TEMECULA, Calif. — The day after last season mercifully came to an end for the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook was asked about LeBron James and Anthony Davis repeatedly stating over the course of the year their intent to “let Russ be Russ” in pursuit of team success.
“Yeah,” Westbrook replied bluntly during his exit interview with reporters, “but that wasn’t true.”
With the first week of training camp in the books as James, Davis and Westbrook near their second season together, that approach has been tweaked.
Westbrook is empowered to get his, but so are James and Davis when it comes to getting theirs. No more worrying about stepping on each other’s toes; if there’s a play to make, go make it.
“I think the biggest thing was everybody trying to be selfless and now everybody is being aggressive,” Davis said after practice Saturday at Pechanga Reservation in front of about 200 reservation residents invited as guests. “‘Russ, you get it, go.’ ‘Bron, you get it, go.’ I get it and go. Whoever. And that’s been very helpful for all of us.”
Injuries limited the trio to 21 games together a season ago. Los Angeles, which came into last season as the odds-on favorite to win the title, went 11-10 in those games.
“Obviously we’re unselfish teammates and we want to pass and do things [for our teammates], but at the same time we have to get going as well,” Davis said. “And I think that’s been the biggest change that we wanted to see from us three so far is, whoever gets it, let’s be aggressive because it’s going to open up the floor for everybody else.
“When we’re all trying to be unselfish and share the wealth, the ball kind of ends up getting lost around the perimeter or we’re going up against the shot clock. But when somebody is staying aggressive and Russ is getting downhill, Bron is getting downhill, it opens up the floor. Because they’re aggressive where guys have to help out, they can kick it out to shooters.”
New coach Darvin Ham has used James, Davis and Westbrook in his preferred starting five during camp, along with guard Kendrick Nunn and center Damian Jones. He is trying to maximize the potential of the three max players with a combined 35 All-Star appearances.
“We have a three-man package, actually a playcall, that they’re going to thrive in and it involves all three of them,” Ham said. “I look forward to that being at a very, very high level. And there’s different nuances in it that they can play around with. …
“I trust all three of those guys.”
The Lakers scrimmaged Saturday, and in the portion that was open for reporters to observe, James and Westbrook repeatedly dribbled into the lane on offense, with Ham’s four-out, one-in system providing spacing for the pair to find driving angles.
“Those guys are still two of the most elite athletes in our league who can both handle the ball at a high level and attack the paint and the rim at a high level,” Ham said.
Ham said he will still try out different lineups before the regular season opens Oct. 18 on the road against the Golden State Warriors. Lonnie Walker (ankle) went through a full-contact practice for the first time all camp Saturday. Troy Brown Jr. remains limited because of his back. Dennis Schroder, who has missed all of camp thus far after signing as a free agent last month, is expected to join the team as soon as midweek in Las Vegas after sorting out a visa issue that was keeping him in his native Germany.
But James, Davis and Westbrook — whom Ham said he “definitely” would like to all play in the preseason opener Monday at home against the Sacramento Kings — figure to factor into the team’s plans no matter whom they are grouped with.
“I’m looking forward to it, man,” Ham said. “We have a lot of good pieces that we can work with and mix and match. So it’s going to be a fun ride.”