Before heading up to Las Vegas, Luke Walton joked with his coaches that Summer League would be just as competitive for the staff as it would be for the players, saying that any coach who lost a game would be replaced for the next contest.
Jesse Mermuys led the Lakers to a 3-0 start, but the team faltered in tournament play, losing to Cleveland on July 14. With Los Angeles' consolation game the following day, Walton went to dinner with Mermuys and 29-year-old Theo Robertson, where he offered the now-player development coach a chance to lead the Lakers.
Robertson — who spent the last two years alongside Walton at Golden State as a video coordinator and video intern — seized the opportunity. In his first shot as a head coach, the Lakers stayed competitive with Utah all game before losing, 92-88.
But the experience wasn't lost on Robertson.
“It really speaks to both Luke and Jesse — just their willingness extend me that opportunity to really grow and be in that seat, which is completely different,” Robertson said. “Get my feet wet and lead that group. ... From a competitive standpoint, I had a blast doing it. Just looking forward to another opportunity to do so."
In the meantime, Robertson will trade in the clipboard for some sneakers, as he is tasked with "on-court skills development" for the Lakers.
Keeping up with L.A.'s young roster will be a challenge, but certainly isn't a deal-breaker for Robertson, who ended his five-year collegiate career at California in 2010.
As a senior, Robertson was named Second Team All-Pac-12, led the league in 3-point percentage (44.0) and helped the Golden Bears to their first conference title in 50 years.
He also left with the school's all-time best career 3-point clip (45.3), which has him saying, "I'm taking the title," in a hypothetical shootout among the Lakers coaching staff, which includes former sharpshooters like Jud Buechler, Brian Shaw and Brian Keefe.
Cal came back into Robertson's life in 2012, as he spent two years as a graduate manager and director of operations for the program. From there, he found himself at the center of basketball, becoming a video intern for the Warriors.
In his first season, Golden State ended a 40-year championship drought, reminiscent of his Bears breaking their conference title streak. For a man who was born in Pittsburg, Calif., and went to De La Salle High, it was something of a basketball renaissance for his Bay Area squads.
"It was cool to have that level of pride around your teams," Robertson said. "I don’t know if it’s quite on the level of even being in L.A. so far — everywhere you go it’s like people bleeding purple and gold. You go to Summer League and our games are sold out, which I thought was crazy.”
The next season saw the Warriors finish the regular season with a record 73-9 mark. Though the team didn't end up winning the championship, Robertson still absorbed plenty of lessons from Golden State.
“You take bits and pieces from everybody, and I think you’d be a fool not to,” Robertson said. “You’re watching the way Steph (Curry) works out. You’re learning from a holistic perspective on life from guys like Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston).”
In particular, he learned from working with All-Star forward Draymond Green.
“It’s really hard to say one person, but I would probably say Draymond, just because of the way he sees the game, particularly from a defensive perspective,” Robertson said. “Then just the competitive fire that he brings on a nightly basis. I found myself probably gravitating toward him, picking his brain, probably a little bit more as others.”
Having spent two years with the NBA's most successful team at the moment, Robertson hopes to be able to rub a bit of that off on the Lakers.
“Some of our key objectives are to just teach them how to play basketball the right way — or at least the way we see it and the way we feel it should be played,” Robertson said. “And that’s ball movement, player movement — any time you’re standing, that’s the only time you’re doing something wrong.”
For Robertson, this teaching means getting out on the floor with the guys and, if need be, jawing at them a bit.
“I go back and forth with all these guys,” Robertson said. “Ever since I got out there, they’ve been begging me to get back on the court, and I’m just like, ‘Man, you guys are 19 and I’m gonna be 30 this year and I’ve had three hip surgeries. I can’t do it like that.’ I wouldn’t even pretend to think I can. It’s been fun and that’s the fun part about it: when you get out there and mix it up and talk a little trash now and then.”
Meet The Staff: Jesse Mermuys | Brian Keefe | Theo Robertson | Jud Buechler | Will Scott