There was one Laker who wreaked havoc throughout practice, whose defense was so stifling that coaches encouraged any player with the misfortune of facing him to just give up the ball, not even try to dribble.
That man was Avery Bradley, who joined forces with All-Star forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis during a scrimmage.
“He’s the guy that everybody’s talking about,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Anthony and LeBron look imposing together, that lineup today looked imposing together. We’ve got two of the best players in the world competing together, and all anybody’s talking about is Avery Bradley’s tenaciousness.”
Bradley was one of the Lakers’ trial starters Sunday, joining Dwight Howard and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the teammates of James and Davis. They dominated practice, in Vogel’s opinion, in no small part because of Bradley.
“We saw a mismatch, in LeBron and Anthony’s team really sort of had their way with the other teams,” Vogel said.
So far, training camp is going according to plan for the combo guard, who has lofty goals for the season.
“This is a whole new opportunity for me to prove myself each and every night,” Bradley said. “There’s no bigger stage than this. Each and every night, every opportunity I get I’m going to try to prove, to show the world I’m the best perimeter defender in the NBA.”
Bradley, who turns 29 in November, joined the Lakers this summer on a two-year deal worth $9.7 million. It offered him a chance to return to Los Angeles, which made things easier on his family. Bradley spent parts of the past two seasons with the Clippers before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
In Memphis, Bradley found a comfort level that allowed him to excel offensively. He made 46.3% of his shots, and 38.4% of his three-point attempts, a marked improvement from his time with the Clippers. It allowed him to average 16.1 points in the 14 games he played with the Grizzlies, nearly eight points per game better than his average with the Clippers.
The Lakers are hoping for Bradley to continue that kind of production.
“He’s shooting the ball well too, offensively,” Vogel said. “… We’re going to use him a lot off of screens, not just a spot-up role.”
Vogel plans to change the starters every day during training camp. Each player he tries with James and Davis has an opportunity to earn a starting spot for the regular season. With Vogel’s emphasis on defense, the best defenders will be the most highly regarded.
The Lakers have constructed a roster of players who have been talented defenders at various points in their career. Six players have received NBA all-defensive honors. Bradley’s came in 2016 (first team) and 2013 (second team) when he played for the Boston Celtics.
“I like the fact that we’re more defensive-oriented,” said swingman Danny Green, who was selected to the league’s all-defensive second team in 2017. That’s the first [thing]. That’s the more important thing.”
It’s been several years since Bradley played on a team that included superstars. It’s a challenge and part of what drew him to the Lakers. He sees it as a chance for growth that he embraces.
“Whenever you surround yourself around the superstars like LeBron and Anthony Davis, you have to be on your ‘A’ game,” Bradley said, mentioning his time with Kevin Garnett in Boston. “I learned that earlier in my career playing with the KGs and Paul Pierces. Every single practice, every single walk-through you have to make sure you’re prepared.
“I wanted to challenge myself to get back to the point to make sure I’m always pushing myself so I can go out there and perform at a high level each and every night.”
Lakers center DeMarcus Cousins was spotted on the sideline during Sunday’s practice. Cousins won’t play this season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he is under investigation for domestic violence after his ex-girlfriend alleged that he threatened to kill her.
The Lakers are waiting on the NBA’s investigation to conclude before deciding how to move forward with Cousins.
“We’re going to abide by the league’s lead on this as that’s being investigated,” general manager Rob Pelinka said. “And because it’s a legal matter, we can’t really speak any further about that. Right now, he’s a member of our roster and a part of the team. We’ll just have to wait for guidance from the league on next steps.”