Lakers' Quinn Cook Q&A: 'It feels like this team has been together a while'

Lakers' Quinn Cook Q&A: 'It feels like this team has been together a while'

Interview

Lakers' Quinn Cook Q&A: 'It feels like this team has been together a while'

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Quinn Cook always ends up playing for great teams on the biggest of stages. In high school, he was a star with two of the nation’s top programs (DeMatha and Oak Hill Academy). Then, he attended Duke, becoming a key contributor as the Blue Devils won a national championship in 2015. After going undrafted, he shined in the NBA G League and on several 10-day contracts. The Golden State Warriors noticed and soon he was getting significant minutes on a super-team, playing in back-to-back NBA Finals and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Now, Cook joins another juggernaut after inking a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. This move means a lot to Cook. He’s been good friends with LeBron James and Anthony Davis since high school and now he gets to reunite with them (he briefly played with James in Cleveland and Davis in New Orleans). Also, Cook was a huge fan of the Lakers as a kid. Cook’s father, Ted, loved the purple and gold before passing away unexpectedly at just 48 years old due to complications from a procedure. Cook, who was 14 years old at the time, was devastated since he and Ted were very close.

HoopsHype caught up with Cook to discuss his move to the Lakers, joining the team he rooted for as a kid, his time with the Warriors, playing with James and Davis, expectations for this team, life as a Laker and more.

What different factors were you considering in free agency and why did you ultimately decide to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Quinn Cook: My free agency was all over the place. It was a great experience for me, learning more about the business and stuff like that, but it was a long couple of days. The biggest thing was joining a winner. That’s why I play this game; I want to win as much as possible. Also, I wanted to go somewhere I’d have the opportunity to be a consistent role player and just try to help as much as possible. And I wanted to be able to keep learning. I want to have a 12-year NBA career, so I wanted to be somewhere I could learn from experienced vets and get the opportunity to contribute right away. I think the Lakers presented the perfect situation and opportunity for me.

A 12-year NBA career is very specific! I’m just curious, why are you set on playing 12 years?

QC: I mean, I just always told myself that I wanted to play 12 years or more (laughs). If I could play even longer, I would! But, I don’t know, that’s just always been my goal. I want to play at least 12 years in the NBA.

You were a Lakers fan growing up. I know your dad was a big fan of the team as well before he passed away in 2008. Was he a big reason why you started rooting for them and what does it mean to join the Lakers considering your emotional attachment to this team?

QC: It’s great, and it’s a dream come true for myself and my family. Anybody who knows me well or anybody who I spent time with as a kid knows how much the Lakers meant to my dad and meant to me when I was growing up. My dad was always a fan and I was basically born into it. When I was young and learning about basketball, the Lakers were winning a bunch of championships. It was a very cool time for me to be a Lakers fan.

Growing up, my three favorite players were Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and LeBron James, but there was always just something about the Lakers that resonated with me since I was a kid. It’s very cool to go back and see pictures of all the Lakers jerseys I had. And in the pictures of me and my dad, most of the time we both have a Lakers jersey or shirt or jacket on (laughs). It’s an amazing story and I’m just so appreciative that I have this opportunity.

You won a championship with the Golden State Warriors and learned from incredible veterans and coaches. When you look back at your time with the Warriors, how was your stint there and how much do you feel you improved as a player?

QC: I am very thankful for my opportunity there. I think I really took a big step forward in my NBA career in the two years that I was there. I accomplished some things there that I’d always dreamed of accomplishing – things like winning an NBA championship, playing significant minutes in the playoffs, starting at least 20 games, scoring a lot of points. I’m just so appreciative because they gave me an opportunity and, as soon as I got there, everyone believed in me and respected me. I came in and worked hard and was low maintenance.

I had great relationships with each of my teammates and I just wanted to learn as much as possible, especially from our core veterans. They had been winning for so long, so I just wanted to stay around them and ask as many questions as I could and just watch all of their habits and add them to my own regimen. I just got better. I’m so appreciative for the opportunity they gave me. Now, I just want to keep adding to my game, keep using everything I learned there and build off of that.

You’re still pretty young at 26 years old, but you’ve played in back-to-back NBA Finals and you won a championship on arguably one of the best teams ever. You also won a championship at Duke. You’ve seen firsthand what it takes to win it all. How do you feel your championship experience can help the Lakers?

QC: I think that’s a big reason why they wanted me to come here, just the fact that I’ve been on a championship team. I contributed on a championship team, playing well at key moments in the Finals and in big playoff moments and things like that. I think that’s a big reason why they wanted me. And that is a big reason why I wanted to come here too. With my experiences over the last two years, I know there’s no better feeling as a basketball player than to play well at the highest level and on the biggest stage. That was definitely a big reason why I wanted to come to the Lakers. It’s an amazing opportunity and I’m just blessed to be part of a great organization with so much winning tradition. And I’m still young, like you said, so I just want to keep learning from all of these vets who I’ll get to play with.

You and LeBron James have been close for a while. For people who may not know, how did you guys initially become friends and how excited are you to play with LeBron again?

QC: I went to his camp when I was in high school. He and Coach K are extremely close even to this day, so throughout my time at Duke, he was always coming to watch us play and keeping track of how we were doing and reaching out to all of us and to Coach K. He was always very supportive of me when I was in college. Then, he was my vet when I was a rookie during my time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When I was in Canton [with the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate], he was still a big brother to me. He came to watch me play a couple times in the G League and he stayed in contact with me. Then, anytime our teams played against each other in the NBA, we’ve always caught up and had great conversations.

He’s always been a great, reliable vet and mentor to me. I know I can always rely on him. Like I said, he and Kobe were two of my favorite players when I was growing up, so it’s sort of surreal to even have a relationship with him. Playing against him in the Finals was a dream come true for me. Now, getting the chance to be his teammate again is great and another dream come true. I’m really excited for this opportunity. I know he called [the front office] on my behalf to help get me over here to the Lakers, so I’m very appreciative of that. Ever since I’ve been in Los Angeles, we’ve been working out together and staying in contact. I just think I’m very blessed, and I’m very thankful to have this relationship with LeBron.

You also played with Anthony Davis on the Pelicans in 2016-17. DeMarcus Cousins was there too, and then you obviously played with Cousins last year. I remember you spent a lot of time with Davis and Cousins during the summer of 2017 too, working out with them in Las Vegas a lot. How excited are you to reunite with Davis and Cousins?

QC: It’s so exciting. AD was the first person to call me during the free-agency process. We talked so much during the process (laughs). When Golden State withdrew my qualifying offer, [he reached out]. He’s a big, big, big, big reason why I’m in L.A. now. We had been close since high school, playing together as McDonald’s All-Americans and with Team USA and playing against each other on the circuit. We always stayed in contact over the years and then we obviously reunited in New Orleans in 2016-17. He’s always been one of my best friends in the league and we’ve always kept in touch. It’s going to be extremely cool to be back around him on a daily basis.

DeMarcus and I spent the last year together and you obviously know our relationship. I think we have a lot to prove because of how our season ended last year. We’ve been motivating each other all summer and communicating all summer; we were doing that even before we knew that we’d end up together again! It just so happened that everything worked out that way. I’m so happy to get back with DeMarcus. I know he’s excited to get the season going too.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

How good can this team be? LeBron and AD is obviously a scary pairing. I know DeMarcus is working really hard out in Las Vegas and he’s dropped a lot of weight. The supporting cast is impressive too. If everything comes together, how good can this group be?

QC: Extremely great. All of the signings that we’ve made this summer have been great. We have a lot of guys who can really play, who can contribute. When you have two of the best players in the entire world in AD and LeBron, that obviously helps (laughs). DeMarcus now gets to have a whole summer where he’s not just focused on rehabbing – he can focus on getting better as a player and he’ll go into the season 100 percent healthy. People forget that last year, he came into the season in mid-January and he had some great games for us during the regular season. He played really well against Houston, Denver and Oklahoma City to name a few. Then, he got hurt in the playoffs, but he had some really big moments for us in the Finals too. I’m excited to see what he can do after having a whole summer of becoming better on the court and not worrying about his health. I know he’s 100 percent now. Getting Rajon Rondo back is huge. There were so many big signings. I think this is going to be a team that plays extremely hard. Coach [Frank] Vogel is going to demand excellence and greatness out of us. At the same time, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere. I think it’s going to be fun, man. It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us and I can’t wait to get this started.

You’ve played on the biggest stages and you were a Warrior, but I always tell people that being a Laker is a bit different. Ramon Sessions told me that Laker fans once chased him through his hotel. Players talk about having paparazzi follow them for the first time after they join the Lakers. It can be pretty crazy. What has it been like experiencing that for the first time in recent weeks?

QC: I was literally just talking about this with Kyle Kuzma! I’ve been so blessed to have played for some great teams, going to two high schools that had big fan bases – DeMatha and Oak Hill. Then, obviously, at Duke we had the best fan base in college basketball. Then, going to Golden State and being a dynasty and being champions, there was a huge following. But I’ve been a Laker for about two weeks now and this is crazy. This is the most love I’ve ever had. I’ve never had so many fans hitting me up and congratulating me. Anywhere I walk in Los Angeles, there are Laker fans! They’re all over the place! They’ve been showing me extreme love.

It’s been crazy, man. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, but you don’t really get the feeling until you’re in it. The fans have been amazing thus far, sending well wishes and congratulating us after we signed. They’ve always been like this too. I remember when we played them two years ago and they were struggling a little bit, but they had just as many fans in Oracle as the Warriors! The Lakers fans have always stood out and, now being a part of it, I can already feel [the difference] in these two weeks. It’s been amazing. It makes me want to keep working hard and going hard so we can have a great season for them. The fans are amazing – by far the best fans I’ve encountered thus far.

You’re still developing and trying to improve, so what aspects of your game are you working on this offseason? And with so many new faces on the Lakers, do you guys have plans to work out as a team this summer and start getting everyone acclimated?

QC: I took some time off after the season, but I was still keeping my body right. Now, I’m back all the way, doing two-a-days and sometimes three-a-days. I’m working smarter now after learning from different vets and trainers and coaches I’ve been with. I’m working a lot smarter this summer, but I’m still going hard and trying to improve my entire game. I just want to become an even more consistent player off the bench – even better than I was last year. When I had an opportunity to play extended minutes last year, I thought I played extremely well and I want to keep adding to that.

We have our team group chat going and the guys are very active in it. It feels like this team has been together for a while. Everyone has been really active in the group chat. Ever since I signed, I went straight to Los Angeles and I’ve been working out with Bron, Kuz, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale [McGee]. We’ve been working on a lot of stuff and I’m getting a chance to learn from the coaching staff, getting a chance to talk to Coach Vogel a lot and work out with Coach [Miles] Simon. Everyone has been so welcoming since day one when I signed. I know the other guys will start to trickle in; it’s still really early in the summer. As guys trickle in, we’ll keep working hard and getting ready for the season. All of the guys are really excited to get things going, man. I know this NBA season will be one of the better ones for everyone – from players to coaches to fans. If you’re a fan of basketball, this season will be amazing.

Shortly after you joined the Lakers, the Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Now, everyone is talking about the Lakers-Clippers rivalry. I know you’re new to the rivalry as a player, but what was your reaction to the Clippers making those moves and the rivalry being rejuvenated?

QC: It shocked the world. I didn’t think Kawhi Leonard was going to go there and then for them to get Paul George as well? It was shocking. It doesn’t matter what team you play for, you have to acknowledge it was a great move. I was a fan of the move from a basketball standpoint. We obviously played them last year [in the first round] and they were tough, but they just got even tougher. It’s fun, man. I know Staples Center will be rocking every single night – whether the Lakers or the Clippers are playing. Being a fan of the Lakers growing up, I know a lot about the rivalry. But having two dominant teams in L.A. is so much fun, man.

One of my best friends growing up was Rodney McGruder – we played on the same AAU team – and he just signed with the Clippers, so I’m excited for him to have a great opportunity on a great team. We’ve been talking a lot about it and how we excited are [for Lakers-Clippers games]. It’s going to be a great year for the NBA.

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