LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers acquired one of the rarest of talents in Anthony Davis this offseason. The 6-foot-10 forward possesses a versatile inside-out repertoire and is one of the league’s strongest interior defenders.
And with such a diverse skill set onboard, LeBron James wanted to ensure the 26-year-old’s talent would be properly utilized for the betterment of the team.
As soon as the framework for the blockbuster trade was agreed upon with New Orleans in June, James — who will be entering his 17th NBA season — promptly held conversations with higher-ups in the organization and expressed his views on why it’s imperative that Davis becomes the focal point of the team’s offensive identity, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
James, who will turn 35 in December, has carried the offensive burden throughout his decorated career. The Lakers, with heightened expectations for the 2019-20 season, will embark on a new chapter with Davis expected to lead the charge.
“I’ve kind of been a focal-point player my whole career, especially in New Orleans. But first off, to have a guy like LeBron, someone of his caliber, go tell management and ownership and the coaches that he wants me to be the focal point is an honor,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I know what comes with that, and that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I want to be able to do that. I think I have the capabilities of doing that. And obviously with the team’s support, it’s going to be a lot easier on me. We have a great team.”
James is organizing a pre-minicamp for players in Las Vegas that starts on Sept. 23, sources told Yahoo Sports. It is expected to be a three-day session in advance of training camp on Oct. 1.
While James will still be the unequivocal leader and captain of the team, he’s never been one to back down after being challenged by a teammate. In fact, he encourages it.
And that’s exactly what Davis plans to do at times this season.
“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively. In doing so, we’ll have a good chance of winning every night. I want to make sure me and LeBron are on the All-Defensive Team. And for me personally, I just want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. If we’re able to hold teams under 100 [points], which is probably unrealistic but it should be our goal, I think we’ll have a shot at winning the title.”
Year 1 of James’ Lakers tenure was saddled with injuries up and down the roster. It was also a roster largely comprised of youth that was still trying to find its way in the league. The Lakers failed to snag a postseason berth for the sixth consecutive year.
Overall, last season was viewed as a disappointment, but the scrutiny would pale in comparison if this year’s team were to fall short of the playoffs.
A hearty chunk of Western Conference teams have also improved during the offseason, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland, Utah, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans having improved rosters.
Emerging from the West will not be an easy task.
“If we stay healthy, there’s no limit,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “We have the team to win a championship. We have the coaching staff to win, but we’ve got to come in with the right mindset and that all starts in training camp all the way through preseason and all the way through the regular season. We have to make sure we come in with the same mindset no matter who we’re playing. It should be about us. Not about the opponent, not about anything else outside the locker room. If we’re all about us and all about what we need to do to win, then we’ll be fine.”
The last few years have highlighted the merits of certain teams having the ability to trot out multiple lineups with an emphasis on successfully going small. Golden State’s bread-and-butter lineup, for instance, was when Draymond Green slid to the center spot.
Davis, who has averaged 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for his career, has never shied away from voicing his reluctance of playing the five.
“Nah, it’s true. I said it. But the thing is, it’s a long season and you want to be smart,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “Battling [centers] can wear on your body. So I think having JaVale [McGee] and having DeMarcus [Cousins] before he got hurt and now having Dwight [Howard] takes pressure off of me and allows me to play and withstand an 82-game season and going into the playoffs. But obviously, if we have to and we’re playing a big lineup where I’m at the five, then I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
This is the situation Davis so desperately craved. He longed to be put in position to play with a supporting cast capable of competing for a championship. But his wishes have been granted two-fold.
He’ll be sporting one of the most recognizable team jerseys in the world, he’ll be playing alongside one of the greatest players in history, and he’ll be doing it all in one of the biggest cities in the world.
After seven years in New Orleans, the bright lights are finally going to be shining on Davis. And now it’s time for him to produce.
“I’m ready, man,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball, and God gave me the ability to play this game at a high level. Obviously, it’s a lot different. The market is a lot different, the media is a lot different, the atmosphere is a lot different. But at the end of the day, when you step between those lines, something I’ve been doing for 23 years of life, it’s just basketball. I’m excited about the challenge, I’m excited for the opportunity and I can’t wait to get started.”
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