You can imagine the Lakers better spending their time this preseason with a string of get-to-know-you activities than with meaningful, high-effort basketball.
For a team as veteran as the Lakers — a believe me, they’re as veteran as they get in the NBA — the demands of a six-month, 82-game regular season are big enough where you don’t want to expend too much when the games don’t matter.
But that doesn’t mean that the training camp and preseason, which opens this week on Wednesday, will be without valuable information, clues that we can unearth to better know what could happen on the road ahead.
Here are five things worth focusing your magnifying glass on as the Lakers get ready for the regular season:
1. Is Anthony Davis really going to play more center?
It’s been the X’s and O’s-iest topic around the Lakers this offseason, and even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the answer could have all kinds of different ramifications.
Davis, who didn’t come into training camp in great shape a year ago after the Lakers’ quick turnaround, has always said he’s open to playing more minutes at center (while teams have constantly rostered bigs around him to keep him from needing to do so). The decisions to sign Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan coupled with comments from Rob Pelinka point to a reliance on those new centers.
It was true a year ago, and it’ll be true this season too — if LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy, the Lakers will be just fine. The Lakers need to decide if more minutes at center put that in jeopardy or not.
The upside is obvious — more spacing for lineups that will almost certainly need them. But we’ve heard this before about AD and it’s just never been fully realized.
2. How does Russell Westbrook fit with his fellow stars?
The biggest new name to join the Lakers this season, no one questions the talent and engine possessed by the NBA’s triple-double king. But how does Westbrook look on the court with LeBron James? No one can be too sure.
When you talk to people in and around the organization, they recognize the awkwardness with James — two players at their best with the ball in their hands. While the minutes with James off the floor, a huge problem for the Lakers the last two years, will have way more firepower, the big questions will be the ways Westbrook impacts the Lakers off the ball.
3. Who is going to start?
We know James will be there. We know Davis and Westbrook will be too. And from there? It’s a bit of a mystery.
Knowing the Lakers and Frank Vogel, they won’t commit to any too early, but we should get an idea of where his mind is at with some of the early-season lineups.
Will Jordan open at center? What about Trevor Ariza? Where do the Lakers stand with Kent Bazemore and Wayne Ellington? The gap in talent (and likely usefulness) after the Lakers’ big three through the rest of the roster is fairly slim meaning almost anything could happen.
4. Will any of the young guys break out?
It was a bit of a surprise Sunday when the Lakers signed rookie Austin Reaves, a move that gets the end of the bench a little younger, with so many signs pointing to another veteran. But it’s a reminder, and team sources will point this out, that the Lakers aren’t only looking at the now.
They’re obviously invested in 20-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker, the start of last year’s preseason, and expect him to take another step (this time as a defender). But there’s been real buzz about back-up guards Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk in offseason workouts.
While a lot of the roster was built to maximize LeBron James’ remaining title chances, the younger players on the roster, if they bust out and develop, are there to eventually help Anthony Davis.
5. How rested does LeBron James look?
The last time the NBA schedule allowed LeBron James an extended break, he looked like the best player in the NBA bubble and led the Lakers to a championship.
After getting bounced in the first round, James once again had a real offseason. His new teammates have marveled at James’ energy, his Instagram story littered with posts from 6 a.m. workouts.
For everything else — the new additions, the Hall of Fame names, even Anthony Davis’ all-around game, the Lakers are still James’. And if he looks good, fans should feel good.