Hope for the future: Lakers introduce Dalton Knecht and Bronny James

Lakers draft picks Dalton Knecht and Bronny James hold up jerseys while standing beside Rob Pelinka and JJ Redick

LeBron James stood off stage, back in the shadows behind the assembled reporters there to see the two newest Lakers, one of whom happens to be his eldest son.

Bronny James, the team’s second-round draft pick sat with first-rounder Dalton Knecht to his right and general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach JJ Redick to his left.

Tuesday marked a big day inside the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, the organization celebrating its hope for the future while one of the biggest factors in its present watched from the back.

This moment underlined the biggest challenge the Lakers face as they prepare for what’s in front of them — a moment when they feel more heavily invested in the future out of necessity while still trying to wring out every win now.

On one hand, the focus was on the Lakers, to use Pelinka’s words, “launching” the careers of two of the more discussed NBA draft prospects.

In Knecht, the Lakers capitalized on an unexpected draft slide to take the All-American scorer with the No. 17 pick. And in Bronny James, the Lakers made the most discussed No. 55 pick in league history, fueling days of debate about nepotism and pressure.

“Everything has been surreal,” Bronny James said. “I’m trying to take it all in. I’m extremely grateful for everything that JJ and Rob have given to me. I’ve just been extremely excited to get to work.”

Lakers star LeBron James shakes hands with son Bronny after a news conference to introduce the team's two draft picks.
Lakers star LeBron James shakes hands with son Bronny after a news conference to introduce the team's two draft picks. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Redick was quick to correct his rookie guard.

“Rob and I did not give Bronny anything. Bronny has earned this, right?" he said. "Bronny talks about his hard work. Bronny has earned this through hard work. And for us prioritizing player development, we view Bronny as like, case study one, because his base level of feel, athleticism,point-of-attack defender, shooting, passing … there's a lot to like about his game. And as we sort of build out our player development program holistically, he's going to have a great opportunity to become an excellent NBA player.”

Redick later said the team is close to hiring a director of player development to oversee things such as nutrition, weight training, recovery and mental wellness.

“I had a chance to spend a few minutes with Dalton this morning and one of the things we talked about is just being open-minded, having an openness and just letting go of outcomes,” Redick said. “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.”

Redick, who said he’ll be involved heavily in summer league while ceding coaching duties to South Bay Lakers coach Dane Johnson and his staff, said Knecht and James will be a part of the Lakers’ summer rosters in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Read more: No Klay in L.A.: What is the Lakers' next move?

The Lakers will play their first summer league game Saturday against Sacramento at the California Classic in San Francisco. Last year's first-round pick, guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, will not be on the roster as he continues to recover from the back surgery that ended his first season in the NBA.

While the Lakers try to institute the foundation of the program they're trying to build, Pelinka is seeing the first-hand realities that the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement is putting on some of the league’s highest payrolls.

Going over the “second apron,” which is a payroll exceeding approximately $189 million, is considered a last resort if it’s even an option, with executives believing the restrictions on trades, free-agent acquisitions and other consequences to be too severe.

To date, the team has not made any moves in free agency beyond adding Knecht and James in the draft and re-signing guard Max Chrisitie ahead of his restricted free agency. Once LeBron James agrees to the kind of contract he wants with the Lakers, the roster will be at 15 players — full capacity.

“I think we're gonna always be aggressive to try to make roster upgrades and will be relentless to continue to look at what we can do,” Pelinka said. “… This is the season of being mindful of all the different things we can approach to improve the roster. So we're in the midst of that as we speak. That will continue in the coming days, and it often spills into, you know, Vegas, where all the GMs meet and gather, and other deals get done. But we'll stay aggressive.”

Pelinka said that could even mean a bigger deal including the two future first-round picks he has available for trades in 2029 and 2031 — though the new restrictions make moves more difficult.

“I think if the right deal comes and we have to put in draft picks, we will," Pelinka said. "I think we've talked about it before, we're now in the apron world. We've seen, you know, 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. So we'll continue to pursue upgrades to our roster.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.