Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun about the Raptors. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.
Hoops Rumors: Is the top priority for the Lakers this season to foster the development of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and their other young players, or is it to make a run at a playoff spot after two non-competitive years?
Mark Medina: As of now, the Lakers hope they can do both. On paper, the Lakers’ young core of players (and Kobe) represent the team’s most talented players. Russell, Randle and Clarkson also represent the Lakers’ long-term future. But they are obviously bound to make some rookie mistakes. And it will be interesting to see how much Byron [Scott] prioritizes maximizing his wins versus giving them room to figure things out. My hunch is Byron will have a shorter leash to start on the season if mistakes continue. If it ever becomes clear the Lakers are not playoff-bound, Byron will change his priority on solely developing the team’s young talent.
Hoops Rumors: What’s Kobe Bryant‘s approach to this season been like so far? Does he appear willing to defer to others, or does he seem to want to put the team on his back and carry it the way he has in the past?
Mark Medina: So far, Kobe is doing the right things. But there are two unanswered questions. Can Kobe stay healthy? How much patience will Kobe have with the young players once they start making mistakes and the team starts losing? The Lakers will try to be conservative with Bryant’s minutes and workload, but that will not guarantee anything about his health. Kobe will look to take a less-is-more approach at the beginning. But Kobe will take matters into his own hands if he feels his teammates are taking too long to develop. For better and for worse, Kobe has not shown a lot of patience with that.
Hoops Rumors: The Lakers have a chance to essentially give Roy Hibbert a one-year audition, since he’s on an expiring contract. What does he need to accomplish this season to make a compelling case that he’s the long-term answer at center for the Lakers?
Mark Medina: Defense, defense, defense. That’s mainly all he was brought here for, since the Lakers were awful in that department last season. It will also help that Hibbert has a good attitude after things soured in Indiana. Roy has played well on defense, but he will need a stronger supporting cast around him. As for his attitude, Roy’s done the right things thus far with embracing his role and inviting teammates out for paintball as a bonding activity.
Hoops Rumors: Jordan Clarkson was a revelation last season, and Mitch Kupchak said he envisions Clarkson and Russell as the team’s backcourt for the next decade or more. What is it that has the Lakers so confident that a player who was only the 46th pick in the draft last year can keep it up?
Mark Medina: Jordan proved that he was ready with the opportunity. And he is an endless grinder that embraces self improvement. Clarkson’s dropping draft stock stemmed from his decline of play at the end of his junior season [at Missouri]. But that coincided with Clarkson grieving over his dad possibly dying of cancer. His dad survived the ordeal, and Clarkson quickly proved that his struggles had nothing to do with his skills. Jordan has a long ways to go with his defense and passing. But he’s a natural scorer and never seems to get tired.
Mark Medina: It remains to be seen. As of now, Young will be a backup small forward. And he has said/done the right things in listening to Byron and complementing Lou well. But again, the chapter on this will be written based on Young’s play in games that count as well as how he handles negative circumstances that could possibly include lots of losing and Scott’s demands.
Hoops Rumors: Do the Lakers expect No. 27 overall pick Larry Nance Jr. to contribute in a meaningful way this season, or are they taking it slow with him?
Mark Medina: The Lakers love his energy. He will gradually get more and more minutes throughout the season. He brings a lot on defense and hustle plays, which is something that defines how Byron wants his teams to play.