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NBA PM: Lakers Show Optimism About Upcoming Season

Lakers players, both old and new, expressing plenty of optimism about the upcoming season, writes James Blancarte.

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Earlier today, several NBA teams hosted their annual media day, which signals that the upcoming NBA season is right around the corner. One of those teams was the Los Angeles Lakers, who arguably have more to look forward to this upcoming season than they’ve had in several years.

The Lakers are building a path to long-term success, which is based heavily around Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. With a building core of young talent, expiring contracts and strong signings, like the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers have several options in how to move forward. The team can continue to nurture this talent and build organically or it can be aggressive and make the necessary deals to be in position to land top-level stars this season or in free agency next summer.

The biggest name most often mentioned as a potential Laker is Los Angeles native Paul George. The hope for the Lakers is that George, who was acquired by the Thunder earlier this offseason, fails to find the requisite success necessary to convince him to re-sign in Oklahoma City and, as a free agent, decides to sign with the Lakers next summer.

George spoke at Oklahoma City’s media day and stated his approval of the Thunder organization, which pulled off a deal to acquire forward Carmelo Anthony this past weekend.

“It’s Year One and (the Thunder have) proven, and I haven’t even gone through a season yet, and they’ve already proven everything on my checklist I can check off,” George stated per Sam Amick of USA Today. “That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me and somewhere I can call home for years.’”

Lakers fans and those within the organization will surely keep a close watch on George and his situation in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder put together an unexpectedly good season and develop high-level chemistry, that could prevent George from taking his talents to Los Angeles. Another thing to note in this equation is the enormous bill it will cost Oklahoma City to keep Westbrook, Carmelo and George past this season. Oklahoma City isn’t likely to invest the sort of money necessary to keep these three together if the team falls short of expectations this season or if these three talented players experience internal discord. However, if today is any indication, the Thunder may have a better chance of retaining George beyond this year than most predicted when they traded for him.

Beyond George, the Lakers have plenty to be excited about heading into this season. The Lakers bring back a lot of young talent in players like Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Ingram and Jordan Clarkson.

Clarkson was asked questions regarding his thoughts on the Lakers’ upcoming season, his role and his mentality.

“Coming off the bench, I’ve worked hard, a lot this summer, trying to change my mentality,” Clarkson said. “Even taking this whole NBA career life, putting in that work.”

Clarkson went on to address what he worked on the most in the offseason.

“I would say, mostly my left hand. That left side of the court just to being able to get to stuff. I’ve seen my numbers and seen how effective I’m not on that side of the floor, just something I wanted to look at and get better.”

Clarkson had the chance to start last season and play the point guard spot as Coach Luke Walton experimented with different linups at the end of the season. Clarkson was specifically asked if he was more comfortable in the sixth man role.

“Yeah, for sure,” Clarkson said. “It being stated (that I would be coming off the bench) and talking to coach, and stuff like that. Just having that already going in. You know, not knowing your role and stuff like that. Definitely, something that is a little more comfortable.”

At age 25, Clarkson is one of the older players in the Lakers’ young core. His defense has been an issue in the past, which needs to be addressed this season.

One player who should be particularly helpful on defense for the Lakers this upcoming season is Brook Lopez, who was acquired in the deal that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.

Lopez spoke about growing up as a Lakers fan and whether playing for the team was something he had dreamed of.

“It is (a dream come true) being from North Hollywood, a Cali boy,” Lopez said. “You grew up a Lakers fan, hardcore Lakers fan. So, it’s a trip for me, you know? It’s an honor and I’m thrilled to be here.”

Lopez also spoke about the team’s potential for the upcoming season and the team’s issues on defense.

“(There is) so much potential, you know, looking at the group we have. It’s such an exciting, electric group.”  Lopez said. “(I’m) excited to be a veteran and help lead them.

“I’ve been on teams where they talk about it and teams where they back it up. You can kind of tell who the talkers are and who the players are.”

With Lopez anchoring the team’s defense, the Lakers have the means to become a league average defensive team or better. While the Lakers have considerable young talent, they’ll need to show significant improvement on defense in order to find any sort of success this upcoming season. The team knows it and should benefit from having a veteran like Lopez to lean on.

Another player that should help shore up the Lakers’ defense is guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract to join Los Angeles this offseason.

Caldwell-Pope was asked about the circumstances surrounding his signing.

“The Lakers came with an offer. It was an offer that had everyone backed off” Caldwell-Pope said. “It was really the only offer we had on the table. When I had the meeting with them before, I felt like it was an easy decision for me and my family.”

Caldwell-Pope was also asked what role Coach Walton has in mind for him.

“Just come in, play defense, be a leader for this team even though I’m just a 24-year-old. But you know just be a leader,” he said. “Just run the floor, he wants to play fast, I feel like I’m the best fit for that on this team.”

The topic returned to defense and Caldwell-Pope touched on the same themes Lopez had.

“Just going out and doing it. Actions speak louder than words,” Caldwell-Pope said. “So just by going out and playing hard each and every possession. And just showing everyone what to do on defense. You know, I make mistakes but I play hard. Just by doing that, it can be contagious.”

Caldwell-Pope was asked if he thought he was an underrated player.

“Yes, yes I do,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I think I have more to my game than people say.”

Caldwell-Pope will surely be motivated to show those in and around the league what he is capable of after finding a disappointing market in free agency this offseason. However, those circumstances led Caldwell-Pope to the Lakers, where he will be featured in a prominent role. If he exceeds expectations and helps the Lakers take a step forward in their collective development, he should find strong interest in his services next summer.

Whether talking to one of the Lakers’ young new comers or one of the team’s more tenured veterans, there seems to be genuine excitement surrounding this team – something that couldn’t definitively be said in previous seasons. With the addition of Lonzo Ball, the addition of veterans like Lopez and Caldwell-Pope and another year of development before potentially going after some of the league’s biggest stars in free agency, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Lakers’ future.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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