Troy Daniels admits that he likely would’ve received more than the veteran’s minimum from a team had he put off signing for a few more days during free agency. But when the Los Angeles Lakers offered him a one-year deal worth $2.1 million, he jumped at the opportunity. That’s because the 28-year-old believes he’s a perfect fit for the Lakers, who badly needed to add shooters this summer after finishing last season with the NBA’s second-worst three-point percentage (33.3 percent).
Now, Daniels has a chance to showcase his game on a huge stage. Playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis should create a lot of open looks for Daniels, who’s shown that he’ll make defenses pay if he’s left unguarded. Last season, he made 47.9 percent of his open threes, which was 10th-best in the NBA.
HoopsHype caught up with Daniels to discuss his decision to join the Lakers, his expectations for this team, how he perfected his shot, life as a Laker and more.
How was your free-agency experience and why did you ultimately sign with the Lakers?
Troy Daniels: It was a hectic time, for sure. Kawhi Leonard was kind of holding up free agency because a lot of teams wanted to hold onto their salary-cap room to give it all to him because they thought they had a real shot at getting him. It kind of sucked for me. Around that time, I knew my market wasn’t that big, but I figured I could probably make $3 million or $4 million for the upcoming season. The Lakers, Thunder, Warriors and a couple other teams were interested – a lot of teams obviously need elite shooters. I knew those teams were interested.
The Lakers were the first to come with an offer. It was a vet minimum deal, but it was almost a no-brainer. They’re trying to build a championship team for this season and opportunities like that don’t come along very often. I felt like it was the best decision for my career. You can make a big name for yourself by playing well on the big stages, as I did in my rookie year [with the Houston Rockets]. If I get another opportunity like that, I just have to take advantage of it. Coming in, I don’t really know the plan [as far as playing time]. Everybody feels like they know who’s going to play and who isn’t going to play, but at the end of the day, you have to go out there and earn it. I’ve built my career on that. It doesn’t really matter how much or when I’m going to play; whatever opportunity I get, I’m going to be ready.
The Lakers ranked 29th in three-point shooting last year and it’s clear they badly wanted to add shooters this summer, signing you, Danny Green, Quinn Cook and Avery Bradley. It seems like this is a great situation for you.
TD: To be honest, I think it’s a perfect fit. LeBron James and Anthony Davis command a lot of attention and a ton of double-teams. When those guys have the ball, defenders watch the ball. You want to have shooters surrounding LeBron and AD, whether it’s me or Danny Green or the other guys. If I’m open, I feel like nine times out of 10, it’s going to go in. The ones that I miss are the harder, contested shots. But if I’m wide open – and I probably will get a lot of wide-open shots – it’s probably going to go in. Having LeBron and AD definitely helps me. And playing with shooters will help LeBron and AD and the other players because the [improved spacing] lets them get through the lane and do what they do best.
Now that we have an idea of what the full roster will look like, how good can this Lakers team be?
TD: I think we have the correct balance of veterans and young guys. We have the guys who have been in the league a while and won championships, but we also have the young guys who are still developing like Kyle Kuzma, who is coming along really well and has tremendous upside. We have go-to stars in Anthony Davis and LeBron James. I think we have the right combination of guys on this team and I think we can go really far. Our goal is to win a championship, but first and foremost, we must make the playoffs. And once we make the playoffs, we’ll go from there. But this team could go really far and I’m really looking forward to working with all of these guys.
You’re automatic from three-point range, especially when you’re open. This may be a dumb question, but how did you perfect your shot? You obviously put in a ton of work, but when you were growing up, were there specific drills that you did or certain players that you studied?
TD: I watched a lot of great players like Reggie Miller, Michael Redd, Ray Allen and Kyle Korver, who is still doing his thing to this day. I watched those guys a lot when I was growing up. I always wanted to be an elite shooter. It’s one thing to be a shooter who can make some shots, it’s another to be an elite shooter where defenses are scheming against you. You do have to grind and put in work – I still work on my shot each and every day – but I also think it’s partially a God-given talent. Certain players just have an eye for putting the ball in the hole.
LeBron James has great court vision and he’s very creative as a passer, which is why a lot of shooters have thrived alongside him. How much are you looking forward to playing with LeBron?
TD: I’m really looking forward to it. For a shooter like myself, you could call it a dream come true. He’s a tremendous passer – an elite passer – and he knows the game so well. He understands that sometimes, a shooter just needs to touch the ball. We don’t even need to shoot it; sometimes, you just want to touch the ball and give it right back and let the game come to you. He totally understands this game and I’m really looking forward to playing with him. Any shooter would look forward to playing with LeBron James! Any shooter.
I recently interviewed Quinn Cook and he said his first few weeks as a Laker were unlike anything he’s experienced in terms of the fan support. Ramon Sessions tells a great story about Laker fans chasing him through his hotel when he joined the team. I know it’s only been about a month, but is life as a Laker a bit different?
TD: It’s way different. I’m friends with a guy who used to be on the Lakers’ coaching staff and he always told me that being part of the Lake Show is very different and that there a lot of perks and things that come with it. He just told me to take advantage of everything I can. That’s what I’m going to do. I call them “America’s Team” because everyone knows about the Los Angeles Lakers and everyone knows about Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. When you come play for this organization, you got to come correct. That’s what I’m going to do.
What specific aspects of your game are working on this offseason?
TD: I’ve been doing a lot of conditioning. A ton of conditioning. I’ve also been doing a lot of shooting and ball-handling and shooting off-the-dribble. After being in the league for a while and building up [a reputation] as an elite shooter, guys want to run me off the three-point line. It’s understandable and that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do because if I have any kind of space, it’s probably going to go in. And if I see one go in, the next five might go in – you never know.
But I know opponents are saying, “Make him put it on the floor! Make him put it on the floor!” Because of that, I have to be able to make one-dribble and two-dribble pull-ups. I need to be able to create for someone else off-the-dribble. Sometimes, I may even need to bring the ball up and that’s something I’ve been working on over the last two or three years, improving my ball-handling in case I get into those situations. I really think my ball-handling is underrated because I shoot the ball so well. Guys don’t expect you to be able to shoot the ball and dribble at an elite level at the same time, but that’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve also been working on my defense. … I’ll probably be heading out to L.A. in the next few weeks and working out there leading up to training camp.
Back in 2014, the Houston Rockets called you up from the G League and about a month a half later, as a rookie, you scored 17 points and hit the go-ahead shot in the final seconds of a playoff game. What’s the key to staying ready and stepping up in those big moments?
TD: To me, it’s totally a mindset thing. I never get too high and I never get too low. Some people get frustrated at times because they aren’t touching the ball, but I understand the game and the business of the game. It’s important to understand those things and have the right mindset during each game. My motto is, “It is what it is.” I live by that. There are times where I’m not touching the ball for the next 10 possessions and I’ll come out of the game and then once they put me back in, they expect me to make a couple shots. But that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do and what I get paid to do. And I have to be able to do it at a high level because, if I don’t, I’m sure they’ll find someone else. That’s how this league works. From my rookie season and on, I’ve built my career on taking advantage of every single opportunity I can and now I’m going into year seven, so [it’s worked].
You went undrafted in 2013 and fought your way onto an NBA roster by dominating in the G League. Now, the Lakers will be your sixth team in seven years. You’ve had a pretty unique journey. What are some things you’ve learned throughout your career thus far?
TD: I’ve played against a lot of different players, I’ve played with a lot of different players and I’ve dealt with a lot of different egos. Basically, I’ve almost seen it all. The only way I’ve been able to survive in the league is by grinding and trying to outwork as many people as possible. And I had to take advantage of every opportunity I got. As a young guy coming into the NBA, you don’t really expect to play or anything like that. So when [former Rockets head coach] Kevin McHale called my name that day in the playoffs – and he had about four other vets he could’ve called instead – I was nervous. But once I got out there, I realized that basketball is basketball and I just needed to do what I do. That’s when all the nerves went away. As a young kid growing up, you dream of moments like that. Those moments are what keep you going and keep you coming back and keep you in love with this game.
After bouncing around so much, is there part of you that wants to stay with the Lakers beyond one season and make this your home long-term?
TD: For sure. I mean, I’m human. I don’t want to keep bouncing around. I have a family and nobody wants to keep doing that. It is always good to be wanted, though. That’s how I try to look at it. That’s something I’ve learned over the years after moving a bunch and getting traded here and then getting traded there. When I was in Houston, I got traded to Minnesota and I cried. I sat there and cried because I didn’t want to leave. Everything was going perfect in Houston. I was playing well, I was coming off a good playoff run, I had signed a nice deal with them and I knew everybody.
But I think that’s what being a professional is, getting out of your comfort zone. At the time, I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone, but I was stripped of my comfort zone and sent to cold Minnesota. I don’t even think [the Timberwolves] knew what was going on around that time in their organization. It was tough for me as a young kid. But I grew out of that and started looking at it like, “Hey, let me just go in here, work extremely hard and whatever happens, happens. I’m still in the NBA no matter, and that’s everybody’s dream.” You have to appreciate every opportunity and just keep working – regardless of the situation.
There are a lot of new players on this Lakers team. You’ve been in this situation several times where you’re joining a new team and trying to get acclimated. How long does that adjustment period last, and what are some keys to getting everyone on the same page?
TD: To be honest, it shouldn’t take more than maybe a month. We’re all professionals here and we do this for a living. There shouldn’t be any excuses after that first month is over because we’ll have been playing together for a little while. We’ve been playing this game our whole lives and we get paid really good money to go out there and play at a high level, so I’m not looking for any excuses. I don’t look for us to make any excuses past that one month. Obviously, to get to the level that we need to be at for the playoffs and to win a championship, that will take a little longer. But as far as us playing together, getting that camaraderie and putting some wins together, it shouldn’t take that long at all.
Quinn Cook told me that he was impressed with how everyone is communicating and that you guys have a really active group chat. Does that make it easier to get acclimated when everyone is communicating a lot?
TD: No question. When I was on the Charlotte Hornets in 2015-16, we won 48 games and we were all so close. It was unbelievable how close we all were. When we were on the road, we’d go out to eat, go the movies together and hang out. It was great. I can see that with this Lakers team now. Some of the guys haven’t even seen each other yet, but we’re all texting each other, “Hey, how are you doing?” “Hey guys, I’m working out at this time, meet me there.” You need that camaraderie, and I see that with this team.
Do you guys have any plans to work out as a team this offseason? I know the Brooklyn Nets were planning on having the whole team go to Los Angeles for a few weeks, so they could train together and spend time together. Do you guys have anything like that planned?
TD: We definitely have something like that planned, but I’m going to keep that between us. I don’t know if they want me to disclose any of the [details]. But we definitely have some stuff planned.