The news rendered Isaac Bonga speechless.
He sat in an office belonging to Wasserman, the agency that represents him in Los Angeles. His sister had flown in from Dusseldorf, Germany, and a few other prospects were watching the draft. Philadelphia selected him for the Lakers and suddenly, Bonga was playing for Magic Johnson, another 6-foot-9 point guard whom Bonga had tried to emulate growing up.
Even better, he was going to a team with another German player — first-round pick Moe Wagner.
“He kind of missed talking German,” Bonga said. “It’s really nice. Just someone from your own country there.”
Wagner has become someone Bonga goes to frequently for help as he tries to catch up this summer. It’s a bond that’s making both of them better.
“I think it helps me, too, because if you have someone that you can help, it automatically helps yourself,” Wagner said. “You’re more familiar and comfortable with all the things.”
Although the Lakers had the 76ers draft Bonga 39th overall more than two weeks ago, he couldn’t officially become part of the team until July 6.
On June 20, the day before the draft, the Lakers traded a 2019 second-round pick and cash to the 76ers for the 39th pick.
Bonga had been a player their scouts had liked when they saw him play professionally in Europe. Then, general manager Rob Pelinka and director of scouting Jesse Buss grew more familiar with him during a springtime scouting trip to Europe.
Bonga spent his pre-draft time in Los Angeles and the Lakers were the only team to put him through a workout. When he told Johnson that a clip of him was the first YouTube video he’d seen, Johnson laughed.
Bonga signed his contract on Friday and flew to Las Vegas from Los Angeles that afternoon. The rest of his team had already flown to Las Vegas from Sacramento, where they played in three summer games already.
On Saturday, Bonga debuted as a Laker against the Philadelphia 76ers. He had three points, two steals, seven turnovers and one rebound, and made one of two shots he took from the floor. In his performance, Lakers summer league coach Miles Simon was encouraged.
“He really played with a calmness; he was very relaxed, so you can really tell he’s played pro basketball before,” Simon said. “He only had 20 to 25 minutes at practice yesterday, he had a shootaround today. We tried to keep our offense really simple for when he was in. We gave him only three or four sets to learn in that time; he picked them up extremely quick.”
On Sunday, Bonga made two of four shots for four points and three rebounds in 16 minutes.
Bonga has accepted all the help he can get as he works to acclimate to his new job. It helps, though, when that assistance comes in his native language.
“This time is all about confidence,” Wagner said.
“That’s the biggest thing I try to tell him. It’s not about plays or mistakes. It’s all about your confidence. You’re here to make mistakes. Summer league you try stuff out a little bit, get adjusted to the new environment and new physicality. Just tell him to keep shooting, tell him to be himself and be confident.”
Hot in Vegas
The Lakers won their second game of NBA Summer League, beating the Chicago Bulls 69-60.
Wagner had eight points and 14 rebounds. Josh Hart, who started 23 games for the Lakers last season, led the team for a second game in a row with 19 points.
Rookie Svi Mykhailiuk scored 15 points and had a game-high plus/minus rating of 31.