Rob Pelinka expects all Los Angeles Lakers players to be fully vaccinated by opener

LOS ANGELES -- When the curtain comes up on the new NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers expect all of their performers to be on stage.

"On opening night when we play the Golden State Warriors, all of the players that are currently signed on our roster, on that night, will be deemed fully vaccinated," Lakers president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said on a video conference call Thursday. "We're really grateful for that."

While the league won't mandate players to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as reported last week by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Baxter Holmes, certain teams will have to follow stricter health and safety protocols than others based on the health and safety requirements of their state and county.

Pelinka said the Lakers organization will consult with UCLA Health, a team sponsor, in order to secure the vaccinations for their players.

"I think in collaboration with UCLA and the doctors and people internally, we will be grateful that we won't have interruptions caused by the vaccinated status of a player or a staff member," he said.

Lakers star LeBron James was asked in May if he had been vaccinated to prevent coronavirus and said it was a "family" matter. L.A. center Dwight Howard, who returned to the Lakers as a free agent this offseason, questioned the efficacy of vaccinations last year on one of his social media accounts.

"Do I believe in vaccinations?" Howard asked on an Instagram Live video in July 2020. "No, I don't. That's my personal opinion, but no, I don't."

Pelinka did not name which players have yet to be vaccinated.

The NBA, along with the National Basketball Players Association, have been negotiating protocols for vaccinated versus unvaccinated players as the 2021-22 season fast approaches. Unvaccinated players could be separated from their vaccinated teammates in team functions, meals, travel and locker rooms, sources told ESPN.

The Lakers will unofficially open training camp with a minicamp, organized by James, in Las Vegas this weekend and hold media day back in L.A. on Tuesday, sources said. News of the minicamp was first reported by The Athletic.

From there, the team will have five days of practices before the preseason opener on Oct. 3 against the Brooklyn Nets and the regular season will begin about two weeks after that, on Oct. 19 at home against the Warriors.

"I think we're incredibly excited, obviously, with the guidance of the local authorities and the state, but we're excited that it looks like Staples Center will be full with Lakers fans for opening night," Pelinka said.

When the Lakers hosted Golden State in the play-in tournament in the spring, Staples Center was only allowed to operate at a 33% capacity (about 6,000 fans instead of the full 18,997).

They'll witness a trimmer version of James as he begins his 19th season.

"I think the thing that stands out is just his fitness level," Pelinka said of James. "He's slimmed up. And we all know LeBron studies the greats, and he adds things into his game, and I think going into this stage of his career, he's made a decision to come back a little bit leaner, and I think that's going to translate in his explosiveness and quickness."

While James dropped 17 digits off his uniform, changing from No. 23 to No. 6, he's maintained his weight at around the 250 pounds he was listed at last season, sources told ESPN. His offseason regimen was focused on adding lean muscle rather than shedding pounds, sources said.

James, who will turn 37 in December, is one of a bevy of Lakers attempting to extend his prime this season. The Lakers have nine players with 12-plus years of experience out of the 13 guys currently signed to the roster, which accounts for the most players in league history with that much experience on one team (the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs and 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers both had seven players to reach that bar).

In order to maintain the aging roster, Pelinka detailed the offseason efforts made by the organization to beef up the medical and training staff, which included replacing head athletic trainer Nina Hsieh with Roger Sancho from the Warriors and adding personnel to that department.

"We're moving toward more of a customized model around players," Pelinka said. "I think we live in a world where the TV we watch is more customized, the food we eat when we go out to restaurants, we have more of a say in how to create a [rice] bowl or how to make a meal. I just think it's really smart to customize our approach for what services we put around the player on the training side. So there's going to be a big focus on that with our staff going into camp."