For 32 seasons, from the 1980s Showtime era through Shaquille O'Neal and the beginning and end of Kobe Bryant, Gary Vitti tended to the Los Angeles Lakers, a fixture on their sideline in a career spanning 13 head coaches, eight championships, numerous Hall of Famers and enough stories to fill a library.

When Bryant ruptured his Achilles in 2013, Vitti was there. "Just tape it up," Bryant famously told him. And when Magic Johnson stunned the world by testing positive for HIV in the fall of 1991, Vitti was there. "When God gave me this disease, he gave it to the right person," Johnson told an emotional Vitti. "I'm going to do something good with this."

Gary Vitti frameAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillTrainer Gary Vitti retired at the end of last season after spending 32 years with the Lakers.

Last April, Vitti retired from his full-time post as the NBA's longest-tenured head athletic trainer, but he signed on to remain a consultant for two more seasons, in part to continue researching new technologies that might help not just heal injuries but hopefully prevent them altogether.

Though he no longer sat on the team's bench, Vitti was still a presence in the stands at Staples Center, where he'd often sit with his wife, Martha, and walk around the arena's lower bowl to shake hands and chat with friends and Lakers employees.

And Vitti still kept a small office down a hallway at the team's practice facility in El Segundo, California, where he could be found on most weekdays, calling software engineers and analytics firms, meeting with vendors about wearable sensors and sneaker microchips, examining SportVU data and the latest trends in sports medicine and nutrition.

Toward the end of practices, when media was allowed onto the practice court before interviews, it wasn't unusual to see Vitti chatting with Lakers head coach Luke Walton or individual players.

But since the team's dramatic front-office overhaul Feb. 21, when Lakers governor Jeanie Buss fired her brother, Jim, and general manager Mitch Kupchak, and promoted Johnson to president of basketball operations, Vitti has been noticeably absent.

According to sources close to the franchise, before Feb. 21, Vitti had been seen at every home game save for one and at the facility about four days a week when the team wasn't on the road -- but since the regime change, those sources say, Vitti hasn't been seen at any games, practices, anything.

In response to questions about Vitti's status, a Lakers spokesperson clarified that Vitti previously reported directly to the general manager and that with the regime change, their new GM -- Rob Pelinka -- is assessing what is needed going forward. No decisions have yet been made about what projects Vitti will continue to work on as a consultant for the Lakers, the spokesperson noted, who added that Vitti was certainly welcome to attend games whenever he liked.

"We love Gary and look forward to honoring his contract," the spokesperson said.

Vitti issued the following comment to ESPN regarding his status with the Lakers:

"I worked more than half of my life for the Lakers, and I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say I gave every ounce that I had every day. I will forever be grateful to [the late Lakers owner and patriarch] Dr. [Jerry] Buss, a man I believe exemplified what I believe to be the trifecta of the most important human values: honesty, kindness and loyalty. Going forward, it's not my team so Jeanie can do what she thinks is best."

Vitti declined to comment when asked about the status of his contract or if he would attend games or work with the team moving forward.

It remains unclear what will happen regarding the efforts Vitti made to connect the Lakers with various cutting-edge entities in the spirit of injury prevention.

Almost a year ago, the Lakers honored Vitti during a game against the rival Boston Celtics. A tribute video played. Fans and players gave him a standing ovation. He was presented with a framed Lakers jersey that had a purple-and-gold medical cross instead of a number. And the Lakers also gave Vitti two first-class tickets to Italy, where he keeps an offseason home about 60 miles outside Rome that he has visited every offseason since 1984, save for one.

"I'm a Laker," Vitti said in the video that played on the scoreboard that night. "That's what I am. It doesn't get any better than that."

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With the Lakers set to unveil a statue of Shaquille O'Neal on Friday, coach Luke Walton, who played with O'Neal during the 2003-04 season, was asked about his favorite Shaq memory.

Clippers crush Lakers as teams stay on opposite paths, 133-109: With the LA Clippers desperate to pile up wins and the Lakers eager to improve their odds in the NBA draft lottery, both sides achieved the necessary result at Staples Center, with the playoff-bound Clippers trouncing the Lakers, 133-109. The Lakers, fittingly, never led. -- The Orange County Register

Luke Walton wants Jordan Clarkson to find other ways to contribute on poor shooting nights: In theory, the latest lineup switch should have invigorated Jordan Clarkson. After all, the third-year guard appears most comfortable whenever he has the ball in his hands. In the Lakers’ 133-109 loss to the Clippers on Tuesday at Staples Center, though, Clarkson experienced a painful lesson. -- The Orange County Register

Luke Walton doesn't want Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. to rely on 3-point shots: Like Julius Randle, Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. has spent time working on his 3-point shot in an effort to expand his game after hearing constant feedback in his past two seasons. But how much does Walton expect Randle and Nance to use that as a weapon without diluting their skills as bruising playmakers? -- The Orange County Register

Clippers take advantage of Lakers' bad start and never look back in 133-109 win: Fans received twinkling purple necklaces as they entered Staples Center for Tuesday night’s Lakers home game against the Clippers. The lights kept blinking, but the other team in town quickly sapped the rest of the energy out of the building. -- Los Angeles Times

Fight in name only: Luol Deng’s experience with playground fighting goes back to his childhood. He remembers fights in schools as part of daily life when he was a refugee in Egypt. “Whether it was because we’re Christians or we’re black,” Deng said. “It was literally every day in school. Almost every day you have to deal with something.” Deng had backup in the form of his brothers. -- Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul scored 27 points before watching the end of a blowout with his young son on the bench, and the Clippers beat the Lakers 133-109 on Tuesday night for yet another win in the battle of Los Angeles.

The Clippers have won 17 of the last 19 meetings against the Lakers. They cruised in this one, and the younger Chris Paul got to sit on his dad's lap on the bench during the fourth quarter.

Eight Clippers scored in double figures, including J.J. Redick with 24 points and Austin Rivers with 17.

The Clippers hit 15 of 33 3-pointers, and their starters sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second consecutive game.

Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 21 points.


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With time winding down in the third quarter, Jamal Crawford pulls up from beyond mid-court and swishes the shot at the buzzer.
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Chris Paul nails the corner 3 and gets fouled by D'Angelo Russell. Paul would hit the free-throw to complete the four-point play.
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With time winding down in the first half, Chris Paul pulls up and nails the 3 from well beyond the arc as the Clippers hang 70 first-half points on the Lakers.
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Jamal Crawford hits the pull-up jumper and on the way back is tripped by a fan on the sidelines.

Rookie David Nwaba signs multiyear deal with Lakers

March, 21, 2017
Mar 21
3:56
PM PT

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed David Nwaba to a multiyear deal after the rookie guard impressed them on a pair of 10-day contracts.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka announced the move on Tuesday, after Nwaba's second 10-day contract expired.

Nwaba was promoted from the Lakers' D-League affiliate on Feb. 28, and he immediately caught on with standout defense and steady play. He is averaging 3.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 10 games for the Lakers, including two starts.

He had a particularly strong game on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring seven points and making a highlight-reel block of Kyrie Irving's shot.

"He gives us a toughness that we definitely need," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "He gives us a defensive mindset that we definitely need. It's nice to be able to preach something all day, every day, in practice and in games, and then have a young guy that's hungry -- and whether he plays at all in the first three quarters [or not], when he steps on the court, he's ready to compete. He's ready to get after it on defense."

Pelinka said the Lakers also like Nwaba's work ethic in practice.

Nwaba is a product of Los Angeles' University High, Santa Monica College and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

Information from ESPN's Baxter Holmes and The Associated Press was used in this report.


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Better fantasy keeper: Dennis Schroder vs. D'Angelo Russell

March, 21, 2017
Mar 21
7:41
AM PT

Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsDennis Schroder and D'Angelo Russell are young point guards with promising futures. Who is the better keeper?

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.


Since the All-Star break, we've seen D'Angelo Russell average 19.4 points, 2.8 3-pointers, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 63.3 from the foul line. Dennis Schroder has averaged 18.5 PPG, 1.3 3PPG, 6.2 APG, 43.3 FG%, 90.2 FT% during that span. Which player do you like better as a keeper for next season and beyond?

Joe Kaiser: Russell has the star potential and the higher ceiling, but to me Schroder is the safer option because he has a defined role and two more years of experience in the league. In Los Angeles, coach Luke Walton and the Lakers are still trying to figure out if Russell is better as a point guard or playing off the ball as more of a shooting guard. There are also questions in Laker Land as to whether Walton and/or Russell are going to be in Los Angeles for the long-term, and it's possible either or both of them could be in different situations next season.

Schroder isn't the pure scorer, 3-point shooter or steals threat that Russell is, but he is averaging 17.7 PPG as a 23-year-old and is more of a distributor (6.2 APG). That will be especially true if Russell moves off the ball in more of a permanent role next season. Schroder is also a much more efficient option, helping you in percentage categories (45.3 FG% and 84.4 FT%) rather than hurting you like Russell (40.8 FG and 74.5 FT). All these factors have me leaning toward Schroder over Russell.

Kyle Soppe: I'd be happy to keep either player, as I believe both are only scratching the surface when it comes to fulfilling their potential. That said, I'm rolling with Russell here, as I think his ceiling is slightly higher. The Lakers have plenty of young talent, and while I am encouraged by some of them, the youthfulness will allow Russell to expand his role as much as he is capable. While Schroder is very good, what chance does he stand to expand his role moving forward, given the Hawks


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Los Angeles Lakers like what they see with D'Angelo Russell at shooting guard: The lineup the Lakers tried Sunday night is one they’ll continue to use until further notice. It’s the one with D’Angelo Russell starting at shooting guard and Jordan Clarkson at the point. “We’re still trying to evaluate and see some things,” Coach Luke Walton said. -- Los Angeles Times

Can Lakers' D'Angelo Russell build on 40-point night?: Hours had already passed since D’Angelo Russell scored seemingly anytime he took a shot. But just because the Lakers’ loss to Cleveland on Sunday at Staples Center was over, it did not mean Russell’s shooting was. After becoming the youngest Lakers player in franchise history to score a career-high 40 points in a regular-season game, Russell carried that sharp shooting late Sunday night at the Lakers’ practice facility. -- The Orange County Register

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Byron Scott believes D'Angelo Russell would make a better shooting guard than a point guard because of his shooting capabilities.

Lakers' career night for D'Angelo Russell not enough in 125-120 loss to Cavaliers: The shots seemingly fell into the basket anytime D’Angelo Russell released the ball. When he handled the ball, he often hit the intended target to produce positive results. When crunch time happened, though, some of those qualities vanished. The Lakers’ 125-120 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday at Staples Center featured Russell posting a career-high 40 points, while shooting 14-of-22 from the field and 7-of-12 from 3-point range while logging six assists and only one turnover in his second-career start at shooting guard. -- The Orange County Register

Lakers' Luke Walton recalls overcoming rookie hazing perpetuated with his father's on-air criticisms: The rookie tag naturally made Luke Walton a candidate for hazing. So did his father, Bill, the Hall of Fame center that never hesitated sharing his thoughts while holding a microphone. So with Walton entering his rookie season with the 2003-04 season, the Lakers’ veterans in Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone offered them a stern warning in training camp. -- The Orange County Register

D'Angelo Russell notches career high in Lakers' 125-120 loss to Cavaliers: D'Angelo Russell caught everyone’s attention, including the superstar guard on the other bench. After the Lakers’ 125-120 loss to Cleveland, a game in which both Russell and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving eclipsed 40 points, Irving sought Russell. -- Los Angeles Times

Studying up: Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka, President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris flew to New York on Sunday to meet with the league for training in the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap. The NBA offers the training to all new league executives. It will be particularly helpful for Pelinka and Johnson, neither of whom have NBA front office experience, despite both being involved in the league for decades. -- Los Angeles Times

Role switch helps spark D'Angelo Russell's career-high scoring outburst

March, 19, 2017
Mar 19
11:32
PM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive

videoLOS ANGELES -- The youngest Los Angeles Laker to ever score at least 40 points in a regular-season game -- no small feat, that, considering the franchise's illustrious history -- was quick to point out a key fact underscoring his performance.

"We don't have anything to lose," D'Angelo Russell, all of 21 years and 24 days old, said Sunday after a career-high scoring effort in a 125-120 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center.

Yes, the Lakers, who at 20-50 have the NBA's second-worst record and the worst in the Western Conference, have absolutely nothing to lose -- unless they win, which for them is quite bad, as they need to lose, and often, to have the best chance of keeping their top-three protected pick in this summer's draft.

Such convoluted circumstances are less than ideal, and it's not as if the Lakers have the horses to remain competitive most nights (as their record clearly indicates). But the overall landscape affords coach Luke Walton leeway to tinker with lineups without risking the nightly outcome. He has taken advantage of his opportunity lately by having Russell come off the bench, a move that upset a sizable portion of the fan base that wants to see the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft as a starter.

In the wake of the demotion, Russell met with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and president of basketball operations, Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Their message?

"Be aggressive," Russell said last week. "No matter what my role is, just be aggressive."

After being a reserve for three games, Russell was set to come off the bench again Sunday ... until, not long before tipoff, the Lakers decided to sit Nick Young because he was ill. Russell started in Young's place at shooting guard, a first for a player who has played point guard all season.

The role switch sparked a masterful scoring outburst, which began with 18 first-quarter points. In about 41 minutes, Russell made 14 of 22 from the field, including 7 of 12 from 3-point range, trading blows with Cavaliers flamethrower Kyrie Irving, who dazzled with a game-high 46 points.

Irving approached Russell after the game to offer praise.

"He said he's supporting me," Russell said. "He knows I want it. He just told me to keep working."

Said Irving: "He's a great young player. I've been playing against him for a few years in the league, and I understand what he means to the Lakers."

D'Angelo RussellGary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsMoved to start at shooting guard, D'Angelo Russell went for 40 points on 14-of-22 shooting Sunday, including seven 3-pointers.

Russell also was the youngest player since LeBron James to finish with at least 40 points, six assists and one or fewer turnovers. (James pulled that off as a 21-year-old, too.)

Throughout another ugly rebuilding campaign, the Lakers and their fans are buoyed by the occasional highlight-filled performance from their promising young players, as such evenings appear to foreshadow a better future, a crack of light in the current darkness.

Drilling down to the bedrock of Russell's success against Cleveland, though, reveals that much of his damage came via a shift in job title -- from point guard to shooting guard.

"I feel like when you're playing shooting guard, you've got to score the ball or make plays for your teammates," Russell said. "Playing the point guard, it's harder to do that, be aggressive, try to score the ball every time, because you've got to make at least one pass. But figuring it out, whatever position I'm in, I'm going to try to make the best of it."

When not tasked with orchestrating the offense, Russell unleashed his offensive talents and seemed to pair well with Jordan Clarkson playing point guard, a backcourt combination Walton has preferred to avoid.

"Individually, they've both made great growth throughout the season," Walton said, "but for whatever reason, the two of them on the court together, when we've tried it, hasn't statistically been very good for us. But it's good to see that it worked tonight."

Walton noted that consistency is an issue for Russell, as it is for all the Lakers' young players, but Russell ratcheted up his aggressiveness from the opening tip Sunday, perhaps a nod to the superior competition, or to the advice from Pelinka and Johnson, or because he wanted to prove himself a starter -- or all of the above. Regardless, Russell showed why he was drafted so highly, which he has done here and there but not nearly enough to cement his status as franchise star.

"We've all seen him when he gets going, he's tough to handle," Walton said.

When asked about inconsistency, Russell referenced his mindset and how it needs to change.

"I feel like realizing every night is not going to be as easy as the previous night or whatever," he said. "You've got a different team every time you play, so everybody has to do something different. You can't go into the game with the same mentality as you did last game, as far as where you're going to find your spots or how you're how going to guard a certain player.

"It has to start from scratch every game, and I feel like with me, that's how I've been approaching games, with the same mentality, and it hasn't really worked out for me. I have to start over and come up with a different approach."

So perhaps the different role helped Russell flourish against the Cavaliers, but it's far too early -- and one game is too small a sample size -- to draw any definitive conclusions about Russell or any of the Lakers' fledgling talent, one way or the other.

"Whatever position they have me on the court, I'm a basketball player, not a point guard or a shooting guard," Russell said.

All that's certain now is that the Lakers and their fans will gladly accept any glimpse of light -- especially of the white hot variety, as was the case Sunday -- from players who both parties hope will form a future foundation of success. And with the Lakers having nothing to lose, Walton & Co. can experiment as much as they'd like, hoping to find solutions that might seem small but might also, in time, add up to something more.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a quote from the Lakers' transcription service attributed to LeBron James. It was originally thought that James was talking about D'Angelo Russell, but he was actually talking about teammate Kyrie Irving when he said, "He's a special guy. He's a special player."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
D'Angelo Russell
PTS AST STL MIN
15.4 4.7 1.4 27.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Randle 8.6
AssistsD. Russell 4.7
StealsD. Russell 1.4
BlocksI. Zubac 0.9