “This is really set up for this young team to write their chapter in Lakers history. And that’s what we want. We want them to honor the past, but also know that they are the future.”
Jeanie’s stated primary mission is to get the Lakers back into championship contention, as she learned better than anybody from her father, Dr. Buss.
Pelinka, of course Kobe’s agent for many years, told a story about the time Kobe was deciding whether or not to re-sign with the Lakers, and he received a telegram from Dr. Buss, then vacationing in Italy.
“He said, ‘Kobe, as you make this decision, never bet against me winning championships!’,” Pelinka relayed. “Kobe read it, and I remember he said, ‘That says it all. I’m staying.'”