MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, before Gregg Popovich and Larry Brown, even before Red Auerbach, there was John Kundla.
Kundla, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died Sunday. He was 101.
Son Tom Kundla said his father died at an assisted living facility in Northeast Minneapolis that he called home for years.
With George Mikan in the middle and Kundla the calm, steady hand directing the team, the Lakers won the 1949 championship in the BAA, the league that preceded the NBA, and NBA titles in 1950 and 1952-54, cementing the franchise's place as the league's first true dynasty. The Lakers also won an NBL title in 1948, but NBL marks are not included in the NBA's records.
Jeanie Buss, Lakers team president and co-owner, honored Kundla on Sunday night as someone who "played an important role in the history of the Lakers organization."
"Not only was he a Hall of Fame coach, he was our first head coach and led the organization to five NBA championships," Buss said in a statement. "In addition to his numerous contributions to the Lakers and our legacy, John was a wonderful man and will be remembered fondly. Our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the Kundla family."
The Lakers also tweeted a tribute to Kundla earlier Sunday.
Kundla was the oldest living Hall of Famer in any of the four major pro sports.
Kundla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. A year later, he was named one of the league's 10 greatest coaches as part of the league's "NBA at 50" celebration.
He was hired at 31 and resigned at 42 with a career record of 423-302, happy to cede the attention and the accolades to his players over himself. He was known for his understated sideline demeanor, which was unique compared to the fiery drill sergeants of the era.
It's always fun when you come across things that you wrote when you were a kid.
On Saturday, Larry Nance Jr. was reminded of a string of letters he wrote to a U.S. soldier when he was just 10 years old. The letter exchange was part of a pen pal program that matched students with soldiers overseas.
In her tweet, U.S. soldier Bianca Snow told Nance, now 24, that his letters had always meant a lot to her and that she is glad "his dreams came true."
Not only did the young Nance make his interest in basketball clear in his letters, but he also specifically noted that he liked the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that drafted him No. 27 overall in the 2015 NBA draft. In one letter, Nance wrote (typos included):
Dear U.S. Soldier.
Is the war almost over? Where is Saddam? How are you? I'm fine. Thank you for writing back. Where are you?
Are you good at basketball? I like the Lakers too they are wining there series with the Timberwolves. Who is your favorite player? Mine is Shaq. Who do you want to get LeBron James? I want the Cavs to get LeBron, that is because my dad played for the Cavs. His number is retired in the Gund Arena.
And Again Thank you!!
Surprised by the fact that Snow had saved the letters all these years, Nance was quick to reciprocate his appreciation.
Hopefully, the two old friends can meet for the first time face to face this upcoming NBA season.
LaVar Ball pulled his Big Ballers AAU team off the court during a game Saturday after he was whistled for a technical foul for arguing a foul call and uttering a profanity toward a referee.
The incident occurred during a playoff game at the Double Pump Best of Summer Tournament in Anaheim, California. The game was ruled a forfeit, giving the victory to the opposing team.
Ball's team, which includes his youngest son, LaMelo, was winning 69-60 at the time of the forfeit, according to USA Today Sports.
The father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball disputed a foul that was called as one of his players went for a steal along the sideline. Immediately after the whistle, Ball repeated, "That's not a foul. That's not a foul. That's not a foul."
Then, in an apparent reference to an official who Ball felt was out of position, he said, "He came way over here to call that bulls---."
After being issued a technical, Ball motioned toward his players on the court and bench and said, "Let's go." Ball and his players proceeded to grab their gear and leave the court.
In a video posted by Overtime, Ball can be heard saying outside the gym afterward, "It's not about the referee. I'm not gonna have my guys playing hard, and they're cheating. I don't play that s---."
Ball has been no stranger to controversy this year. He recently got into a war of words with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who was fined $10,000 by the NBA for directing an obscenity at Ball on social media. Ball quickly fired back at Embiid, saying, "You gotta use cuss words when you don't have no intellect."
The latest Lonzo Ball-related news happened quietly. That might be news in itself for a guy whose mere choice in footwear generates headlines.
The Los Angeles Lakers sold out the remaining 5 percent of their season-ticket inventory this week. All gone. The Lakers had 95 percent renewal from their season-ticket holders before the draft, but now that Lonzo Ball is a Laker -- and fresh off his tantalizing summer league run -- they hit capacity. After a seat-viewing open house at Staples Center, fans bought up the 600 available seats. (Last year's event yielded about 175 ticket sales).
Big crowds have already become a signature of the new Lonzo Lakers. They go hand in hand with big expectations. And big expectations, in turn, are the norm in Lakerland. It's a fan base conditioned to things working toward the best-case scenario.
That hasn't been the situation for much of this decade. The Lakers' trade for Chris Paul was rescinded by David Stern, and the trades for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard didn't produce a single playoff victory. The Lakers have been missing out on A-list free agents. Their unfamiliar run of high lottery picks has not yielded a first-team member of the All-Rookie squad (although Jordan Clarkson, a second-round pick acquired from the Washington Wizards, did grab a spot in 2015).
Ball isn't guaranteed to be All-Rookie himself among a crowded crop of guards in this draft class. His game doesn't necessarily lend itself to putting up big numbers on a nightly basis. But he does have the "It" factor. In this case, style might actually matter more than substance. The way he moves the ball -- and the way that leads teammates to pass as well -- will make an impact on the Lakers even if he isn't always the statistical beneficiary.
And people will watch. The five largest television audiences for the NBA summer league were games involving the Lakers, topping out at 1.1 million for Ball vs. No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz
This week's mailbag features your questions on the effectiveness of playing with multiple point guards at the same time, changing NBA position names, the value of spending early in free agency and more.
"What can summer-league top draft performances indicate about their future stardom? Given Kyle Kuzma's overall game in the summer league, is it fair to say he is the biggest draft steal so far?" - Amir
This year, more than any I can remember, there has been great interest in just what summer league means, with many readers revisiting my 2013 piece on the topic. With the help of RealGM.com's incredible database of summer stats, I figured it was time to revisit the question with a much larger sample than the single summer's worth of data I used then. And it turns out one of my key takeaways was the result of a small sample.
I noted then that performance in summer league during 2012 was much more predictive of 2012-13 NBA performance for rookies than for veteran players, and was able to concoct a plausible explanation in terms of the effort level of the respective groups. But looking at the larger data set, 2012-13 was an outlier.
The Los Angeles Lakers still have two open roster spots to fill and management -- Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka -- are looking to add depth in the backcourt.
Rose is the Lakers' top backcourt target right now and they can offer him all of their $4.32 million "Room" exception. Rose is also drawing a lot of interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Cavaliers can only offer a veteran minimum contract, Rose would be playing for a team strongly favored to once again make it to the NBA Finals.
Clark, an unrestricted free-agent, has played for the Warriors the last two years, however they don't have room on their roster for him. Also, his salary demands are likely too much for the Warriors to match due to their projected high tax bill in 2018.
Clark would fill a need for the Lakers as he can make long-range shots. In 2016-17, Clark converted 37.4 percent of his attempts from behind the 3-point line.
-- Nick Silva
While those talks continue, Rose also met with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, sources told ESPN's Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne. Sources told Haynes the meeting with the Lakers lasted three hours.
The former No. 1 draft pick has met with several teams over the past three weeks, including the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers, but he has gained momentum on a deal with the Cavs in the past several days, sources said.
Rose is expected to have a face-to-face meeting with the Cavaliers in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.
He is not expected to make a decision until next week.
Playing on a contender is important to Rose. If he agrees to a deal in Cleveland, it would also allow him to be closer to family in Chicago.
The Cavs are believed to be offering Rose a minimum contract for $2.1 million for the upcoming season to play with Kyrie Irving in the team's backcourt. Adding Rose in this manner would add $6.4 million to the team's luxury tax bill for next season, which would be a projected $78.2 million.
The Lakers are trying to entice Rose to sign with them, suggesting they can offer more playing time and money in a better environment after Rose's tumultuous 2016-17 season with the New York Knicks, sources said.
Los Angeles thinks Rose, who has been working out at the Lakers' practice facility lately, can help the development of rookie point guard Lonzo Ball
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Magic Johnson believes Lonzo Ball's triple-doubles in summer league were just a preview of more to come.
"You can see that. If he's getting triple-doubles in the summer league, he is going to get triple-doubles in the regular season," Johnson said. "Just like me, when I got here, there was pressure. I was the No. 1 pick [in 1979]. I didn't care about that. I am going to play my game. Lonzo is going to play his game. The great ones do."
Johnson praised the way Ball impacts the game and his teammates as a point guard. Johnson, a Hall of Fame point guard, said he sees some similarities between Ball and himself in how they play.
"Lonzo is special, no question about it, because he makes everyone better," Johnson said. "He does something you can't teach. He gives you a scoring pass. Very few point guards in this league can do that. I am talking about giving you a pass that leads to the score, not just passing it to you.
"I like him because he also is now a great teammate. He has a special effect on people."
"I think it is the same in terms of the basketball IQ," Johnson added, about what he and Ball have in common. "What is lacking in our game is a guy that can create a shot for somebody else. That is why Golden State
Lonzo Ball was the star of summer league, as evidenced by his MVP performance that helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the Las Vegas Summer League title, but he isn't the only purple and gold rookie making headwinds.
There are also rookies Shawn Carter and Ned Stark, both of whom are showing their skills on the court.
We all know that Lakers fans are fiercely loyal, but the Sacramento Kings pulled a fast one on them, asking them what they think about Carter and Stark, who don't exist.
The Kings may have stumped Lakers fans this time, but by the looks of Ball in the summer league, perhaps the Lakers will get the last laugh. In retaliation, maybe the Lakers video department can bring back old footage of the last Sacramento Kings championship.
That one might take a while to find.
- John Silver