The nine-day trip to China may have sapped the Lakers’ energy, but it also boosted their spirits. The Lakers’ 0-2 mark in preseason games against the Golden State Warriors in Beijing and Shanghai reveals a team lacking both the speed and youth that the Warriors possessed. But the games also bolstered their team mindset. The trip still left the Lakers with concerns on how they’ll stay physically healthy. But it showed their spiritual health staying high.
That’s because with the Lakers no longer confined to a court and a basketball, they grew closer together on the trip through a wide array of activities.
It all began when the Lakers exited Beijing and they saw first-hand the large Chinese contingent that loves Kobe Bryant.
“It’s amazing from the start,” Lakers guard Nick Young said. “When we were getting off the plane, they were outside waiting and chanting Kobe. We thought it was Team Kobe there.”
It ended with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni gushing about about his dinner with Yao Ming and the team’s positive attitude throughout the trip.
“Being around these guys and seeing how they do it right and how these guys come to practice every day and never late for everything,” D’Antoni said after the Lakers’ practice Sunday at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “Always upbeat. The group is really good.”
The Lakers sensed that emerging from the beginning of training camp. The early season optimism, new arrivals eager to prove their worth and relief from the distractions surrounding heightened expectations and Dwight Howard’s pending free agency no longer consuming them.
But the Lakers believed it grew during the trip at different times. Pau Gasol marked that taking place when most teammates and their significant others gathered for a dinner in Beijing where they ate “Westernized Chinese food.” It soon spilled out during the team’s visit to the Great Wall of China.
“It was an interesting experience especially with the whole group with 30 security guards around us,” Gasol said. “That’s always fun. Chinese fans can get so excited. They want to get close to you and take all kinds of pictures and have you sign all types of autographs. It’s interesting.”
“Oh man. I had a blast,” Young said, smiling a week afterwards. “That was a good time. Videos. It was good hit for you. The slide started going too fast. I wasn’t ready for that. That was the main highlight. I was looking forward to going to the Great Wall. I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”
D’Antoni didn’t see that firsthand.
“I’ve already seen it and they didn’t change it in the last couple of years,” D’Antoni, who was an assistant for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “So I didn’t have to go back.”
Still, for a team that lacked positive energy all of last season, they found a connective tissue through the simplest gestures. It remains to be seen whether that will prove enough to offset concerns surrounding their injuries, age and talent. But it could at least help the Lakers make the most of adverse times.
“It’s little things. It doesn’t have to be in China,” D’Antoni said about the bonding. “The time they spend in the locker room and buses, they treat each other with respect and fun. You can see the way they come into practice with energy. They get along.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org