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Lakers reporting to camp with many questions, none bigger than Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard of the Lakers
Will Dwight Howard be playing with the Lakers when the NBA season resumes? No word yet.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Around 1 p.m. on the afternoon before training camp (part 2), the Lakers didn’t know which players would be available for that first session.

“The process of testing is every other day and so I can’t predict what the test results I’m going to get this afternoon will be,” Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, said Tuesday during a video conference call. “And so that question changes moment to moment, test to test.”

Such is the uncertainty in the age of COVID-19.

The NBA, which suspended operations March 11 after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, will be attempting to resume operations in July. Teams will travel to Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., during the second week of the month.

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The league will allow teams to hold mandatory individual workouts for players at their team facilities starting Wednesday, the same day teams must submit the names of their travel party, which can be no bigger than 35 people, including up to 17 players.

Once they go to Florida, which the Lakers are planning to do July 9, they will be able to hold mandatory group workouts.

Former Cavaliers guard JR Smith, who played with LeBron James in Cleveland, will replace Avery Bradley on the Lakers roster.

Those rules are set, as is the strict protocol teams and players will have to follow regarding the virus that has disrupted communities around the world and killed more than 125,000 Americans. Even as cases rise in Florida, the NBA believes it has found a safe way to resume in the state.

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“All of us see the reports and the numbers and the spikes in the various cities we live in and parts of Florida,” Pelinka said. “Yes, of course, those numbers are daunting. But the whole purpose of creating this environment is to not have the virus be there and keep the virus on the outside. … I think our goal as a collective entity is to try to pull that off where it’s safer inside than on the outside.”

Although other teams have revealed some positive tests — the NBA announced last week that 16 out of 302 players tested positive — Pelinka declined to say whether any Lakers were among them. League-mandated testing began June 23.

The Lakers won’t have veteran guard Avery Bradley, who decided to skip the trip out of concern for the health of his young son, who has a respiratory condition that puts him at high risk if he were to contract COVID-19.

“It’s tough to lose Avery — his toughness, his defensive tenacity,” Pelinka said. “But we completely understand his decision. … As a friend of Avery’s and [wife] Ashley’s and as a former agent of their family, and as the GM of the Lakers, I was really hoping for them to have an opportunity to compete for a championship. But I understand that in this instance, safety and family is first.”

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Pelinka has been in communication with Dwight Howard, who has expressed hesitancy about going to Florida. Howard’s focus this summer has been on issues of racism and justice, as well as a difficult time for his family. The mother of his 6-year-old son died suddenly in March due to epilepsy. Pelinka said that also is weighing on Howard.

“We are going to continue to work through those extenuating circumstances with Dwight, support him, support his 6-year-old son and hope for the best that he would be a part of our roster in Orlando,” Pelinka said.

The Lakers’ first NBA restart game will be against the team many expect them to compete with for a chance to reach the Finals — the Clippers.

What players will be available isn’t the only question mark.

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The Lakers haven’t determined which 35 people from the organization will be part of their travel group, and the names could change even after they give the league their list, in part because positive COVID-19 tests between now and theirdeparture could impact that number.

Pelinka spoke with a mixture of caution, excitement and melancholy. He acknowledged the toll this experiment will take on families, including his own. If the Lakers go to the Finals, they could be locked into the NBA campus from July 9 until October 13 with limited family time.

“Have I had nights at dinner where I’ll look over and my 10-year-old daughter has tears in her eyes and I ask her why and she says, ‘It’s because daddy could be gone for 3½ months’?” Pelinka said. “Yes, that stuff is part of this. But I think she understands the bigger picture.”


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