Los Angeles Lakers basketball is finally returning with training camp and Media Day interviews scheduled for this upcoming Monday.
LeBron James is holding a minicamp for Lakers players this weekend, attended by everyone on the roster besides Dennis Schroder — who signed with L.A. just a few days ago. Russell Westbrook’s presence at the minicamp suggests he will indeed start the 2022-23 season with the Purple and Gold despite the franchise’s extensive efforts to trade the 2017 NBA MVP over the summer.
But Westbrook’s future is just one of the many unknowns going into the official training camp. The Lakers head into the 2022 preseason with a new head coach in Darvin Ham and a heavily reshuffled roster — after an arguably average offseason.
Media Day will give Ham and his players a chance to answer some of the questions about the state of the team on Monday. Here are five things to watch for as L.A. begins the key three-week lead-up to the Opening Night matchup with the Golden State Warriors.
All things Westbrook
Judging by Ham’s comments on Westbrook over the past few weeks, the 49-year-old head coach will likely keep trying to put a positive spin on the playmaker’s return to L.A. The one thing that would make the headlines is Ham’s commitment — or lack thereof — to include Westbrook in his starting 5 amid the reports the franchise considers having the 33-year-old guard come off the bench.
Other than that, all eyes will be on Westbrook himself. The last time he spoke, the guard offered a litany of grievances against his teammates and coaches to justify the disastrous 2021-22 performance. What will Westbrook have to say now after seeing his game disparaged amid the Lakers’ efforts to move him ahead of the new season?
It’ll be worth paying attention to Westbrook’s tone and body language, particularly when he gets asked about his role and spot in the starting lineup — if he sits down for an interview at all, that is. The Lakers keeping him away from the media would also speak volumes.
Is Kendrick Nunn healthy?
Kendrick Nunn’s absence in 2021-22 generated a lot of attention as what was expected to be a three-week layoff with a bone bruise in his knee turned into a missed season. Also, Nunn himself appeared to be touchy when discussions over his recovery took place earlier in the summer.
The Lakers are surely expecting questions about the guard’s health, so they should have something to say in regards to the 27-year-old’s availability for the preseason and the start of the 2022-23 campaign.
Is Austin Reaves ready to make a second-year leap?
Reaves has reportedly been one of the standouts of the Lakers’ summer practices, continuing to impress the team after a breakout rookie season. Ham has also been mentioning the Oklahoma alum’s name in the same breath as LeBron James’ or Anthony Davis’ when speaking of his team’s leaders.
The Lakers head coach might not be able to tell whether or not Reaves will take one of the spots in the starting lineup. But Ham should have an idea of where the second-year guard is in his development and what kind of role he envisions for him.
Will Patrick Beverley defend wings?
Speaking of guards, there are so many of them on the Lakers’ roster. As many as 10 players who are 6-foot-6 or shorter will play for L.A. in 2022-23.
Although the Purple and Gold seem to be moving away from designating Davis as their starting center, they will still end up with undersized lineups on the court most of the time next season. Ham could explain how he plans to negate the size disadvantage, distribute rotation minutes among all the guards — and whether he really sees the 6-foot-1 Patrick Beverley guarding top-level wings on a regular basis.
Where will shooting come from?
Despite their crowded backcourt, the Lakers still appear to lack shooting having failed to trade for anyone besides Beverley in the summer. Beverley, Nunn and Lonnie Walker IV are the only Lakers guards with a career 3-point percentage higher than 34%.
It’s common knowledge that surrounding James with shooters is the recipe for success, so where will the shooting come from for L.A. in 2022-23? Also, Ham could discuss whether the roster construction will offer a chance for rookie Cole Swider to quickly climb up the team’s hierarchy, similarly to Reaves last season.
Swider emerged as one of the best shooters of the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League, ending up as one of the two players to shoot 50% from downtown while attempting at least 7.0 3-pointers a game.