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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Oddsmakers in Las Vegas might consider them the favorites, and desire to repent for the 2018-19 debacle of a season might be palpable, but LeBron James is doing his best to keep the burden of expectations off the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
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"I'm very motivated but I'm right now not in talking-about-it mode," James said Friday at the team's annual media day. "Been very quiet this summer, for a reason. My mother always taught me, 'Don't talk about it, be about it.' That's where I'm at. As a team, me myself, need to get the Lakers back to what they've been accustomed to every year, so excited about that."
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The 16-time champions have been in a rut as of late, missing the playoffs for a franchise-worst six consecutive years. The joy surrounding James' arrival last summer was short-lived as injuries, trade speculation and Magic Johnson's shocking resignation sabotaged the four-time MVP's inaugural campaign.
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How did Kyrie and KD get to Brooklyn? Both stars open up Yet optimism floated through the Lakers' practice facility on the eve of training camp, with Anthony Davis, acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans in a June trade, donning the purple and gold as the centerpiece of a new-look roster.
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"We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there's no sense to have him on the floor," James said. "He's that great. It doesn't mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it."
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Davis, an All-Star in six of his seven seasons in the league, was taken aback by James' praise. "Aw, he said that?" Davis asked, almost blushing. "Very kind of him. We're going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we're two guys who are very selfless and just want to win, when we have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs easier."
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Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said coach Frank Vogel's address to the team Friday morning focused not just on L.A.'s Big Two in James and Davis, but the entire roster of players who will need to support one another.
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"It's about one thing -- and it's the 15 guys in the locker room," Pelinka said. "I think our biggest opponent is in the mirror. We've got to look at ourselves as a team. We've got to figure out how we come together as 15 players to be the best team we can be. We have that focus."
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Prioritizing camaraderie is paramount when trying to meld a collection of outsized personalities like the Lakers have. Among the Lakers' offseason signings was Dwight Howard, who was brought in as a potential franchise savior in 2012 only to clash with Kobe Bryant and the coaching staff and leave as a free agent after just one season.
"Just think it was divine timing," Howard told ESPN when asked to explain the reunion. "That's the only thing I can think of. Pretty sure nobody thought I'd be here. I didn't think that for a while, but everything happens for a reason."
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HOUSTON -- Russell Westbrook offered something of a warning to the rest of the NBA regarding his reunion with new Houston Rockets teammate James Harden.
"It's going to be scary, that's all I can tell you," Westbrook said during Rockets media day Friday. "It's going to be scary -- not for us."
Seven years have passed since Westbrook and Harden last played together with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. Harden and Westbrook, who have been friends since their childhoods in Los Angeles, have developed into perennial All-Star guards, and both have won an NBA MVP award.
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But neither superstar has made it back to the NBA Finals since the Thunder's 2012 loss to the Heat.
Ranking the NBA's best players: Giannis and Kawhi at the very top
Is Kawhi or Giannis the best basketball player in the world? They pushed to reunite with the Rockets, who traded Chris Paul and a package of first-round picks to acquire Westbrook from the Thunder, in large part due to their desire to finally win a championship.
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"We've accomplished a lot of individual accolades," said Harden, who led the league in scoring the past two seasons after Westbrook did so during his 2016-17 MVP season. "Now it's time to accomplish something together that we haven't accomplished before."
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Some questioned the pairing of two of the league's most ball-dominant players, as Harden has elevated from a Sixth Man of the Year to perennial MVP candidate since he last played with Westbrook. Harden acknowledged that they would have to "figure it out" regarding ball distribution and how the playmakers will complement each other offensively, but it's not a concern for him because of their friendship and mutual desire to win.
"If Russ got it going and Russ is having one of those games that we've all seen before, guess what I'm going to do: sit back and watch the show, and vice versa," Harden said. "It's just a part of basketball. So you can't sit up here and say, 'Oh, Russ is going to have the ball for the first half and I'm going to have the ball the second half.' No, things happen through the course of the game that you just flow with and go with.
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"All of us in this locker room and this front office has one goal, and that's to win it. However that happens, it's going to happen, and we're just going to figure it out."
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The process of figuring it out could be limited in the preseason by Westbrook's availability as he continues to recover from the arthroscopic knee surgery he had after the Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
Coach Mike D'Antoni said Westbrook was only recently cleared for 5-on-5 work. The Rockets intend to proceed cautiously with Westbrook, who is likely to sit out some practices and preseason games.
"I feel like I'm in a good place," Westbrook said of his health. "I'll be ready to go on opening night."
The Rockets are optimistic that Westbrook, one of the game's premier penetrators, will greatly benefit by playing in D'Antoni's wide-open offensive system while being surrounded by the kind of perimeter shooters that recent Thunder teams have lacked.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey noted that guards historically have had career years playing for D'Antoni, then chuckled when he added that it would be difficult for Westbrook considering his previous production. Houston also anticipates that Westbrook, the best rebounding guard in the league, will provide a turbo boost for a team that ranked 27th in pace last season.
"James Harden is, like, the best half-court player I've ever seen, honestly," Morey said. "And then Russell is maybe the best transition player, one of the best of all time, as well. If you put those things together, which I think we have a chance to do, now you've got something really special. We'll see how it all works out, but I think it could be really special."
D'Antoni plans to stagger the minutes of his star guards, as he did with Harden and Paul. He expects Westbrook to rest about 16 minutes per game and Harden about 13 per game, so they might play together for only about a quarter and a half.
That will include crunch time, with D'Antoni citing the last five minutes of games as the "most important thing" the Rockets need to figure out about the Harden-Westbrook dynamic. But D'Antoni emphasized that he will not ask Westbrook to drastically alter his playing style.
"It'll work itself out. You try not to overcoach it," D'Antoni said. "We need Russell to be Russell. We don't want to change him. He's an MVP. That's who we need. We need his bravura to be Russell. That's good enough."
Skeptics of the fit focus on how Westbrook, a career 30.8% 3-point shooter, will impact the Rockets' offensive spacing when he is playing off the ball. Westbrook waved away those worries by saying that he impacts the game in many ways.
"I don't have to have the ball to impact the game," said Westbrook, who has averaged triple-doubles in each of the past three seasons. "I don't have to score, I don't have to do anything. I can defend, I can rebound, I can pass, I can lead. Our main goal, main focus, is to win. I can go be scoreless, and if we win, that's the best thing that ever happened. That's all I cared about, and that's all I ever cared about.
"When it comes to me and James playing together, who's going to have the ball, who's not going to have the ball, it really doesn't matter. I don't have to prove I can score 30 points. I've done that before. I don't have to prove to average 10 assists. I've done that before. I don't have to prove to get 10, 11 rebounds. I've done that before. My goal is to win a championship, so whatever it takes to do that, that's what I'm going to do."
Vogel credited the former defensive player of the year's humility, while Pelinka, in a rare moment of stark honesty, explained that bringing in Howard was a low-risk move because his salary -- the veterans minimum $2.6 million -- does not become fully vested until Jan. 7. Meaning if Howard doesn't ingratiate himself in the first three months, the Lakers can cut ties and move on.
"It started with his openness to his concept of a non-guaranteed contract," Pelinka said. "So he put his money where his mouth was and showed this desire to be a part of a group of guys and to do something bigger than himself."
Howard was a late addition after DeMarcus Cousins tore the ACL in his left knee during an offseason pickup game. Cousins posed for photos in his Lakers No. 15 uniform separately from the rest of his teammates and did not speak to reporters. Cousins is facing a misdemeanor domestic violence charge after allegedly threatening his ex-girlfriend and mother of his 7-year-old son in a phone call this summer.
"The most important thing to say the Lakers as an organization take allegations of domestic violence extremely seriously," Pelinka said. "That said, when allegations are made, for any NBA player, the league takes over and handles that investigation. We're going to abide by the league's lead on this as that's being investigated. And because it's a legal matter, we can't really speak any further about that. Right now, he's a member of our roster and a part of the team. We'll just have to wait for guidance from the league on next steps."
Cousins' status isn't the only setback facing the Lakers heading into the season. Swingman Kyle Kuzma is sidelined indefinitely with a stress reaction in his left foot suffered this summer while training with USA Basketball. However, the third-year forward expressed optimism about his progress.
"It's good that we caught what I had at the right time, because it is serious, but it's not serious," he said. "It's all about just rehabbing, getting back to it, progressing well and getting back out there with my teammates."
His outlook fit the tone of the day for the Lakers, as James even managed to find a positive spin to his team losing out on Kawhi Leonard to the LA Clippers in free agency.
"Everyone's talking about the big winners of the summertime: Is it the Nets? The Clippers? The Lakers? It's actually Staples Center," James said. "If you're a fan of the game of basketball, you get an opportunity to see the Clippers one night and then get an opportunity to see the Lakers. ... Staples Center is the place to be."