LAS VEGAS- The Los Angeles Lakers won’t be on the only Lakers in town this fall. The D-League re-branded as the G League, and the Lakers minor league team — previously known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders — has re-branded as the South Bay Lakers.
Lakers co-owner and South Bay Lakers president Joey Buss says fan response to the name change has been "overwhelmingly positive” and that the team is “really excited to bring the two brands closer together” because “at the UCLA training facility they'll both be under one roof.”
The re-brand it isn’t the only thing the parent and affiliate organizations are excited about.
"Our minor league team will have access to the best NBA facility in the league,” Buss said after several candidates for the South Bay Lakers’ roster like Alex Caruso and Vander Blue shined in the Lakers’ 95-92 victory over the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas Summer League. “That's going to be a huge competitive advantage for us at the minor league and also at the NBA level."
The competitive advantage for both teams fits with Buss’ long-term vision for the South Bay Lakers, because he wants the G League team to have it’s own success while fueling the success of the NBA squad with call-ups like David Nwaba and former assignees like Ivica Zubac.
"The number one goal for the minor-league team is to win championships and develop players for the Lakers,” Buss said. "The goal for us is just to develop the best players possible, and to create an environment for them to succeed."
The Lakers have a specific mold of player they want to target for the South Bay Lakers that will fit with both organizations.
“We're going to focus on youth, guys that are athletic, guys that can shoot and run the floor,” Buss said. “When these guys get chances from the G League they really can play, and I hope everybody here saw that tonight."
In addition to impacts from players like Caruso and Blue, observers of the Lakers’ Monday night win also saw Thomas Bryant continue to look like he could be a future difference-maker in 10 point, eight rebound and one block performance.
Bryant is averaging 7.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 17.7 minutes during his three games in Las Vegas so far, and as the No. 46 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft who has yet to sign with the Lakers, Bryant looks like the type of player who could be a candidate for either assignments to South Bay or one of the new collective bargaining agreement’s two-way contracts.
Players on two-way contracts can spend up to 45 days on an NBA roster while receiving “a maximum of $275,000 per season,” but spend the rest of the time in the G League making G League money.
Buss wouldn’t commit to either direction for Bryant just yet.
"The consideration in the draft was only for NBA purposes. However, what I will say is that we went from two draft picks to four draft picks, and that we currently have a lot of hope of signing players for the G-League,” Buss said. “We're really excited to develop those players at the NBA level, and if there's an opportunity to assign guys that we draft not only this year but in (other) years as well, we'll make sure that we do that."
Buss said Bryant is just one player in consideration for one of the two two-way contracts the Lakers can dole out.
"For the two-way contracts, our goal is to evaluate all of the guys on the summer league team and also through our training camp, and get the guys that are the best fit and the most talented players for those two-ways,” Buss said.
In order to best evaluate whichever players end up in South Bay, Buss said the Lakers want the two teams to play similar styles but that such an arrangement isn’t always possible.
"I think it's extremely important (for the two teams to play a similar style), but sometimes you can't always match the personnel at the G League level at the NBA level,” Buss said. “So sometimes you need the coach to have some sort of flexibility, but it's one of the top priorities."
With the Lakers continuing to commitment to utilizing their minor league affiliate in order to best aid the parent roster, their D-Fenders’ re-brand is just one of the many things Lakers fans can be excited about in South Bay.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to our latest episode with Thomas Bryant below), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.