EL SEGUNDO — The Lakers and Dennis Schröder once imagined a future together. But in that vision, both parties were likely on brighter paths.
The first go-round ended with a first-round playoff exit. It seems Schröder always felt like he could do more as a Laker.
“I said it in my exit meeting (in 2021) that we have unfinished business,” Schröder said Monday after his first practice. “I’m ready to work and I’m excited.”
Roughly a year-and-a-half after the Lakers and Schröder could not come together on a reported four-year contract worth more than $80 million, the 29-year-old is back in L.A. on a veteran’s minimum contract. Trying to come back from a 33-win season, the Lakers turned to the German point guard again for competitiveness and quickness from a roster that lacked both last season.
His late arrival at training camp was due to slow German visa processing – he’s expected to play at least a few minutes in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Crypto.com Arena. Last season, he averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 assists in stints with Boston and Houston.
The team signed Schröder again after a Eurobasket run that saw the 6-foot-3 guard lead Germany in scoring (22.1 ppg) and assists (7.1 apg) while placing third and notching wins over Rudy Gobert’s France and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Greece. But his relationship with Coach Darvin Ham, which dates to his 2013 rookie season in Atlanta, was probably the most significant factor in his favor.
“He was one of my responsibilities from individual workouts to putting an arm around him when needed – just helping him understand what this level of basketball is about,” Ham said. “He’s like family to me now.”
Schröder also feels a kinship with some of the players already in the gym: He knows the dynamics of playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and even though one could understand having a someone awkward relationship with the Lakers’ front office, Schröder said he and General Manager Rob Pelinka have maintained a good relationship. Though Schröder became infamous for “fumbling the bag” and even joked about it on his own Instagram account, on Monday he said, “There never was a contract, never rejected anything” back in 2021 (contradicting widely reported events at the time).
Schröder has also been suggested as a contender to start at point guard, potentially pitting him against Russell Westbrook – whom he played behind in 2018-19 in Oklahoma City. But he was extremely diplomatic about reuniting with a player he sees as a mentor.
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“Russ is my guy,” he said. “He is like my big brother, he’s helping me, we’re staying in touch. And to play with him again, it’s going to be great. It was fun times, positive vibes with him every single time and I can’t wait to get to work with him and everyone else.”
The Lakers anticipate that Schröder will give them another ball handler, a creator off the dribble and a pesky defender. Davis noted that the German will guard all 94 feet of the court with ball pressure – then grinned as he realized that Patrick Beverley, yet another small guard in the rotation, calls himself “Mr. 94 Feet.” But the team’s philosophy under Ham is that there can never be enough perimeter defenders – overlap on the defensive end isn’t such a bad thing.
Schröder is still under 30 and is looking to once again land a lucrative deal. But part of the “unfinished business” is also that during his Lakers season, there were hardly any fans allowed in arenas, any team dinners or any other of the trappings that come with being with one of the NBA’s glamor franchises. He’d like a crack at that as well.
“It didn’t feel anything like it, because it was no fans, … no media, and all that was not there,” he said. “So, it was difficult times with COVID. But now being here, there was another main reason why I came. Yeah, like I said, I’m excited to play in front of our fans to compete, to do everything in my power to win ball games.”