Lakers introduce Bronny James, say he ‘earned’ way onto team

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — After Los Angeles Lakers rookie Bronny James thanked coach JJ Redick and vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka for everything they have “given” to him after drafting him No. 55 last week, Redick corrected his young guard.

“Rob and I did not give Bronny anything,” Redick said during James’ introductory news conference Tuesday, along with the Lakers’ No. 17 pick, Dalton Knecht. “Bronny has earned this. … Bronny has earned this through hard work.”

Bronny’s parents, LeBron and Savannah James, stood off to the side at the Lakers’ facility as their eldest son reported to his first day at the job in the family business.

“For sure, amplified amount of pressure,” Bronny said of the attention surrounding him joining the Lakers. “I’ve already seen it on social media and stuff, and the Internet and stuff and talking about that I might not deserve an opportunity. But I’ve been dealing with stuff like this my whole life. So it’s nothing different, but it’s more amplified, for sure. But I’ll get through it.”

The 19-year-old rookie, who entered the draft after averaging 4.8 points on 36.6% shooting (26.7% from 3), 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 19.3 minutes per game at USC after undergoing a heart procedure last summer, said the nearly five-month layoff due to the medical issue affected his development.

“I feel like I could’ve been perfecting my game more,” Bronny said. “I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to showcase what I can really do because I wasn’t given that much of an opportunity at SC. I’m excited for what is to come.”

Knecht signed his contract with L.A. on Tuesday — a standardized deal based on his position in the first round. Bronny’s contract is expected to be finalized before the Lakers open up their summer league slate in the California Classic against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. Both Bronny and Knecht are expected to play.

The Lakers and Bronny’s representative, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, have discussed a multi-year contract that would assure him one of L.A.’s 15 full-fledged roster spots, sources told ESPN.

LeBron is also currently not under contract with the team. Paul told ESPN his client would be willing to take a paycut below the three-year, $162 million maximum contract the 39-year-old veteran is eligible to sign in order for L.A. to sign an “impact player.” However, the Lakers’ attempt to acquire Klay Thompson after James made that gesture failed, with Thompson joining the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year, $50 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Pelinka said that the Lakers are continuing to try to strengthen the roster and would include the two future first-round picks they have that are eligible to be traded should the right situation present itself.

“I think if the right deal comes and we have to put in draft picks, we will,” Pelinka said before acknowledging how the first and second apron structure of the new collective bargaining agreement has placed limitations on teams. “We’re now in the apron world. We’ve seen contending teams or championship-level teams have to lose players. That’s a result of the apron world we’re living in. So, does it make trades more challenging? Yes. Does it make good trades impossible? No.”

Bronny, when asked if the possibility of playing with the NBA’s all-time leading scorer informed the timing of his decision to leave USC, said a father-son pairing was not his motivation to declare.

“Rob has told me that there’s a great development system here, so I just want to come in and get my work in and get better every day,” Bronny said. “I never really had a thought of me going to play with my dad. But that’s always there to take part of. But that wasn’t the main focus of mine.”

Redick said that he is close to hiring a director of player development soon to join his coaching staff.

“I think just in general the player development program we’re trying to build is holistic,” Redick said, listing off everything from X’s and O’s to nutrition to conditioning to mental fortitude that he hopes for the program to address.

While Redick continues to work on filling out his staff, he said that Dane Johnson, the coach of L.A.’s G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, will coach the Lakers’ summer league team in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

“I will be heavily involved in practices,” Redick said. “I will also be involved in some capacity during the games, during film, all of that. We talk about development, it’s an incredible opportunity for Dane and his staff to develop further.”

Knecht, the 2024 SEC Player of the Year after averaging 21.7 points on 45.8% shooting (39.7% from 3)., 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists in leading the University of Tennessee to the Elite 8, said he has already met with LeBron and Anthony Davis since being drafted last week and with Redick on Tuesday morning.

“One of the things we talked about is just being open minded,” Redick said of his meeting with Knecht. “Having an openness and just letting go of outcomes. And the thing that excites me about both these guys is that their basis of basketball is as workers. And that’s a great starting point if you want to develop into a great NBA player.”

Knecht, who wore Davis’ No. 3 at Tennessee, will wear No. 4 for the Lakers — playing off the popular board game, Connect 4. “Why not?” he said.

Bronny will wear No. 9, honoring the late rap artist, Juice WRLD, who referenced the number in his music. Bronny also has “9 9 9” tattooed vertically behind his left ear.

“Juice has just been a big part of me keeping calm in some situations that I’ve been through,” Bronny said. “So just paying homage to him, especially because he passed, it’s a really important thing for me.”

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