Over recent seasons the Los Angeles Lakers worked a balancing act between developing their young core while the front office also worked to free up salary cap space to pursue stars in 2018 and 2019 free agency.
The paths crossed this summer when LeBron James signed a four-year contract, in part because of the promise shown by Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. For much of last season the proverbial ‘Lakers young core’ was comprised of Ball, Ingram and Kuzma.
After a slow start to his rookie year, Hart played his way into making the trio a quartet. His personality and competitive spirit meshed well with the group. He, like Ball, Ingram and Kuzma, said they couldn’t rely on an offseason of hope that the Lakers would sign one or two superstars.
Now that it’s come to fruition, Hart hopes it won’t negatively impact how the young players develop as leaders themselves. “It definitely helps, because you’ve got guys like LeBron and JaVale who were champions. And then you have Lance, who brings a certain type of grit to the game. You have [Beasley], Rondo who’s a world champion,” he began.
“So you have veteran guys who have been through everything. It’s good, because we can learn from them. I just hope it doesn’t stunt B.I.’s growth, or my growth, or Lonzo’s growth in terms of being a leader. I think we can learn a lot from them. I think we’re going to hold each other accountable to it, but it’s just make sure we talk as young guys. It’s not just, ‘OK, the vets say this, and this is what it is.’ Not challenging the vets, but just having conversations, trying to learn and also grow into your leadership role.”
When asked who besides James he could envision emerging into a leader, Lakers head coach Luke Walton named Hart and Rajon Rondo.
As for his play on the court, Hart had an impressive offseason and one that included winning Las Vegas Summer League MVP. He didn’t use that as a point to rest, however, but instead continued honing his skills.
“Definitely my handle. Working with Miles, working on that 15 minutes everyday before I start working out,” Hart said of his work after Summer League. “Being able to shoot off the dribble is something I’ve been really working on after Summer League, and decision making. Summer League, I forced a couple shots that I definitely shouldn’t have.
“Now it’s just about making those reads, especially when we’re playing pickup, making those different reads and taking good shots when I’m open.”
Though Hart expressed some concern over what the arrival of James and other veterans could mean for the younger players, he doesn’t have any questions about their ability to come together. “We’ve got a lot of great basketball players, high-character guys who have bought into this system, to each other and to winning,” Hart said.
“When you have guys who have bought in, obviously it takes time to get that chemistry down. There’s, what, six new players? It will be a little more seamless just because everyone has bought in, everyone wants to bring the winning culture back to L.A. It will take time but we’re all invested in it. We all want to do it.”