It’s intimidating, this Los Angeles Lakers training facility; Everywhere it is shown that this is a very special sports club. 17 title banners hang under the roof of the hall, only the Boston Celtics have been champions in the NBA basketball league just as often. That means: If you make yourself too big here, you will quickly look ridiculous, especially next to teammates like LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, if you make yourself too small, you will quickly become invisible in this hall.
It is therefore interesting what Dennis Schröder did in his first training session for his new club – on and off the court. He paced up and down the field, defending conscientiously and aggressively as if the title were being awarded during that first session – even though the Lakers don’t open the season until this Tuesday at defending champions Golden State Warriors. The Germany international then clarified a few things and you could tell right away how important that was to him.
It is no exaggeration to say that Schröder was considered the biggest dolt in the league at the end of his first Lakers stint. Because he turned down an offer of $ 84 million for four years, it was said. Now he gets the veteran minimum of 2.64 million for this one season, then his contract ends. How can someone gamble so badly was the unanimous verdict in mid-2021, especially since the club legend Magic Johnson called after him that someone like that just didn’t have what it takes to be a real Lakers player. So: made too big and yet too small for this training hall?
Schröder now claims the Lakers’ 84 million offer never existed
“There was never an offer, so I was never able to refuse anything,” says Schröder now, and you can see how much it still upsets him: “I have no idea who said that, but it doesn’t help.” Exactly, it doesn’t help, the malice was great, especially since the native of Braunschweig, despite his undoubtedly outstanding sporting skills, also polarized in this country. The accusation: He can’t lead a team because he often makes himself bigger than he really is. Schröder failed to lead the team to the main round at the 2015 European Championships and the 2019 World Cup in China. And already it said: selfishness, shifting responsibility to coaches and teammates, lack of teamwork. The main culprit for the failures was quickly found.
It was all the more amazing that the new national coach Gordon Herbert declared Schröder the absolute leader for the European Championships in Cologne and Berlin after just one conversation. The drop was enormous, especially for someone who was without a contract at the time. “I want to do my job here, my agent does his,” explained Schröder, knowing full well that this tournament would also attract immense attention in the USA.
This was due to the quality of the participants, because Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Dončić (Slovenia) and Nikola Jokić (Serbia) were present alongside numerous NBA players and three of the world’s best basketball players. In addition, the level of the Euroleague, in which the majority of the participating players plays, is not far removed from that of the NBA. So it was hardly surprising that, in addition to coaches like Jason Kidd (Dallas), Mike Brown (Sacramento Kings) and Chauncey Billups (Portland Trail Blazers), many scouts from the North American league were also present.
And Schröder delivered: he could hardly be stopped in one-on-one, defended aggressively and selflessly, made the right decisions in tricky situations. After initial problems, his long-distance shot fell, he determined the rhythm and pace of the game and used his colleagues carefully. Schröder also revealed leadership qualities off the court: he always put the team spirit and the honor of representing his country at the center of his numerous interviews, was open to fans – and showed after winning the bronze medal that he was the best player and point collector a big part, a noble gesture.
Robin Benzing was in the hall for the game against Poland, the longtime German team captain had been removed from the squad by coach Herbert shortly before the start of the European Championship. “If he doesn’t get a medal, I’ll give him mine,” said Schröder. That sounded sincere. The 29-year-old is now a family man, he seemed grounded, matured, grown – so big enough.
Someone had found his role, and that’s exactly what they wanted to see with the Lakers: one that puts the team first – which can also mean being selfish when the team is desperately looking at the leader who calms everyone down and says, “Give me the bullet and get out of the way!”
So could it be that this Schröder was misjudged by many people in the first nine years of his professional career? He should always be the leader who always has the ball – but what if you see his less obvious strengths? His outstanding defense and ability to make decisive decisions with ice water running through his veins at important moments? What if the Lakers learned from the mistakes of the first engagement and now have a different Schroeder? For – should that be true with the offer – 19 million dollars less annually, which they can invest in other actors because of the salary cap?
They have an interesting roster in LA: Russell Westbrook joins the industry giants James and Davis – but the Lakers because of his lavish contract ($47 million this season) and the fact that he’s not as good as a few years ago , would like to swap. They have point guard Kendrick Nunn, who reached the finals series with Miami in 2020 but missed last season with a knee injury. He’s a really good defender, as is Patrick Beverley, a build-up player – and they have Schröder. If manager Rob Pelinka succeeds in this exchange for Westbrook, Schröder’s intentions for his return could work out: “I still have something to do here: win the title.”
However, Schröder will not play at the beginning of the season, according to Lakers head coach Darvin Ham he has to undergo an operation on his injured thumb and will be out for three to four weeks. But it can also be heard that they take it with equanimity in LA – Schröder came late to the team anyway. And he is said to be fit by the end of the season when it comes to the title. Not necessarily at the beginning.
That’s how it should be in individual games: Schröder shouldn’t be on the floor from the start, but often at the end when games are decided, when the Lakers have to prevent opponents’ points or need a steady hand in the build-up. That could be his role – and therefore the right size for this hall. It’s the goal of every pro who comes into the Lakers arena: to have been involved with one of the banners under the roof.