May 29, 2024

His shoulders were wider, his muscles more defined.

But Anthony Davis didn’t just look different.

He also sounded different.

Fewer laughs and smiles. No jokes about his beloved Green Bay Packers or their former quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

By virtue of the three-year extension he signed, the 30-year-old Davis showed up to the Lakers’ media day on Monday as the team’s most important player.

In his first act as LeBron James’ official successor, he didn’t make any inspirational speeches about his vision for the organization or the remainder of his career. He wasn’t Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King Jr. — or even LeBron James, for that matter.

Absent was the playfulness he often displayed over his previous four seasons with the Lakers. Lacking was any overt display of emotion.

Davis was pensive. He was focused. He was to the point.

Asked to recall the events that led to his $186-million extension, he replied, “They offered the extension. I accepted. That was really it.”

Answers like that will make it difficult for Davis to ever be the face of the Lakers, but maybe he won’t ever have to be. When James eventually departs, they can bring in the next star to partner with Davis and hope he is more gregarious.

None of this is to suggest that Davis doesn’t feel a sense of obligation toward the organization.

Davis said he’s made it a point to be more vocal, to be more of a leader.

“I think I’m going to be the second-oldest guy here now, so guys lean on me a lot, especially the bigs,” Davis said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility, being one of the leaders on the team alongside Bron.”

Lakers forward Anthony Davis dribbles a basketball as he poses for a photo on media day.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis poses for photo on media day.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Davis mentioned he especially wanted to provide guidance for two newcomers to the Lakers’ frontcourt, Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood.

In addition to leading them through early-morning workouts over the last week, Davis has taken them out for meals and invited them to his house, according to Hayes.

“He’s just been helpful in a lot of ways,” Hayes said.

“He’s been a leader,” Wood said. “Him and LeBron.”

Wood recalled how, on the first day he worked out at the Lakers’ practice facility, he arrived at 7 a.m.

“[Davis] and LeBron were already in the gym in a full sweat,” Wood said. “So that kind of motivated me to, ‘All right, now I gotta get here earlier than LeBron and A.D.’”

But …

“They wake up at 6,” Wood said. “I don’t know if I’m waking up at 6. But 7 o’clock will do.”

The mentorship is an extension of what Davis and James told Wood when they recruited him in free agency, about how they prioritized team goals over individual ambitions.

“It’s my job to help young guys and continuously be on them, let them know what we need and how we can get better and give them advice so we can all be together and unified to be able to compete for a championship,” Davis said.

For the Lakers to compete for a championship, the injury-prone Davis will have to remain healthy.

Davis was limited to 56 games last season and 40 the season before that. He missed half of the pandemic-shortened 72-game season in 2020-21.

“It’s my goal every year to play 82,” Davis said. “Every year, you want to come out every game and give your team an opportunity to win. Especially with my role, I know it’s a big piece on this team, and with me being on the floor, it definitely helps us.”

He’s right. His presence guarantees they will be competitive. Remember, when the Lakers started fighting their way back into playoff contention last season, James was sidelined with a foot injury. Davis was the team’s engine.

General manager Rob Pelinka and coach Darvin Ham raved last week about Davis’ offseason workouts, but Davis went out of his way multiple times to mention his regimen was unchanged. Perhaps Davis wanted to refute any suggestion that he needed a contract extension to be motivated. Or perhaps he wanted to make the point that his past injuries were due to bad luck and not a lack of preparation.

But Austin Reaves noticed a change. Reaves spent time away from the Lakers playing for Team USA. Asked which of his Lakers teammates changed the most from the time he left to when he returned, Reaves singled out Davis.

Reaves mentioned Davis’ improved shooting. He mentioned Davis’ work in the weight room.

“And the way he looks, the determination he seems to have,” Reaves said.

Could this be?

Could Davis finally have the mind-set that everyone has always wanted him to have?

The Lakers are counting on it.

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