The day before the Los Angeles Lakers were set to take on the Houston Rockets in their season opener, there was a completely different vibe in their facility. The Lakers had just finished up their final practice before their first game of the 2016-17 season, and third-year forward Julius Randle strutted over to the group of media, waiting to ask him about his excitement for the regular season to finally get underway.
“There’s just a different feel man, the energy is different,” Randle said, as his smile got bigger and bigger. “I think we’re sure of ourselves as a team, and as a unit and that’s what’s exciting about it.”
“It’s just for real,” Randle continued. “It was a long summer, a long training camp, but its all been worth it, all been a grind. I’m excited because I know it’s all going to pay off for us all.”
For those that were on the team last season, there seems to be a sense of not wanting to let Luke Walton down.
“As much confidence and faith that he (Walton) has in us, we have the same in him,” Randle said. “We have his back just as he has ours. We want to make him look good, just as much as he wants to make us look good.”
“I think everybody kind of changed a little bit,” Jordan Clarkson said of what’s different this time around. “Coach (Luke Walton) came in here and changed the vibe, as well. We are all trying to set a culture here, so this is where it begins.”
“I’m just in a good place, happy to be here, feel good on the team, it’s a great environment,” Nick Young said. “It’s all I could ask for.”
For Luol Deng, who the Lakers acquired this summer, it didn’t take him long to appreciate the new culture or the hard work of the young core.
“I think a lot of times when you have the record that you had last year or the last few years, people can overlook you, and I really believe that these guys want to win,” Deng said of the Lakers young core. “They’ve been working really, really hard. The best thing about it is really, it’s a great group to be around.”
Speaking of working hard, Randle, who was one of only nine players to average a double-double last season, says he’s improved his game more over this training camp than he ever has in his career. He attributed a lot of that simply to experience, but also to the feeling that they are finally starting to gel as a unit.
“Us as a unit, we’re all really starting to gel, really care and play for each other and that’s the fun part,” Randle said.
But, how much of that is because of their new head coach?
“A lot of it,” Clarkson said. “All of us are buying in.”