May 24, 2024

The interview table sat in the middle of the Lakers’ El Segundo practice facility, championship banners overhead and title trophies on their usual perch inside co-owner Jeanie Buss’ upstairs office.

One by one, the 14 players on the Lakers’ roster sat behind the microphone Monday, the absence of controversy or any bad vibes notably keeping things vanilla.

The stars all said they were healthy, happy with the offseason training and rebuilding of the roster. The role players talked about finding ways to impact winning. Laughter and smiles outnumbered any eye-rolls or double-meanings.

The Lakers were focused Monday and free of the drama that can dominate early-season storylines.

The team that made it to the West finals last season was largely back together in the building, and everyone seemed to be genuinely excited about that.

“We’re not going to shortcut any corners or whatever the case may be. But there should not be much teaching when it comes to us getting back on the floor,” LeBron James said Monday at media day. “We have that chemistry. Obviously, we have some guys that we are bringing into the fold, but we returned a lot of our core. … we have a lot of guys that know the system that can pick up right where we left off with just a little refresher, and I believe the guys that were brought in are smart enough to be able to catch on very fast.”

Later, when reminded about the rest of the league and the parity that exists, James again mentioned the Lakers’ continuity.

“Just because of how the way we finished last year, doesn’t mean it’s going to apply to this year,” he said before offering a counter. “This is the first time, since the ‘20-’21 run, that we’re returning a team. Besides that run, we’ve been a revolving door, we’ve had a lot of turnover. So I’m excited about us returning our core and then bringing in a lot of very, very, very good players that can help us continue to roll in what we was able to do.”

James sounded a lot like his teammates on Monday, a group confident in what they were able to accomplish in a short time together last season before largely running it back.

Dennis Schroder (now in Toronto), Lonnie Walker IV (Brooklyn) and Troy Brown Jr. (Minnesota) are the only players from the Lakers’ playoff rotation no longer with the team. In their place, the Lakers added Gabe Vincent from Miami, Taurean Prince from Minnesota and Christian Wood from Dallas. They also re-signed Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell while extending the contracts of Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Davis.

The other big piece of business: James’ fire that was dimming after the Lakers got swept by Denver last spring seems to be burning just fine.

“I feel like I got a lot more in the tank to give,” James said on the eve of his 21st NBA season.

They open training camp Tuesday in El Segundo expecting to be at full strength.

“The camaraderie’s definitely a lot better. I think we all get along really well, as well. These team workouts, these group workouts that we’re doing with groups of people — I think there’s a lot of chemistry with everybody,” second-year guard Max Christie said. “Everybody knows their role and everybody wants to play their role to excellence. I think everybody knows that at the end of the day we’re trying to win a championship. So everybody’s really getting along well. Everybody’s got that one goal in mind.”

Unlike Philadelphia with James Harden, the Lakers have no high-profile holdout. Unlike Boston, Milwaukee, Phoenix or Golden State, they don’t have some foundational change to the roster to dissect. The Lakers were absent from the last flurry of trade rumors, their chips put behind the internal improvement that can come from time together.

“It kind of gives us kind of a head start going into this season to kind of build off of where we left off last year,” Davis said.

Last season, the Lakers entered the year with a new head coach and a roster mismatch with Russell Westbrook at the foreground. The year before that, the Lakers leaned heavily into a pool of big-name veterans that didn’t pan out.

This summer, though, they moved prudently through the offseason, taking only minimal risks.

“A lot of teams around the league have made a lot of good moves to improve their teams. We did as well,” Davis said. “So we know every night, going into every game is going to be a battle. I think we’re prepared for it. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. But I like our chances against anybody. We have depth, we have speed, we have shooting, we have ballhandling, we have playmaking. We have it all. Now it’s just time to get on the floor.”

The biggest news Monday — James’ encouraging update of son Bronny and his progress to returning for USC this season — isn’t directly related to the Lakers’ on-court fortunes. With 80% of the starting lineup already named, there seemed to be no mad push to fill in besides James, Davis, Reaves and Russell. That storyline will undoubtedly develop over training camp, as well as monitoring how Vincent, Wood and Prince fit along with young players Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish, but compared with the biggest headlines Monday, that’s mostly a blip.

“We obviously think we have enough to compete to win the championship,” Reaves said. “Obviously we haven’t played a game yet. We got to take it one game at a time and can’t look that far forward. Having that playoff push last year to the Western Conference finals, just getting that taste, really that’s all you can really think about. For me especially. I just want to get back to that point and more.

“But I feel like we have an opportunity to do something special, and a bunch of guys are really unified to doing that. That’s all that really matters.”

And it’s all they really talked about.

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