Lakers: Post-Kobe era 'about young guys ... new coaching staff'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant is gone, sort of.

At their practice facility Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers held their first media day in two decades without their now-retired icon, but questions about Bryant -- about his legacy, his lessons and who now becomes the face of the NBA's glamor franchise -- dominated interviews as they did throughout his historic career.

"I can sense him. He's here," said Lakers swingman Metta World Peace, who won an NBA championship alongside Bryant in 2010. "He's always going to be here. This is the Lakers organization and, yeah, the Mamba is still here."

Perhaps Bryant is still with the team in spirit. Lakers forward Julius Randle said he recently worked out with Bryant and glowingly praised Bryant's intelligence, detailed understanding and competitive edge. And World Peace said that he visited Bryant's "entrepreneurial office" earlier this summer, and the two chatted about books that Bryant is working on.

"I'm really excited about his books," added World Peace, who didn't clarify their literary genre. "I can't wait to read his first book."

For now, the Lakers' first chapter beyond Bryant begins Tuesday in Santa Barbara, where the team will hold training camp without him for the first time since 1995. The emphasis now targets the Lakers' promising but largely unproven young talent and first-year head coach Luke Walton, who at 36 is the NBA's youngest head coach.

Another key change is expectations, especially for a rebuilding team that is coming off its worst season in franchise history -- 17-65 -- and has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, a franchise-long postseason drought. While Bryant solely defined success by titles -- he won five -- and considered anything less to be a wasted season, the patience-preaching Lakers now will measure success far differently.

"Kobe has success on his mind at all times," World Peace said. "Everybody can't be Kobe, obviously."

But there is also the sense that the Lakers -- and particularly their young players -- are ready for a style of play that doesn't focus on Bryant.

"It was all about Kobe," said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell. "Now, it's a different headline. It's about the young guys and it's about the new coaching staff. There's so many more headlines that [the media] can talk about."

Added Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr.: "We're all equals. We're going into it as such. There's nobody that we know guaranteed is going to be a perennial All-Star -- yet. Obviously, do we have plans and do we hope for certain guys to be? Yes. But we're all gong into it, and that's why I kind of said everybody is really embracing the change and looking forward to getting going with it."

Many of the Lakers' most promising young players were on the team last year during Bryant's circus-like farewell tour, when he received roaring chants, standing ovations and the bulk of the shots all season long.

"Last year, we played a little bit too much for ourselves, thinking about our stats or whatever it may be," Randle said. "That just doesn't work. We're playing for each other now. The energy, the vibe is different. You win 17 games, and everything is a press, a struggle. It's not fun. But it's starting to become fun again."

"He deserved everything he got," Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said of Bryant before adding that this season will be "a fun year for all of us to be able to spread our wings and get out here and learn with each other and really grind."

Still, Clarkson said they will carry forward the lessons that Bryant shared last season.

"The [biggest] thing that we could've taken from him was the competitiveness that he had," Clarkson said. "He got on us a couple times in the locker room [last season] about what it means to play for the Lakers and what it is as a young guy to really understand that to get wins and compete on the floor, knowing that we have an obligation to get wins and come and play. [He was] teaching us that there are no nights off. It was a great experience to have that last year, in terms of him [being] on us constantly."

Randle grew up admiring Kobe and praised the work ethic that Bryant instilled throughout the organization. "He's gone and it's our time now," Randle said, "but we've got to do it together."

Indeed, as Randle said, many Lakers pointed out that there's no defined leader or face of the organization with Bryant retired. It remains to be seen who exactly might fill that void.

"That's a team thing," said Lakers rookie forward Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft. "We never do it with one person. It's always a team thing. Everyone contributes in every way, even the guys on the bench. We know it's going to be a team thing."

As the team's point guard, Russell is a leading candidate to become the Lakers' next star, if only because of the demands on his position.

"But as far as the face of the franchise, I feel like time will pan that out," Russell said. "I don't feel like anybody is like, 'Oh, I want that.' This is new to everybody. We've got a lot of young guys, so this is all new."

Walton, for one, is interested in who assumes leadership roles for the Lakers.

"Adversity brings that stuff out," Walton said. "As a coaching staff, that's part of the joy in finding that stuff out and making changes along the way."

Regardless, there is no doubt a different feel around this team -- one predicated not only on youth but on a culture of fun that Walton hopes to carry over from his two-year stint as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. And, of course, there's no Kobe Bryant.

"Life moves on," Randle said. "Just because Kobe is retired, the Lakers organization is not going to stop. We've got to go on and got to get better."
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