The Los Angeles Lakers are locked in and reloaded in their quest to repeat as NBA Champions.
With the NBA season just three weeks away, and training camp already underway, the reigning NBA Champions spent much of November upgrading their roster and bolstering their bench unit.
First, the Lakers brought back key members of their core including Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jared Dudley, and Markieff Morris.
Then, they brought in some new blood to replace the losses of Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, and JaVale McGee.
They signed veterans Marc Gasol and Wes Matthews. Traded for Alfonzo McKinnie, and acquired reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Montrezl Harrell, as well as the runner-up to the award in Dennis Schröder.
Speaking to the media for the first time on Monday, Schröder said he was in Germany when he first found out the Oklahoma City Thunder had traded him to the 17-time NBA Champion Lakers.
"I was in Germany and I was pretty excited," Schröder said via Zoom from the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo. "It's an honor to wear purple and gold. My family was excited."
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Schröder was born in Bruanschweig, Germany to a German father and Gambian mother. After growing up with a skateboard in his hand, Schröder traded in his four wheels for a basketball at the age of 11. Schröder quickly ascended through the professional ranks in Germany until he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 17th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Schröder backed up Jeff Teague in Atlanta until the 2016-17 season, when he became the starting point guard after Teague was traded to the Indiana Pacers. Schröder was traded to the Thunder on July 25, 2018, where he served as sixth man behind Russell Westbrook, and then Chris Paul.
Originally, the Lakers acquisition of Schröder was expected to take the place of Rondo, who came off the bench as the team's primary ball handler behind James. After Schröder's success in that role last season, it was widely assumed he would remain in that role, especially after the team won the title with James serving as a point forward.
However, Schröder told reporters that he was no longer interested in coming off the bench and added that he expects to start alongside James and Davis with the season starts on Dec. 22nd.
"I did this off the bench stuff already the last two years in OKC," said Schröder. "I think I try to move forward and with AD and Lebron I can be helpful as a starter in that PG position. That way LeBron don't have so much stuff in his mind and I can bring the ball up, call a set play or whatever, and put him in a position to score."
Schröder's comments may come as a surprise for some, but this could be the Lakers plan moving forward. Schröder said that his agent spoke with the organization before they pulled the trigger on the trade, and that supposedly the team sees him as a starter next to LeBron and AD, and not coming off the bench as a sixth man.
First and foremost, when the Lakers first signed LeBron James as a free agent in the summer of 2018, they expected him to play off the ball more, with then point guard Lonzo Ball serving as the team's primary ball handler. The Lakers didn't make the playoffs that season, mostly due to injuries, and Ball was shipped to New Orleans in the deal for Davis.
During the 2019-20 season, the Lakers starting lineup featured James, Davis, Caldwell-Pope, McGee, and Green. With the exception of Howard, who was inserted into the starting lineup midway through the playoffs over McGee, that was the starting lineup that won the title.
Gasol or Harrell is expected to replace McGee/Howard in the starting lineup, and with KCP returning, most presumed that Matthews would replace Green in the starting lineup as the team's primary "Three and D" guy.
However, if you watched President Barack Obama's appearance on James' HBO show The Shop: Uninterrupted, you might discover why the Lakers could start Schröder over Matthews, especially in the beginning of the season.
Obama told James that he wanted Davis to do all the "heavy lifting" early in the 2020-21 season, especially after the shortest offseason in NBA history, with just 71 days between the end of the NBA Finals and Opening Night on Dec. 22.
"You gotta save yourself man, for when it counts," said Obama. "Let Anthony Davis do all the work, man."
Those comments, which James agreed with, lead many to believe that the soon-to-be 36-year-old will be on a minutes restriction for the start of the new season. Additionally, taking the ball out of James' hand, and allowing him to just focus on scoring and not facilitating early on, could be another way to ensure he's healthy for the stretch run.
"I think for him to play off the ball is great," said Schröder when asked about it. "I think that's the reason why they brought me in, and I think I will fit perfectly with LeBron and AD."
James led the league with a career-high 10.2 assists last season, but with the addition of Schröder, don't expect him to repeat that mark. Schöder should allow James to be more of a scorer early on in games, but as we saw with James and Rondo in the playoffs, both can be on the court down the stretch, and both are capable of putting up double-digit assists on any given night.
The Lakers have yet to announce their starting lineup for the upcoming season, but don't be surprised to see Schröder in it come Dec. 22.