Lakers’ summer league players try to stay focused in wake of LeBron James news
Josh Hart was lying in his hotel bed when he heard the news. Like much of America, he watched NBA free agency unfold on Twitter.
“Shoutout to Shams and Woj,” he joked, referring to the Twitter accounts of Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
But when the subject turned to new teammate LeBron James, he took on a more serious tone. The second-year guard out of Villanova emphasized two things that seem to be common among his summer league teammates, who are in Sacramento this week for the California Classic.
First, an admission that James’ addition and the rest of L.A.’s free-agent acquisitions are out of his control. Second, that while he can’t let James’ presence become a distraction, he also can’t help but be excited.
“I didn’t really know what to say,” he said of finding out James was going to play for the Lakers. “I was kinda in shock. I was just like, ‘Wow. This is the best player in the world coming to L.A.’”
Even though it tosses his future, as well as the future of all the young Lakers , into uncertainty, the possibility of playing with James can serve as motivation.
Just ask Moe Wagner, the 25th overall pick in last month’s NBA draft.
“Any time you get a chance to work with one of the greatest of all time, in any job, I think it’s very exciting,” he said. “To see how he works and compete for a championship is exciting.”
Summer league coach Miles Simon wants to temper that excitement. He has followed the signings, which led him to address his players before Monday’s opener.
“Everybody’s reading the internet,” he told them. “They’re watching ‘SportsCenter.’ And it’s an exciting time to be a Laker. We are one of the greatest franchises in sports history.”
Simon told them to try to separate what that may mean for their futures and for the upcoming season with what they can do to get better right now. Just because they may be playing with James, he told them, doesn’t mean they can put in any less work.
In other words, he’s trying to keep hoopla surrounding James’ arrival out of the Lakers’ locker room.
“These next couple weeks are all about these guys and their journey and how they’re going to start to make their mark and leave their footprint in the NBA,” he said. “This is really, truly, about these guys we have in the locker room wearing these uniforms so that they can get better and start to establish themselves as NBA players.”
Hart echoed Simon. But, he admitted, that can be tough.
“The opportunity to play with someone like that is amazing, and it’s something you dream about,” he said. “I’m anxious to get started.”
Feeling the Heat
The Lakers’ quest to repeat as summer league champions is off to an uninspiring start.
After dropping their opener to the Sacramento Kings on Monday, L.A. fell once again Tuesday, this time 89-74 to the Miami Heat.
Miami opened on a 10-0 run and the Lakers never recovered, at one point trailing by 31. They’ll play their final game of the California Classic at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center on Thursdayagainst the Golden State Warriors.
“They punched us in the face,” Wagner said. “We couldn’t really find rhythm.”
Second-year guard Alex Caruso, who averaged 3.6 points per game in 37 appearances with the Lakers last season, made his summer league debut Tuesday. He just returned from Cuba, where he was playing with USA Basketball.
“[He] wasn’t as sharp as he normally is,” Simon said, “but he’ll get better as we go along.”
Draft pick update
Wagner, who scored 23 points in his debut Monday, was limited to eight points on three-of-nine shooting. Fellow draft pick Svi Mykhailiuk led the Lakers with 12 points on five-of-11 shooting, including two of eight on three-point attempts.
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.