After taking a few months off, the Los Angeles Lakers will return to the floor on July 2 at the inaugural California Classic Summer League in Sacramento. Well, some of them, anyway.
At the Lakers’ exit interview in April, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson effectively ruled out All-NBA rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma from the upcoming summer league competitions, but Thomas Bryant, Josh Hart and whoever the Lakers take with their two selections on draft night are expected to be full participants.
Both Hart and Bryant got a taste of summer league last season when the Lakers made their championship run in Las Vegas last year, but Hart’s time in Sin City was cut short due to a nagging ankle injury that kept him sidelined for all but two games of the tournament.
This time around, Hart is hoping things will be different and in an interview with Aaron Larsuel of “America’s Lakers Podcast,” Hart sounded like he can’t wait to get back out on the floor and compete.
“Summer league I’m going to be out there balling. I’ll be in Sacramento and I’ll be in Vegas. That’s time to go. That’s time to play against other good players, young guys and time to go be competitive, time to go out there and hoop. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously you have to work out, you have to spend your time in the gym, but when you’re able to get out there and play against other people and you don’t have to kill yourself or kill your coaches every day, that’s what you live for. That’s why you play the game, to go out there, compete, and dominate.”
Summer league is where fans will get their first look at what Hart has been working on his first offseason as an NBA player. As a four-year senior out of Villanova, Hart came into the league more polished than other rookies but he still has a ton of room to grow, especially offensively. Hart recognizes that and has made that a point of emphasis during his workouts this summer.
“Definitely working on my handle. Working more on my floater game, my mid-range game. Just shooting 40 percent from the three, this summer is just to improve the parts you did well in, but it’s also kind of to get counters. So I shot 40 percent from three last year, so I know going in guys aren’t going to let me shoot ... I could be a runoff, so it’s about countering when guys run me off the line, being able to still be effective getting in the paint, getting a mid-range jumper. Getting a floater, or getting in the paint and kicking it. The handle, that ability to kind of change directions and play off the bounce, I’ve been working on that.
Without Ball, Kuzma and Ingram, Hart will have to carry the load offensively during summer league, something he likely won’t be asked to do during the regular season. However, when the Lakers were short bodies in the final few games of last season, Hart showed he’s capable of being the focal point on offense if needed.
Hart might not be the flashiest rookie on the Lakers, nor is he expected to make an All-Star game during his career, but the 23-year-old quickly became a fan favorite because of the effort he displayed every night on both ends of the floor. Whatever Hart adds to his game from now until summer league is just gravy.