D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura’s busy offseasons key to Lakers title hopes

Los Angeles Lakers' new head coach Darvin Ham (R) and Los Angeles Lakers VP of Operations Rob Pelinka (L) speak to members of the press during the Lakers media day in El Segundo, California, on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers' new head coach Darvin Ham (R) and Los Angeles Lakers VP of Operations Rob Pelinka (L) speak to members of the press during the Lakers media day in El Segundo, California, on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) /

It certainly has been a whirlwind last few months for the Los Angeles Lakers faithful. Los Angeles put on a masterclass not only in the free agency market but also in resigning valuable pieces from last year’s team that made a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

On Thursday, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham and general manager Rob Pelinka met with the media to give a brief synopsis of the offseason, as well as a deep dive into the summer for D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura.

D’Angelo Russell is preparing for his second year back with the Lakers

Most people have a skewed mindset of the Lakers’ prodigal son, D’Angelo Russell. Granted, the last time we saw him, he was in the midst of a more than subpar performance in the WCF, but GM Rob Pelinka related his time with the team thus far to newlyweds on their honeymoon.

"“Let’s look at it as a great honeymoon. And you can go on a honeymoon with your significant other and you can have 13 incredible days. Perfect days. And if lunch on the 13th day isn’t as good as you want it to be, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredible trip.”"

This is exactly the point I’ve been attempting to make this entire summer. One bad playoff series, while it stings, certainly doesn’t make the player. In his regular season with the team and even in the playoffs until the WCF, he was a major spark plug with his play and instant team chemistry, elevating others around him. I would say that’s more than enough to be at least given another chance.

They not only gave their endorsement of confidence with Pelinka’s statement, but head coach Darvin Ham also referred to D’Lo as the team’s starting point guard, which has been a point of intrigue this offseason with the arrival of Gabe Vincent. Security typically leads to a more freestyle of play, which suits Russell.

The most important piece of information regarding the Lakers’ starting point guard, however, came in a comment from Darvin Ham, where he mentioned, “D’Lo, LeBron, and AD have been having closed workouts together this summer.”

Now, the fruits of the labor he planted have yet to be harvested, but there’s a chance this new security and hard work with two of the league’s best will turn him into the team’s third-best player. If you pair that with a more than likely breakout year for Austin Reaves, teams are in for trouble.

Rui Hachimura working under LeBron James’ tutelage

Many fans didn’t know what to expect when the Lakers committed highway robbery and exchanged Kendrick Nunn for Rui Hachimura. At the time, he was a lottery pick who, while talented, hadn’t nearly lived up to his billing coming into the league out of Gonzaga. Boy, were Lakers fans shocked in the best way.

After an up-and-down finish to the regular season, where we even saw him receive a DNP in a game against the Chicago Bulls, he certainly found his stride in the playoffs. Hachimura became a weapon for Los Angeles. On the offensive end, he earned the highest playoff three-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA with a whopping 52%.

While that isn’t very sustainable, he was able to pair that with contributions on the defensive side of the ball, helping the undersized Lakers squad many times by successfully guarding the opposing teams’ big men.

Like Reaves, many around the league (especially supporters of the purple and gold) believe Rui may be primed for a breakout year, and Pelinka’s comments Thursday doubled down on that.

"“He spent most of his time training with LeBron. I think that was really intentional and I know the coaching staff and the front office, in the days where we’ve had some individual work in here, he’s playing with an extremely high level of confidence and belief. I think his strength and athleticism look like they’re at a different level. I think we got a taste, he shot over 40% in the playoffs, he’s a consistent, elite shooter, but I think he’s just literally hitting the takeoff of the flight he’s going to go on. So really, really excited that he’s in such a great place and has put in the work to have ahuge year.”"

They even went as far as to say LeBron has been referring to Rui as his “understudy.” Similarly to Russell, I don’t see any reality where working out with LeBron James for an extended period of time results in regression of any form. Again, if the talk is true, teams are in for trouble.

Other news in Laker Land

While the two main headlines of the day were related to Russell and Hachimura, there were certainly a few other intriguing comments made at Thursday’s presser.

  • Pelinka noted Austin Reaves’ hard work as a reason for the lack of surprise at his growth, stating, “He uniquely has that Mamba gene, he exemplifies that.”
  • Darvin Ham told reporters that heading into training camp, everyone on the roster is 100% healthy, which is just fantastic.
  • Rob mentioned that Darvin Ham had contacted Christian Wood frequently throughout free agency and that, personally, he was talking to Woods’ agent every other day to reel in the big man.

Certainly, there is a lot to be excited about, as if Lakers Nation wasn’t already chomping at the bit for the season to start. With media day and training camp quickly approaching at the start of this upcoming week, I’m sure many more quotes will come out of the Lakers organization.

For now, this should tide Lakers fans over. One thing is certain, everyone is ready to see just what this team can become, and I, for one, can’t wait.

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