Los Angeles – LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will launch their bid to return to the NBA summit on Tuesday with a new roster and a rejuvenated mindset after a badly needed break during their first full offseason in two years.
A year ago, James had just finished leading the Lakers to their 16th championship with a 4-2 series victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals after a grueling season upended by the pandemic.
The purple and gold confetti that greeted them had barely been swept up before the Lakers were hauling their weary bodies into another season just 72 days later.
While the NBA has rejected suggestions injuries spiked as a result of the compressed offseason, what is not in dispute is that injuries affected the Lakers more than any other team last year.
The Lakers had a strong start derailed when both James and Anthony Davis went down with serious injuries, with the team eventually bowing out in the opening round of the postseason.
Davis played only 36 of 72 games during the 2020-21 season, while James made only 45 appearances due to injury — the first time the 36-year-old has missed that many games in a single season.
James, however, is confident the extra rest will benefit the Lakers more than most.
“Last year after coming off the bubble, it literally took everything away from you,” James said during the Lakers’ recent preseason training camp.
“Any little bit of energy that you had, it was completely gone when we left there. To come back into the season with the quick start that we had, kind of the life of the party was just kind of stale. You know, rightfully so.
“Guys just didn’t have an opportunity to get a mental break.”
James says he has noticed a marked transformation in energy levels during the Lakers’ preparations for this season.
“You could definitely feel the energy shift a lot more in this season, the first two practices compared to last,” James said during training camp.
The extra rest may prove decisive for a Lakers roster which has the oldest average age (30.9) of any team in the NBA.
That’s due to a summer rebuilding process that has seen the Lakers bring in a number of veterans, highlighted by 32-year-old Russell Westbrook, who joined the team in a blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards. Other new signings include Rajon Rondo (35), DeAndre Jordan (33), Kent Bazemore (32), Carmelo Anthony (37) and Trevor Ariza (36).
While some have wondered whether the relatively advanced age of the Lakers roster might be the team’s undoing, head coach Frank Vogel prefers instead to emphasize the squad’s basketball IQ.
“Age does equal experience,” Vogel said. “IQ and intelligence help you win, and in terms of motivation, the motivation for us is that trophy, not what people are saying.
“This group is highly driven to get back on top and I don’t really think anything about what anybody’s saying about our age. But I do agree that the experience will be necessary and help us win.”
James also brushes off the jokes that have been made about the Lakers’ merry band of thirtysomethings.
Anthony, a close friend of James’ since the duo played on opposing teams in high school, is now a teammate and confident the accumulated mileage of the Lakers’ roster could carry the team back to the top.
“A lot of times when you put a group of players together, a group of talent like we have, it doesn’t work out,” Anthony said.
“But I think where we’re at in our careers and understanding what we have to do, understanding the sacrifices that we all have to make in order for us to work, that’s the beauty of the actual journey that we’re about to go on.”
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Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James