The Los Angeles Lakers are in the hot seat. After a disappointing trade season, and a depressing early season exit, the front office’s handling of the past two years is somehow becoming the biggest blight of the franchise.
Crucial starters like LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggled with recurring injuries, leaving a squad made up of mostly new members to fend for themselves. Wenyen Gabriel is one of the promising prospects bred from a difficult time for the Lakers.
The team was defensively lacking amidst Davis’ absence and needed someone with size and speed. In early March, the Lakers signed Gabriel to a two-way contract. He played almost 20 games with the team since then, providing valuable stops and that extra bit of energy the Lakers needed to push past teams on occasion.
Gabriel is one of the few guys on the Lakers roster who didn’t have expectations looming over him, which he said made a difference throughout the tumultuous season.
“I didn’t come with crazy expectations, I was just trying to carve out a role and look for opportunities to play and show what I could do,” Gabriel said.
“I tried to help the team fill a void, bring my energy, length, athleticism and different things like that to the team. Just trying to get some wins, happy we did get a few during that time, I wish we could’ve gotten some more though. But just being able to play with obviously my former teammate Malik, that was great to be in the same locker room as him, and then to play with great players like Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Westbrook and to learn from them all the time. So I think overall it’s been a positive experience for me.”
He learned enough from the Laker vets to earn a standard contract from the team, they announced just before the end of the season.
Gabriel says level of talent makes playing for Lakers different
While Gabriel had been through an anticlimactic season with the Portland Trailblazers in the 2020 season, he explained that playing in Los Angeles carried its own weight.
In Portland, Gabriel was on a team that was aiming to prove themselves, which they did so by making a playoff run. With the Lakers, the forward was able to experience how championship-level players handle pressure.
“I guess it’s different here because of the type of players that are here,” Gabriel said. “Hall of Fame level talent and the expectations are always a championship. So every game is a little different with the weight that was bearing on us. But I’ve been on a team that was trying to make a late playoff run when I was in Portland and we made the bubble run through the Play-Ins. I knew about that approach and I just wanted to see how people’s mental approach was to that and how they act at adversity.”
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