Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers returned to do it all again because they would love to do it right this time.
Davis and James only needed one season together to restore the Lakers' championship luster. While their achievements in the NBA's Florida bubble will always be remarkable feats under extraordinarily tough circumstances, almost everybody around the Lakers acknowledges a minor dissatisfaction with this title because it happened in 2020.
“You dream of winning a championship and having a parade, celebrating with the fans, and none of that happened,” Davis said. “I understand why it happened, but it’s definitely weird not to have a parade and have fans be there celebrating with you. This city would have been crazy.”
Just two months after they raised the franchise's 17th trophy, the Lakers are back at work with a fundamental motivation to surpass the Boston Celtics' NBA record for banners — and to get a proper party for it.
With a restocked roster and a new wealth of championship poise, the Lakers will take the court at Staples Center next week with hopes of being joined by their crazed fan base in the summer or earlier.
“You want to run it back, because we missed the parade,” said veteran shooter Jared Dudley, back for his 14th NBA season. “You missed Staples erupt. We didn’t get the proper celebration, so the only way to do it is hopefully Pfizer cures everyone and we win it again and do it the right way.”
The Lakers appear to have everything in place to repeat: Although several contributors left, they've all been replaced with veterans who comprehensively look like upgrades.
“We have one of the deepest teams in the league, and really in recent memory,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday. ”(But) I think everybody is aligned. Our team has one goal, and that’s to win a championship."
Point guard Dennis Schröder arrived in a trade for Danny Green, who had an inconsistent sole season in LA. The German sparkplug will provide scoring and defense while taking over some ball-handling duties for James in place of departed Rajon Rondo.
Montrezl Harrell, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, moved down the hallway from the Clippers to provide prolific scoring and tenacious defense against bigger men. Championship-winning center Marc Gasol then signed as a free agent, forming a duo with Harrell that looks much more talented that last season’s big man combo of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.
The Lakers also signed veteran shooter Wesley Matthews, whose 3-and-D skills should fill the holes left by Green and Avery Bradley.
The Lakers' foundation is the envy of the NBA, and both James and Davis returned with new contracts tying them together in LA for at least three more seasons. With LeBron showing no signs of decline as he turns 36 this month, and with Davis still at his peak, the Lakers believe they can contend throughout that stretch.
“We have everything to compete for a championship, so I just thought, ‘Why not?’” said Davis, who agreed to a five-year contract instead of keeping his options more open.
The Lakers had the shortest offseason in NBA history. Davis admits he is prone to minor injuries. Nobody has ever played more postseason games than James.
That's why Vogel intends to monitor his stars' workload throughout the winter, although the coach hasn't finalized a plan for rest or minutes limits.
“The goal of every year — but in particular this year — is to make sure we’re healthy and whole going into the playoffs,” Vogel said. “That’s not to say we’re going to take the regular season lightly in any way. Our goal is to make sure we’re healthy come playoff time, for sure.”
James traditionally hasn't bought into the NBA's culture of designated rest nights, but he has promised to consider everything.
The Lakers think they have a burgeoning star on their bench: Talen Horton-Tucker, who just turned 20 last month. The Chicago native demonstrated that tantalizing promise last week while torching the Clippers with two huge preseason performances, including 33 points and 10 rebounds in the second game.
“Telling you right now! This kid is flat out SPECIAL! Mark my words,” James tweeted after watching Horton-Tucker's 19-point game in the preseason opener.
Horton-Tucker, who's 6-foot-4 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, was the 46th overall pick last year. He barely played last season, but is making a case for playing time this season at the expense of Kyle Kuzma or Matthews.
Kuzma's play will be closely tracked as he heads toward restricted free agency next summer. The homegrown talent is entering his fourth season, and while he hasn't made the leap to stardom many expected, he is quite valuable to the Lakers either as a rotation player or a trade piece. LA can re-sign Kuzma for more than the cap-strapped team can pay another free agent, or he would be among their most tradeable assets at the deadline. If Kuzma starts out impressively this season, he'll improve his position greatly.