Lakers shoot for stars while young core looks to brighten

EL SEGUNDO — Perhaps no one was more candid during exit interviews Thursday about their feelings on a star-level free agent joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer than rookie Josh Hart. 

When asked if, as a member of the team’s young core, he’s excited about the mere possibility of a max-level player coming to L.A., he said he “definitely” was. But in almost the same  breath, he offered something of a caveat. 

“If that that happens, I think it could be nothing but great for this team and for this franchise,” Hart said. “But our job as players is to work like we’re not going to, to work as if nobody’s gonna come here in free agency, and to work as hard as you can to get to that next level. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

In his 170-word answer, Hart provided a glimpse into the mindset of himself, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram when it comes to their future roles for the Lakers. And looking more closely at how those three players developed during the season, that mindset is hidden in plain sight. 

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The best 4 years

LOS ANGELES — When rookie Josh Hart took the floor down the stretch against the New Orleans Pelicans in late October, he found himself switching defensively onto the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, two 6-foot-11 powerhouses who practically tower over the 6-foot-5 Hart.

But something about those defensive rotations felt familiar to Hart. In the NCAA championship game in April of last year, Hart’s Villanova team used the same defensive philosophy to guard the bigger North Carolina team. The Wildcats, Hart said, generally played smaller and switched every position on defense.

“I played just about every level at college,” Hart said at a recent Lakers practice. “I’ve played against obviously D-II teams at exhibitions and I’ve played against lower D-I’s, high D-I’s and the national champions. So I played at different levels in college, so I know just certain situations.”

One of those situations was guarding bigger players and having to switch multiple positions on defense. So when he was tasked to defend Cousins and Davis, it wasn’t as foreign to him as it may be for other NBA rookies getting their first taste of defending in that way.

With an increasing number of basketball players choosing to forgo extended stints at the college level, Hart is one of three Lakers rookies who spent at least three years in college. The other two are Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso.

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