After a disappointing exit in the quarterfinals of the then NBA Developmental League playoffs, the newly-named South Bay Lakers return with a revamped roster along with a few familiar faces.
“We’re really excited about this group,” said head coach Coby Karl. “There’s a lot of youth, a lot of excitement, a lot of energy so it will be fun to see what we can put out there.”
South Bay returns just three players from last year’s Los Angeles D-Fenders roster: Travis Wear, Andre Ingram and Vander Blue, who enters his fourth season with the organization after earning a two-way contract.
Blue has been a mainstay with the Lakers G League affiliate, playing in 171 games over the past three seasons and played his way into a spot on the Lakers training camp roster following his strong showing with the summer league team in Las Vegas.
While the D-League’s reigning MVP didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his talents during the preseason, he did enough for the Lakers staff to keep him in the organization.
“It’s been a fun and enjoyable ride, just a lot of highs and lows. Just trying soak it all in and just stay consistent and be grateful at the same time,” Blue said. “It’s been definitely, if I have to say a word, it’s been a blessed couple of months for me. A lot of blessings coming my way.”
The fourth-year veteran is “grateful” to remain in the purple and gold, but there is no doubt that he wants to be with the parent team and has made strides on and off the court to help is chances of sticking with a professional team.
“He wants to be an NBA player. I think from the day when he came to training camp for summer league and the Lakers training camp I’ve seen his demeanor, his professionalism take another step up,” Karl said. “I think he’s proven who he is and how good he is and now he’s just proving he’s a professional, he’s a leader, he’s a winner.”
Karl is not the only one that has noticed Blue’s new role as a team leader. Alex Caruso, who is also on a two-way contract, spoke highly of Blue’s attitude and veteran presence.
“Vander’s done a good job kind of leading. I know that hasn’t been his forte in the past I guess, or his reputation hasn’t done that but he’s really stepped into that, transitioning from summer league, to preseason, to now with South Bay,” Caruso said.
“He’s spent more time in the NBA than I think anybody on our team probably, so I think him finally stepping into that leadership role is helping himself and the team as far as bringing everybody together.”
Blue has shown throughout his time with the organization that he can be veteran guard and a go-to scorer for the Lakers if the time does come for him to be called up to the parent team.
But while he does want to be playing in the NBA, Blue is not shy about what is goals are for this season in the G League if he’s with the team the whole season.
“I’m going to win another MVP and win the championship if I’m still around,” he said. “That’s basically it.”
Blue has yet to play with the Lakers this season, however, his fellow guard, Caruso, played 19 minutes in the first two games of the regular season with the team.
Much like Ivica Zubac last season, Caruso may be expected to go back and forth between the Lakers and South Bay, but he isn’t worried about who he is suiting up for.
“Whatever team it is, I’m just giving it 100 percent wherever my feet are,” Caruso said. “For me, it’s just the Lakers organization. I don’t think I put too much emphasis on being with South Bay or being with the Lakers in the NBA. I think it’s more just me improving my game, and me helping other guys around me be better and try to win games.”
Much like Blue, Caruso earned his way onto the Lakers training camp roster after showing his leadership on the court as the point guard for the second unit in summer league which he carried over for much of the preseason.
Caruso showed in his time on the court that when Lonzo Ball went to the bench the pace and flow of the team’s offense didn’t change much. By no means is he Ball, but Caruso does play with a similar fast-paced style while always trying to get his teammates involved, which is something he wants to bring to the South Bay Lakers.
“They want to run the organizations the same. They want to play fast,” Caruso said. “The playbooks might be just a little different personnel-wise, you run different plays for different guys, but first and foremost they want to play defense and run. If we don’t have to call a play all year, that’d be ideal.”
Along with his ability to run the offense, Caruso brings a strong defensive presence at the point guard position for South Bay, and while being with the G League team he and the rest of the team have the opportunity to learn from one of the best defensive players in development coach Metta World Peace.
While this is World Peace’s first official coaching position, he said he’s been coaching youth players and teams along with his own team in the summer time, the “Panda’s Friends.”
However, he doesn’t have a grasp on what his coaching style is.
“I don’t know, I really couldn’t tell you. I guess eventually you’ll find out,” World Peace said.
He may not be able to describe his style, but World Peace does know the long list coaches he has learned from going back to his days in Queens when he learned his first pump fake. Along with the many coaches he’s learned from, World Peace credited his last few years with Lakers for teaching him about the game.
“My last couple years when I started watching Pau Gasol more and watching Kobe more and really paying attention to those guys, that really helped me out probably the most,” he said.
Karl, who always admired World Peace’s defensive talent, express how excited he is to have the well-respected former player as a coach and knows what kind of impact on the team he can have as someone who learned from many greats throughout his tenure in the NBA.
“It’s surreal. When the possibility came to me I was excited just because I look at Metta in a light different than most guys,” Karl said.
“I see him as like a savant of defense and to be able to be around someone that did it at the highest level. He was able to guard the best players in the league over 10 years, to have that knowledge and that experience on our staff it’s an honor.”
Throughout his time in the NBA, World Peace was anything but a quiet player, he was never shy to show his emotions or talk trash to the opponent after making a great defensive play.
As a coach he is a much different person, to the point that Karl even asked him to be more vocal.
“When he’s competing he’s vocal but he’s not an outspoken guy, he’s pretty shy and humble,” Karl said.
But while World Peace may raise his volume a little bit, he won’t be bringing his mantra of “I Love Basketball” from the parent squad down to the G League team this year. He just wants to help the new, overhauled South Bay Lakers roster of players develop.
“When I’m coaching, there’s really nothing to really scream ‘I love basketball’ about. I just say ‘set a better screen,’” World Peace said.