Lakers newsletter: Change is inevitable, for Lakers and newsletters
Hey everyone, my name is Dan Woike, and I’m the new Lakers beat writer for The Times. I spent the last two years covering the NBA for the paper (including the Clippers and the Lakers) before signing up to be on every Lakers Zoom call between now and next summer.
I’m originally from Chicago, I think “Hoop Dreams “is the best sports movie ever, love deep dish (but would rather have some amazing Chicago thin crust) and, despite thinking I once was cool, now mostly listen to music that can be best described as relaxing (check out the song of the week at the end of the newsletter).
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I’ve covered the NBA for nearly a decade now and the last year has been the strangest, ranging from the memorials for David Stern and Kobe Bryant to 50-plus days in the bubble to now covering a team without seeing them practice in person.
If you’ve got good restaurant recommendations near Long Beach, if you have a favorite beer you’re drinking or a basketball take you just have to get off your chest, you can find me on Twitter or you can text with me using Full-Court Text.
Alright, on to the writing…
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After a season where the Lakers navigated an international controversy, a national tragedy and a global pandemic, change was inevitable. I mean, even after a title, who in their right mind would want to run 2020 back?
So in the sprint from the end of the NBA’s bubble championships to the fast break NBA offseason, Rob Pelinka dismantled key parts of his title-winning rotation.
“You never know what to expect going into an offseason, especially when you’ve had the success that we had when you win a championship,” coach Frank Vogel said when I asked him about the turnover. “In whatever sport you’re talking about, going back to as many years as you want to, other teams always want your players when you win. So there’s always a competition to keep your guys, your core guys around. We knew that was going to play out.
“We also have a situation when you win a championship and an opportunity to win a championship again, to have great players that want to come play for you.”
Changes are inevitable after championships, but are they always this drastic? Were Pelinka’s moves indicative of how executives normally react to winning?
First, a recap of what he did.
He sought out a playmaker and another shot creator in Dennis Schroder, sacrificing a multi-time champion, a proven role player and a beloved locker room figure to get it done. He punted on the above-the-rim threats that Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee provided to add the anchored defensive IQ of Marc Gasol and the manic energy of Montrezl Harrell. And to make up for the loss of Danny Green, he added Wesley Matthews.
“Extremely excited to have those guys here,” LeBron James said. “We’re just working on our habits, working on what we want to do as a team, both defensively and offensively. ... Everyone is excited, but it’s a process. It’s going to get better and better every single day, every single practice. That’s what it’s all about. But we love what we brought to this ballclub as well as the guys that returned.”
Two decades ago when the Lakers were trying to repeat, a new general manager figured out a way to turn a disgruntled Glen Rice into Horace Grant, a champion-tested power forward who could replace A.C. Green. And as they went for a three-peat, Grant’s minutes went to Samaki Walker.
Ten years later as the Lakers tried to put together another repeat, they took a bigger swing, adding the volatile (and supremely talented) Ron Artest in lieu of keeping the much younger Trevor Ariza.
But the last two teams to repeat made smaller moves on the margins. The Miami Heat added Ray Allen to come off their bench (and he repaid them by hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history), and the Golden State Warriors just swapped out spare parts around Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
In fact if you look back at the last two decades of NBA championships, you might not find an offseason where the champions changed so much — with two, maybe even three, new starters depending on how Vogel wants to handle things.
And even though the Lakers’ top contenders all made moves, Pelinka’s plan was to keep the Lakers active.
“I think it’s easy to fall into complacency when you win a title and to just say, ‘Hey, let’s just run it back,’ ” he said before the team entered free agency. “But at the same time I think my school of thinking is always ‘Let’s find ways we can become even better. Every offseason let’s get better.’ I think we never want to just settle and I think this was an opportunity to get better.”
The changes come with a cost. The Lakers roster last season had flaws, but as a collective, they were close — something that played out especially as the team fought off trappings inside the bubble.
“I think this past year’s team was the closest team I’ve ever been on. Like the team that we had, that chemistry, doing everything together on the road, hanging out with each other in the bubble, I think that chemistry is what I loved the most about our team,” Anthony Davis said. “Every guy liked each other. That’s something that’s very rare on teams. You kind of have little cliques here or there. We were able to have all 15 guys buy into a system, buy into our chemistry.”
Repeating that won’t be easy — roles will change, minutes will fluctuate and winning might not come as easily. The hope is, though, that the Lakers leadership centers, predominantly James and Davis, will make it easy enough to integrate the new pieces.
“It’s hard to teach chemistry, you know?” Jared Dudley, the Lakers’ chemistry czar, said. “…It’s having the right personalities mesh together, and we’ll have, what, five or six new guys to mesh in. But it’s easy with us. We’ll do our team dinners. I’m sure we’ll do something.
“…The good thing about us as a team is that we bond. So for us, it’s just you have to get to know each other and we don’t we don’t want any people (to) go off on their own. We like to do everything together. So usually it’s easy to conform when you have nine or 10 guys already leading the pack.”
And it’s probably even easier when James is at the very front of it.
This week’s guest: Josiah Johnson
If you’re an NBA fan who uses Twitter (and really, you should), you’ve probably come across a hilarious meme, maybe with a voiceover, cracking jokes about LeBron haters, the Clippers, the Lakers and the latest league news.
The maestro behind many of those memes is a part of basketball royalty in Los Angeles. Josiah Johnson’s dad, Marques, is the NBA legend whose poster was on Michael Jordan’s wall in college. And Josiah followed his dad to UCLA, where he discovered a well-timed joke could be as important as a perfectly executed out-of-bounds play.
We chatted last week and traded some emails about the art of meme-ing and bench warming. Watch a video of the interview here.
Q: You’ve become a mainstay on Lakers’ twitter over these last two seasons, but they’re not your team necessarily right? Like you’re a full-on LeBron mercenary. Have you felt embraced by the lifers? Do they understand you’d be making Grizzlies memes if LeBron decided to play in Memphis?
Johnson: As a lifelong LeBron fan that grew up supporting the Clippers, it was a great moment when the King decided to make his next move his best move and join the Lakers. I’ve always said that my favorite team is LeBron, so to see him link up with the greatest franchise in the history of sports was like seeing a Popeye’s two-piece hook up with a biscuit and strawberry soda — it’s the ideal combo. Lakers fans hang banners and their fan base accepts nothing less but greatest so the first season was a little tough as the faint of heart began to have doubts as to what LeBron was bringing to the table. Naturally LeBron fans already knew what time it was and were happy to see Klutch bring balance to the force with the addition of Anthony Davis. So for LeBron to fulfill the prophecy and win a ring for the Lakers, it makes him something like a Black version of Neo from the matrix aka Ne-gro. Lakers fans and LeBron fans are one in the same now and for that I’m truly happy and grateful.
LeBron and Lakers fans knew that this relationship might only be temporary, but with Bron re-upping until 2023, he will likely retire a Laker and keep this marriage happy.
Also, I would never make LeBron Grizzlies memes cause LeBron would never willingly play for the Grizzlies. lol.
Q: It’s a broad question — and the answer is probably just “his greatness” — but what did you find so magnetic about LeBron? For me, it’s how he stared all the hype right in the eye and then exceeded it.
A: The fact that he embodies the American Dream. He grew up as a kid in Akron with nothing, worked hard, lived up to the hype and now he’s one of the most successful people on the planet. He’s also been an amazing ambassador of the game and always played the right way. LeBron is just a big kid that loves his life and his family and I think that is what we all aspire to do in our finite time on this earth.
Q: You’re living the American Dream in 2020, making people laugh without having to put on pants that have a button or a zipper. What makes for the perfect meme? What are your favorites?
A: The perfect meme is a mix of humor plus a relatable piece of pop culture that creates an emotion from the viewer with something they would never expect to see be used in the capacity that it is used in. I don’t really believe in the perfect meme though, because the perfect meme for a Lakers fan likely won’t be the perfect meme for a Clippers fan and vice versa. But if you can clown a player, team or fan base and even get them to laugh, or offer some elevated social commentary by transforming a piece of pop culture that has levels and layers, then you know you got something special.
I got too many favorite memes to count. LeBron slowly turning and staring down the camera is probably my favorite because of its versatility.
I put out a Full Court Text call on Sunday for questions — and a bunch of you wanted to know about the starting lineup including Sandra Ramey from Inglewood. She asks:
“Who will be the starting point guard for the Lakers?”
After hearing Dennis Schroder declare himself the starter before the Lakers even had a practice, he better go and win the job. With all the talk about the Lakers and chemistry, staking claim in a role you haven’t earned yet might not go over well.
The good news is that Schroder certainly made it seem as if he had reasons to think he’d be opening games with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Frank Vogel was less committal, saying he’d give the new acquisition strong consideration but that it was too early for any commitments.
Here’s the thing: Even if Schroder starts, he’s not the point guard — that’s LeBron James. Good news is Schroder can play off the ball with the starters and take over as the playmaker for stretches with the bench.
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Song of the week
This isn’t about the Lakers’ titles…..or is it? (It’s not). Watch and listen here.
Did you miss any of this?
Helene Elliott: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka treks grandmaster path to team building
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