Exactly one week ago, the Lakers officially saw what a media circus will surround this year's team.
Throngs of reporters swamped the Lakers' practice facility on media day, fighting for every inch of space once Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace stepped on the floor. Optimism surrounding the Lakers' immense talent led many to believe they're inevitably on their way to hosting a championship parade in about nine months' time. Others believe this just marks the beginning of another hastily arranged Super Team destined to self-destruct.
That narrative remains unwritten. After all, the Lakers still have to play a whole season to prove that their talent on paper actually can translate into the organization's 17th NBA championship. But as the Lakers enjoy a day off Monday for the first time since training camp started, it seems apparent that their mind-set truly involves respecting the process.
Sure, the Lakers always have things going on beyond basketball. Many of them attended Time Warner Cable SportsNet's launch party on the eve of training camp. Following the Lakers' preseason loss Sunday to Golden State in Fresno, Metta World Peace suggested he's taking a short trip to Las Vegas with unnamed friends to make "Hangover 3." Howard appears eager to share his Bryant impersonation.
But as far as the Lakers' actual approach toward training camp? The players all agree that they've already laid down a strong foundation.
"It was pretty much there from the start," Bryant said. "There was nothing really there that we had to adjust to."
Of course, part of that involves the personnel. It's easier to learn new concepts when you have one of the league's top scorers (Bryant), top passers (Nash), top post players (Howard, Gasol) and top defenders (World Peace). It sure trumps last year's experience in which the Lakers' newcomers included Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono while losing Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown.
That became apparent in the preseason opener. Nash's cross-court pass to Bryant in one sequence and a crossover against a stumbling Jarrett Jack on another led the "Black Mamba" to describe the plays as "awesome " and "ridiculous."
But the players' mind-set also matters. The starting lineup seemed unstoppable not just because they're talented but because they wanted to run the offense correctly.
Nash wasn't the only one showing teamwork. Bryant threaded the needle on a pick-and-roll sequence with Gasol that gave him an open jumper. World Peace scored 10 points on three-of-six shooting because of better balance, better shot selection and better conditioning. Gasol, who often looked mentally drained last season with the trade rumors and reduced role, suddenly looked energized and scored nine points on a four-of-seven clip, which featured a series of hooks, post-ups and jumpers. Bryant's 10 points on two-of-seven shooting didn't feature much accuracy, but he looked more fluid and efficient working off the ball, a dynamic he described as "real natural" and "easy."
Coach Mike Brown said the starting unit made rookie Robert Sacre look as if he had played two or three NBA seasons already as he posted six points on two-of-three shooting and two rebounds as the starting center in place of Howard, who's still rehabbing his back.
"The great thing about all this is these guys are good guys," Brown said. "I truly believe they all want to win a championship."
The Lakers fell short of that goal last season partly because of the circumstances surrounding their lockout-shortened campaign. In addition to dealing with lesser talent, Brown entered his first season navigating a confusing maze. He had a two-week window to teach his concepts, establish ownership with the team and know the personnel. This season, Brown and assistant Eddie Jordan spent the first week teaching about 20% of his offensive plays that involve elements of the Princeton system and pick-and-roll concepts he used last season.
On top of that, the Lakers have brought a mature mind-set.