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Newsletter: Rhythm of basketball returns for everyone in the NBA bubble

Lakers forward LeBron James, left, congratulates guard Alex Caruso after a win over the Clippers last season.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

I was released from quarantine on Sunday and allowed into the very limited space reporters get access to during these next few months. Those spaces do include practices and games, though. It’s been fun to hear the sounds of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking on hotel ballroom courts.

The realities of life in the bubble have become more real for everyone in here. From the players’ perspective, that has meant that some had to leave for family emergencies that would otherwise not have required so much discussion. Two Clippers have left — Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley. Some players are making difficult choices to miss family milestones — one of them was Lakers guard Alex Caruso.

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Wedding planning generally does not happen in a day, a week or even a month. All over the country this year, couples had to postpone plans for weddings to avoid gathering during the pandemic. But scheduling a wedding is tricky when you have close family with unmovable schedules.

Caruso’s sister planned her wedding for July 18 so that her brother could attend. In any other year, that would have been a safe bet since it’s traditionally the offseason. This year the NBA calendar was delayed by four months, and Caruso traveled to Orlando to enter the NBA bubble on July 9.

“They’ve been waiting a while to get me to be a part of the wedding,” Caruso said. “So they eventually just had to go through with it and get it done.”

Caruso’s path to the NBA has not been a quick one, and he spoke about his family’s support meaning so much to him through that process. That made his decision to miss his sister’s wedding that much more difficult.

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“This was gut wrenching,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously, anybody who knows me knows that I’m a family-first guy, and this was something that we would have loved for him to be able to attend.”

That’s not just lip service from Vogel, who still tries to do nightly family dinners remotely. He perches a FaceTime device on a stand as he eats inside the bubble and video chats with his wife and daughters who are back in Los Angeles.

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“We gave him support whichever way he decided, but we just laid out sort of what it would look like in terms of how safe it would be upon his return,” Vogel said. “With the mind-set that we just want to make sure that we’re keeping all our players safe — and quarantines that would go into it. And then left it up to him to make his decision and we would have respected it either way.”

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Caruso experienced the wedding through photos taken at the dev event, and posted his congratulations on Instagram, asking his followers to share in his joy.

“A wedding is a moment in time that I’ll probably never be able to recapture,” Caruso said. “But the many years that I’ll have to create new memories with them is going to be just fine.”

Bubble basketball

The Lakers will play their first game against a different team — the Dallas Mavericks — tonight. To be clear, this one doesn’t count. It’s akin to preseason exhibition games. Each team plays three before the season resumes on July 30.

In the interest of protecting their players’ non-COVID-19 health, the Lakers are going to keep an eye on their minutes. Vogel has said that he doesn’t anticipate Anthony Davis and LeBron James will play in all three games.

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Davis said the team is pretty close to where it’ll need to be when the games begin. We’ll soon find out if he is correct.

Since we last spoke ...

  • While there are a lot of sacrifices players have to make to be here, there is a positive side to their being in an enclosed environment with a lot of their longtime friends. I took a look at what bubble life was like in the early days when teams were sharing hotels.
  • Dwight Howard has been very active on Instagram Live while in the bubble, but in his news conference there he expressed annoyance that his videos were making news. He said the focus should be on other things.
  • LeBron James talked about a wide variety of issues in his first bubble news conference — almost none of it basketball. He shared that the thing he missed the most during the pandemic was his mom. He spoke about the MVP race. He shared his thoughts on the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis. He said he still thinks about Kobe Bryant every day.
  • The NBA is still in an experimental phase with the setup of the arenas during games. Players are curious about how it will look on game night.
  • Paul George became the first player to use his postgame news conference exclusively to talk about Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old woman who was killed by police serving a no-knock warrant on her home in Louisville, Ky. Before him, though, many players had done the same thing during practice-related media sessions. Other players are mixing in discussions about Taylor while still answering other questions. Some of this is happening organically. They’re in the same hotels, talking about issues of racism and justice around the world. But there’s also a directed movement happening and players are actively encouraging each other to do this. Some players even participated in a video call with Taylor’s mother.
  • I got a look at what a game will be like Wednesday when the Clippers played the Orlando Magic in a bubble matinee. Our Andrew Greif wrote about the Clippers’ first game back with some assists from me on what the scene was like inside the arena.
  • For more exclusive updates, photos and videos via text message from NBA writer Dan Woike and me, sign up for Full-Court Text.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at tania.ganguli@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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