Lakers tout Bronny James and their future while standing pat in the present


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As the Los Angeles Lakers introduced their future to the world, their present stood in the shadows behind the throng of media members and TV cameras.

During a news conference for Dalton Knecht and Bronny James — the team’s two 2024 draft picks — Bronny’s father, LeBron, watched from the sidelines instead of sitting in the friends-and-family section of the front row alongside his wife, Savannah, and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul

The message was clear: The moment was about Bronny, not LeBron.

Even so, Bronny, in his first media availability since being drafted by the Lakers with the No. 55 pick last week, inevitably faced an onslaught of questions regarding playing with his father and for the Lakers.

“For sure, amplified amount of pressure,” Bronny said. “I’ve already seen it on social media and stuff, and the internet and stuff and talking about that I might not deserve an opportunity. But I’ve been dealing with stuff like this my whole life. So it’s nothing different. But it’s more amplified, for sure. But I’ll get through it.”

After Bronny thanked new head coach JJ Redick and vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka for everything they have “given” to him, Redick stepped in to correct his 19-year-old rookie guard.

“Rob and I did not give Bronny anything. Bronny has earned this, right?” Redick said. “Bronny talks about his hard work. Bronny has earned this through hard work. And for us prioritizing player development, we view Bronny as, like, case study one, because his base level of feel, athleticism, point-of-attack defender, shooting, passing … there’s a lot to like about his game. And as we sort of build out our player development program holistically, he’s going to have a great opportunity to become an excellent NBA player.”

Redick said the organization is close to hiring a director of player development to oversee areas beyond just the technical elements of the game: nutrition, weight training, conditioning, recovery and mental health.

The Lakers will play their first summer league game Saturday at the California Classic in San Francisco. Both Knecht, the No. 17 pick, and Bronny are expected to play in the summer leagues in San Francisco and Las Vegas. Redick will not coach the team in either league but said he will be heavily involved in practices and games. South Bay Lakers coach Dane Johnson and his staff will coach the team.

With all of the talk about the future of the franchise on Tuesday, it was difficult to ignore LeBron’s looming presence.

It’s no secret that he and Anthony Davis both want significant improvements to the Lakers’ roster. According to Paul, LeBron was even willing to take a sizable pay cut to help facilitate a worthwhile nontaxpayer midlevel exception signing. But that hasn’t happened, and James ultimately agreed to a two-year maximum contract with a second-year player option and a no-trade clause, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

With each passing hour and each transaction elsewhere, upgrading the Lakers’ roster becomes slightly more challenging.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Lakers have acted more like a franchise concerned with their future than their present. “Player development” and “program” have been buzzwords in news conferences. Their only two additions have been rookies. That could certainly be explained by the context of the media availabilities and the time of the year — the draft was just last week, of course — but the Lakers haven’t exactly come off as an urgent group desperate to go all-in for this season.

Through three days of free agency — and really, dating back to last Wednesday, when they finally had access to three tradable draft picks — the Lakers have made no moves of consequence outside of re-signing Max Christie to a four-year, $32 million deal. And with summer league only a few days away, they’ve yet to hire an assistant coaching staff around Redick.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. The Lakers aggressively pursued Klay Thompson, but Thompson turned down their offer of more years and money from the Lakers to join the Dallas Mavericks, according to league sources. They’ve now turned their attention to DeMar DeRozan, though the Miami Heat are currently viewed as slight favorites to land the 15-year veteran and six-time All-Star, according to league sources.

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The Lakers have been active in their conversations on the trade market, too. As The Athletic reported earlier on Tuesday, the Lakers have had recent trade talks with Portland, Brooklyn and Utah, among other teams.

“I think we’re gonna always be aggressive to try to make roster upgrades and will be relentless to continue to look at what we can do,” Pelinka said. “This is the season of being mindful of all the different things we can approach to improve the roster. So we’re in the midst of that as we speak. That will continue in the coming days, and it often spills into Vegas, where all the GMs meet and gather, and other deals get done. But we’ll stay aggressive.”

Regardless of how aggressive they’ve been, though, at some point, the results matter. At this point, they’ve fallen short. There is still time to land an impactful free agent or make a ceiling-raising trade. But the longer this all drags, the trickier it becomes.

The Lakers have a few avenues to acquire new talent. If Los Angeles opts to sign a player to a nontaxpayer midlevel exception or minimum contract, it would have to make a trade to create a roster spot or execute a sign-and-trade while sending a player back. The Lakers could also trade for a player or players under contract with another team, so long as they send out an equal or greater number of players in the deal.

With LeBron James re-signing, the roster is at 15 players — the league maximum. And if LeBron takes his maximum, the Lakers will have $190 million in guaranteed salary and be $1.1 million over the $188.9 million second apron. That would mean the team must execute a salary dump to shed at least $1.1 million before they officially re-sign LeBron and Christie.

While some teams appeared likely to take steps back, such as the Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors, several are poised for steps forward, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets.

In contrast, the Lakers, as things stand, project as a lower-seeded playoff or Play-In team. James and Davis have believed for years that they’ve just needed to get in to have a chance for a title. While that still may be true, they also want more firepower surrounding them.

When asked if the Lakers are being patient with their draft assets and potentially waiting until the February 2025 trade deadline to use them, Pelinka said the Lakers will strike if the right opportunity presents itself.

“I think if the right deal comes and we have to put in draft picks, we will,” Pelinka said. “We’re now in the apron world. We’ve seen contending teams or championship-level teams have to lose players. That’s a result of the apron world we’re living in. So, does it make trades more challenging? Yes. Does it make good trades impossible? No.”

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The Lakers’ present and future conflict, to some extent. Prioritizing one inevitably affects the other. Trading picks means a more difficult rebuild in the eventual post-LeBron era. Keeping them almost certainly shuts the door on contending for another title. The coming days and weeks will reveal which period the franchise values more.

(Photo of Bronny James: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)





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