Lakers begin to return to a semblance of normalcy and prepare for Trail Blazers
On a sunny January day, crisp by El Segundo standards, and under the nearly cloudless blue sky, the Lakers had a little fun. They went through drills for footwork and endurance on the green grass, and then a football practice broke out.
At one point, Rajon Rondo served as the quarterback, with Troy Daniels going deep as the receiver and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the defensive back assigned to him. Caldwell-Pope knocked the ball away from Daniels, and they both laughed as they jogged back to their huddles. LeBron James took his turn as a quarterback too, throwing with both his right and left hands.
Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka wore a pleasant expression as he chatted with assistant coach Jason Kidd while an NBA team ran some playful football drills in front of him.
Soon the coaches and players began to make their way to the practice facility for the real work to begin.
“Recess is over,” Danny Green said.
The Lakers held their first practice Wednesday since the death of Kobe Bryant. Speaking for the team, coach Frank Vogel said they’ve tried to push forward.
“On Sunday, I lost my best friend and my sweet goddaughter,” Pelinka said. “With that, there has been an amputation of part of my soul.”
Thursday was the Lakers third day together since tragedy struck the organization. It was one of their most public days since Sunday. Co-owner Jeanie Buss also released a statement. In between, the Lakers held a warmup in public before going through a practice meant to prepare them for the basketball they would play Friday.
Pelinka wrote about Bryant’s intensity on the court and in anything he did. He also wrote that Bryant was “the best friend anyone could imagine.”
Uniquely equipped to offer thoughts on Gianna Bryant, Pelinka shared who she was.
“She was brilliant, kind and warm,” Pelinka said. “And, like her dad, when she stepped onto the basketball court, she took on an entirely different nature, and boy could she play. Her basketball destiny was apparent, and the world knew it. She was also an extraordinary, loyal and supportive sister, and a wonderful friend to my children. My son and daughter always left time with Gigi feeling better about life itself. Everything Gigi stood for, I am so proud of.”
Buss wrote a letter to Bryant on her Instagram page. She told a story about how Bryant helped her deal with the death of her father, Jerry Buss, in 2013.
“I was struggling to find motivation and purpose,” Buss wrote. “Kobe, you brought Gianna with you to spend some time with me. You explained that you wanted to show her that women can be leaders in the NBA, just like the men. At first, it seemed like an action of a devoted father setting an example for his daughter. But in actuality — and I am positively sure you knew EXACTLY what you were doing — what you did was give me the inspiration and strength I was searching for.”
Thursday was the third day the Lakers had come together since tragedy struck the organization Sunday morning.
Each day has offered a progression for the Lakers. Their first day together, they did light work on the court before gathering for a luncheon and sharing stories about Bryant. On Wednesday, they started with drills and conducted a light scrimmage. Thursday, the Lakers began preparing in earnest for the Portland Trail Blazers.
According to an Instagram post by Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, Bryant had planned to be at Friday’s game.
“We are respecting the balance of trying to make guys feel good — laughter is always a good remedy for something like this when it’s appropriate,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve had stuff like that. Today’s workout outside, it’s not the first time we’ve done that. But it does feel good to be out there. Just a change-up. It was really just a warm-up, and once we came inside it was business. Get back to business and lock into the work of what we have to get done in practice.”
Vogel was again the lone voice to address reporters. The Lakers are allowing players to speak whenever they are ready and so far none have opted to do so. Their next opportunity will come Friday morning after the team’s shootaround.
Friday’s will be their first basketball game since Sunday. The Lakers and Clippers were scheduled to play Tuesday, but the Lakers asked that the NBA postpone the game.
The Lakers plan tributes to Bryant at Friday’s game, but Vogel declined to share what they would be.
Kobe Bryant desperately wanted, and despaired over not winning, that sixth championship ring. To honor his memory, the Lakers need to win it for Kobe.
Vogel has found each day they have been together therapeutic for the team. He hopes it’s having a similar impact on Pelinka, who considered Bryant his best friend, was his agent, and was Gianna’s godfather.
“We’ve just encouraged him to be with his family as much as he can, and to be away from here, and to be here as much as feels right for him,” Vogel said.
Pelinka has been with the Lakers the past three days.
“Kobe and Gigi’s legacies will live on — and gain even more power and influence,” Pelinka wrote in his statement. “All of us touched by them will now try to become torch carriers of their legacies. And, while we do that, we can be certain of this: Kobe and Gigi will continue on, forever, playing a joy-filled game of basketball in heaven above.”
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