Bill Oram

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Lakers evaluate draft potential of Duke’s Grayson Allen, and not just for kicks

EL SEGUNDO — When it came to Grayson Allen, most college basketball observers could be lumped into two general categories: Those who found him easy to root against and, well, Duke fans.

But now the controversial guard, with a legacy of legsweeps, is now auditioning for a job in the NBA. And any team that struggles to make shots from the perimeter and could stand to play with more edge might be inclined to take a look at the fiery Allen.

Enter the Lakers, owners of the 25th pick in the first round of next month’s draft.

On Friday, Allen became the most high-profile draft hopeful to work out for the Lakers so far this month, headlining a pre-draft workout group that also included Maryland guard Kevin Huerter, a 41.7 percent 3-point shooter in his sophomore season.

Both Allen and Huerter are considered potential first-round picks. While Huerter boasts the better shooting touch, Allen averaged 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals to go with his 15.5 points per game last season.

His 38 percent from deep also helps, especially considering the Lakers ranked 29th out of 30 teams in 3-point shooting last season.

“Shooting translates for sure,” Allen said. “If you watch the league now you’ve got a bunch of shooters on the court. But also you have to figure out how you can contribute in other ways.”

He was one of the players the Lakers interviewed last week during the NBA’s draft combine in Chicago.

The athletic Allen’s career was marred by several on-court incidents and in 2016 he was suspended for a game by Coach Mike Krzyzewski for kicking an Elon player. It was one of three tripping incidents in his career. Those have been a major focus for teams who have met with Allen.

“I definitely have to answer the questions,” he said. “It’s something that has to be addressed. Every team’s asking about it and at the end of the day, you just have to explain what I’ve been saying. And it’s that I’ve made mistakes, I went too far, and that I’ve grown and matured from it and am honestly a lot better now having gone through it.”

Allen is not entirely unfamiliar with the Lakers, having played alongside Brandon Ingram in 2015-16, Allen’s sophomore year when he averaged a career-best 21.6 points per game.

“I stay in touch with him a little bit,” Allen said, “and I saw him back at Duke (this spring). He was back home … working out in the gym so I caught up with him a little bit.”

What stood out to Allen about his former teammate?

“I told him he looks bigger,” Allen said. “He put some weight on, his shoulders are broader, he looks like he’s not getting pushed around anymore. Obviously, he’s come a long way since he came to Duke. He was super skinny, but he looks like he’s put some good weight on. He looks pretty big.”

The Lakers are deep in their pre-draft process, which will continue next week when LiAngelo Ball is scheduled to work out as part of a six-man group on Tuesday.

Ball is among the few players who might be a more controversial draft choice than Allen. The younger brother of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is not projected to be drafted after leaving UCLA last November. He spent most of last season along with younger brother LaMelo playing for Prienai Bytautas in Lithuania.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/25/lakers-evaluate-draft-potential-of-dukes-grayson-allen-and-not-just-for-kicks/

Younger brother of Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo works out for Lakers

EL SEGUNDO — Everyone’s looking for the next Greek Freak.

In an age of switching defenses, with players who can guard five positions and power forwards who run the point, Milwaukee All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo is essentially the living, breathing composite of every skill NBA teams covet.

So it was natural when on Wednesday a younger brother of the All-Star worked out for the Lakers that interest was piqued. But following his pre-draft workout, Kostas Antetokounmpo made it clear he is not his brother.

“I’m just different,” said Kostas, who left college after one year at Dayton to declare for the NBA Draft. “Everybody’s a different person. We don’t play the same game, I feel like I shoot the ball more than him and he plays more going downhill. I play going downhill too, but he likes to go downhill more to shoot the ball.”

The fourth of five Antetokoumpo brothers, Kostas averaged 5.2 points in just 15.1 minutes per game for the Flyers. Much like his more famous brother, he is regarded as a serious project for the NBA team that lands him and Kostas does not even appear in most mock drafts.

Kostas would be the third of his brothers to reach the NBA after the Bucks drafted Giannis 15th overall in 2013, and the New York Knicks moved into the second round a year later to draft Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who appeared in only two games.

“Thanassis did like 19 or 20 workouts,” the younger Antetokounmpo said, “so he’s talking me through the process and what to expect, stuff like that.”

He was one of six players who worked out for the Lakers on Wednesday. The group also included Villanova forward Omari Spellman, who said he tries to play like Draymond Green, and guard Jevon Carter from West Virginia.

The Lakers hold the 25th and 47th picks in next month’s draft.

While Antetokounmpo landing with the Lakers in the draft might be a long shot, the younger brother of the most unique player in the NBA still thought he made a good impression.

“I feel like some of the things I wanted to demonstrate is my aggressive play, my length and my defensive mobility,” he said.

When the workout ended, the players gathered around Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Johnson, who earned a $50,000 tampering fine last season for his public praise of Giannis Antetokounmpo, had words of encouragement that will not affect the Lakers’ bottom line.

“He told me that he liked what he’d seen out there and just keep working hard and be able to read the game,” Antetokounmpo said.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/23/younger-brother-of-bucks-superstar-giannis-antetokounmpo-works-out-for-lakers/

Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma named to All-Rookie first team; Lonzo Ball makes second team

EL SEGUNDO — When players were asked on Lakers media day to write their season goals on the bottom of a photograph, Kyle Kuzma quickly jotted down the achievement he was chasing: to make the All-Rookie team.

On Tuesday, Kuzma officially checked that box when the NBA announced the 27th draft pick was voted to the first team alongside rookies Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls.

“A lot of rookies don’t come into the league and have that type of leeway that Coach (Luke) Walton and his staff really gave me,” Kuzma said Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility. “So a lot of it goes to them and of course I am out there doing what I do but to have a leash like that as a rookie definitely helped.”

Kuzma received 93 of 100 possible first-team votes from a panel of media members, finishing fourth in voting among all rookies. Second overall pick Lonzo Ball finished seventh in media voting, earning second-team honors.

Kuzma tied for the team lead in points per game, averaging 16.1 points to go with 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. He was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in October and November.

Since the Lakers ended their season with a 115-100 victory over the Clippers for their 35th win, Kuzma has regularly posted videos and photos to social media showing the work he is doing in the gym and weight room.

Asked Tuesday if he had added muscle, Kuzma grinned and said, “Can you tell?”

“I want to be a really good player in this league,” he said. “One of the top players. So that all comes with being out here and working and being consistent and diligent with the work.”

Ball, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

Kuzma said Ball has been a regular presence in the weight room after missing 30 games during his rookie season, including the final 10 due to a left knee contusion.

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“He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time,” Kuzma said. “You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster, and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.

The Lakers’ front-office duo of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka challenged Ball during exit interviews that this would be the biggest summer of his life and Walton said for Ball “it’s going to be about getting in the weight room, it’s going to be about getting in the gym every single day.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/22/lakers-kyle-kuzma-named-to-all-rookie-first-team-lonzo-ball-makes-second-team/

Lakers to open preseason schedule Sept. 30 in San Diego

The Lakers will play six preseason games next season, starting on Sept. 30 against Denver.

The slate includes two games against the Nuggets, one against both the Clippers and Sacramento Kings, and a pair of games against the Golden State Warriors, including Oct. 12 in San Jose.

The 16-time champions are coming off a 35-47 campaign in which they missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. They hope to reverse those fortunes with an ambitious offseason. The front office will attempt to lure elite free agents such as Paul George and LeBron James via free agency, and the Lakers hold the 25th overall pick in June’s draft.

Whatever that team looks like, it will first take the court on Sept. 30 at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. The Lakers will face the Nuggets again two nights later at Staples Center, and will play one more game at their regular season home: on Oct. 4 against the Kings.

The final three games will be played out of Los Angeles: Oct. 6 against the Clippers at Honda Center in Anaheim; Oct. 10 versus the Warriors at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; and Oct. 12 in a road game against the Warriors at SAP Arena in San Jose.

Tickets for the games in Las Vegas and San Diego will go on sale on May 21 at 10 a.m. and can be purchased at axs.com, while tickets for the game in San Jose will become available at the same time on ticketmaster.com.

Ticket information for the two games at Staples Center will be announced later.

It was also announced on Monday that the Lakers will participate in a summer league hosted by the Sacramento Kings from July 2-5. The “California Classic” will feature the Lakers, Warriors, Kings and Miami Heat.

General Manager Rob Pelinka previously said stars Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball would not participate in summer league. The Lakers will still play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas from July 6-17. This will be the first year all 30 teams participate in the Vegas league.

RELATED: Lakers 2018 preseason schedule

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/14/lakers-to-open-preseason-schedule-sept-30-in-san-diego/

Former USC star Chimezie Metu calls Lakers workout ‘a dream come true’

EL SEGUNDO — Growing up just 10 minutes away from the home of the Lakers, Chimezie Metu could only wonder what it was like to play inside the walls of the team’s practice facility.

On Wednesday, he had a chance to find out for himself.

“I’ve been a Laker fan my whole life,” said Metu, the former USC forward who was named to the All-Pac-12 first team as a junior. “Just being in here is crazy to me. … Today was a dream come true to come out here and work out.”

Metu headlined the latest group of NBA hopefuls to work out for the Lakers in advance of the June 21 NBA draft

“I’m probably going to have a lot more workouts,” said Metu, who will attend the NBA’s pre-draft combine next week in Chicago, “but this is probably going to be my favorite one or one I’m going to cherish a lot more because of the history.”

Former Arizona guard Allonzo Trier also worked out for the Lakers on Wednesday, as did Nevada forward Cody Martin, SMU guard Shake Milton, Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg and Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton.

The Lakers hold the 25th and 47th picks in the draft, square in the range where various mock drafts indicate Metu is projected to land.

Metu worked out in front of Lakers coaches and executives, including President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, who also attended several USC games last season.

“He’s been to a couple of our games,” Metu said, “but he’s just sat there. I’ve never actually gotten a chance to shake his hand and talk to him so that was pretty fun.”

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Johnson didn’t offer much feedback or instruction Metu said, but it didn’t matter.

“He was just sitting there,” Metu said. “But his presence is still there, can still be felt because you know he’s sitting right there.”

While it’s normal for draft prospects to find themselves in awe of the legends who roam the Lakers’ hallways, Metu also knows a couple members of the current roster after playing against both Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma in college.

“Those were two really good players,” he said. “Lonzo he changed the game so much. My freshman year he wasn’t on the (UCLA) team and they were completely different. Second year, he was there, completely different. Last year he wasn’t there, completely different again. He changes the game in such a dynamic way where he doesn’t have to score, he doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands to make a difference.

“And then Kuz, he’s gotten so much better since I played him. He was more of a slasher, now he’s doing stuff off the dribble.”

Metu, a former Lawndale High star, averaged 15.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game for the Trojans while enduring a season that saw assistant coach Tony Bland get arrested by the FBI, and later fired, as part of the college bribery investigation. Metu was later among the players who reportedly received benefits during his recruitment.

“All that stuff, it didn’t really take away from my experience (at USC),” Metu said. “Last year was still fun. My teammates, we all had great times being there, we didn’t make the (NCAA) tournament like we wanted to (last season). But we still had a lot of fun, won a bunch of games.”

The Trojans finished 24-12 before being eliminated in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/09/former-usc-star-chimezie-metu-calls-lakers-workout-a-dream-come-true/

Lakers emphasize defense at pre-draft workout

EL SEGUNDO — After vowing a year ago that they would improve defensively following a 27-win season, the Lakers jumped from last in the NBA in defensive efficiency to 12th in Coach Luke Walton’s second season.

Walton made a similar pledge following the 35-47 season that wrapped up less than a month ago, and that message was made loud and clear on Monday when the Lakers hosted a pre-draft workout for six prospects.

“They (made) a real big emphasis on defense obviously,” said Keita Bates-Diop, a forward from Ohio State. “That’s what they preached, from the first words they said out of their mouths when they brought us together.”

Nevada’s Caleb Martin agreed.

“That’s one thing that they keyed on right when we came in the door,” he said. “We all got to this level because we know we can put the ball in the hoop. It’s another thing to separate yourself playing defense.”

While the playoffs roll on, the Lakers for a fifth consecutive year are not participating. Instead, they are looking for value in the later stages of the NBA draft. They will pick 25th overall, a first-round pick acquired from Cleveland before the trade deadline, and 47th.

While those might not seem like especially promising picks, the Lakers have drafted at the bottom of the draft as well as any team in the league in recent seasons. Last year, Kyle Kuzma (selected 27th overall) and Josh Hart (30th) went from unheralded rookies to franchise cornerstones.

Before Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka found success with those picks, the previous regime unearthed players such as Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson.

Unlike those previous seasons, however, the Lakers do not have the benefit of a high lottery pick to sweeten their draft process. That pick will finally be conveyed to Philadelphia to complete the Steve Nash trade of 2012.

Monday marked the Lakers’ second workout of what promises to be many.

Bates-Diop and Martin were joined by guard Rob Gray from Houston, Florida guard Jalen Hudson, Kansas center Udoka Azubuike and Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.

To test the players’ defensive acumen, the Lakers put them in one-on-one and three-on-three situations.

“Doing three-on-three, there’s more space that you have to guard,” Martin said, “because on five-on-five you can kind of shrink the floor and cut the floor in half. But (they) emphasized the three-on-three, so it really made you move your feet and decide, quick decisions on ball screens and working with people.”

Bates-Diop, who averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds last season for the Buckeyes, is projected to be the highest pick among Monday’s group according to various mock drafts – not that he would know that.

“I don’t really look at draft boards like that,” he said. “I don’t have an Instagram or Twitter, so I don’t pay attention to anything like that.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/07/lakers-emphasize-defense-at-pre-draft-workout/

Former NBA player Chase Budinger takes his talents to beach volleyball

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. The duo work together during practice in Manhattan Beach Thursday April 26, 2018 Budinger kill shot during practice game. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. The duo work together during practice in Manhattan Beach Thursday April 26, 2018 Budinger kill shot during practice game. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Sean Rosenthal, left, passes to teammate Chase Budinger during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. Former NBA player Chase Budinger has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Sean Rosenthal, left, passes to teammate Chase Budinger during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. Former NBA player Chase Budinger has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

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  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, pictured, has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. The duo work together during practice in Manhattan Beach Thursday April 26, 2018. Budinger keeps ball in play during practice game.
(Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, pictured, has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. The duo work together during practice in Manhattan Beach Thursday April 26, 2018. Budinger keeps ball in play during practice game. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal,left, to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal,left, to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Chase Budinger spikes the ball during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. The former NBA player has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Chase Budinger spikes the ball during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. The former NBA player has teamed with Olympian and beach volleyball star Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, pictured, is teaming with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach volleyball circuit. They’re in the field at this week’s FIVB Huntington Beach Open. Main draw play begins Thursday. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, pictured, is teaming with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach volleyball circuit. They’re in the field at this week’s FIVB Huntington Beach Open. Main draw play begins Thursday. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Chase Budinger, right, goes high for a kill during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. The former NBA player has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Chase Budinger, right, goes high for a kill during a recent practice in Manhattan Beach. The former NBA player has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal, left, to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. They’ll make their debut Thursday at the FIVB Huntington Beach Open. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Former NBA player Chase Budinger, right, has teamed with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal, left, to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach circuit. They’ll make their debut Thursday at the FIVB Huntington Beach Open. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Sean Rosenthal dives for a save during a recent practice with new partner Chase Budinger in Manhattan Beach. Budinger, a former NBA player, has joined the two-time Olympian to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach volleyball circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

    Sean Rosenthal dives for a save during a recent practice with new partner Chase Budinger in Manhattan Beach. Budinger, a former NBA player, has joined the two-time Olympian to form one of the most athletic tandems on the beach volleyball circuit. (Photo by Robert Casillas, Contributing Photographer)

  • Chase Budinger, right, appeared in 407 games with four teams during seven NBA seasons, averaging 7.9 points, 3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 19.7 minutes per game. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Chase Budinger, right, appeared in 407 games with four teams during seven NBA seasons, averaging 7.9 points, 3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 19.7 minutes per game. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Chase Budinger was a two-sport star at La Costa Canyon High before becoming an All-Pac-10 basketball player at Arizona. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

    Chase Budinger was a two-sport star at La Costa Canyon High before becoming an All-Pac-10 basketball player at Arizona. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

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MANHATTAN BEACH — The three volleyball courts that anchor the northern edge of Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas are, officially, welcome to all comers. Players of all skill levels arrive daily to dig their toes into the white sand. Among locals, however, it is understood that the third court, the one closest to the surf, is reserved for the most advanced players.

On weekends more than a decade ago, one impossibly blond native son made regular trips to that cozy stretch of beach, trudged past the first two courts and scrawled his name on the waiting list for that cutthroat third court. With that, Chase Budinger put himself at the mercy of the hard-core locals with leathered skin, in a game where skill and finesse meant more than size and physicality

“Mostly they would beat me,” said Budinger, “but sometimes I would go down there with my brother and we would run the table for the day.”

To the teen, volleyball was a social activity. The sand offered a diversion from sanctioned sports at La Costa Canyon High School, where he became a decorated two-sport star, winning national player of the year in indoor volleyball and emerging as a top basketball recruit.

On Thursday, the 29-year-old who spent seven seasons in the NBA, will make his pro volleyball debut next to two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal as main draw play begins at the FIVB Huntington Beach Open. For the new and, perhaps, unlikely partners, it marks the first step toward their goal of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

“I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of people who are going to write him off as the basketball guy who is dabbling in beach volleyball,” said 7-foot-1 pro Ryan Doherty, who left a career in baseball after topping out in Double-A in 2007, “but once he starts playing I think that perception will change pretty quickly.”

When Budinger was waived by the Brooklyn Nets during training camp in 2016, it quietly but effectively ended his NBA career. He had appeared in 407 games with four teams, earned nearly $19 million and jumped over P. Diddy in the Slam Dunk Contest.

Career averages: 7.9 points, 3 rebounds, 1.2 assists in 19.7 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-7 small forward never announced his retirement from the NBA and doesn’t recall filling out any paperwork that made it official, but one day the insurance card for retired players arrived in the mail and so he was retired.

Budinger toiled for one season with Baskonia in the Spanish ACB. “I didn’t really enjoy my time too much over there,” he said. He said the time zone messed with him and the grind of international living was a shock after years of NBA travel.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal, a fan favorite with a loyal cheering section called Rosie’s Raiders, was at home in Southern California contemplating how to make one more run at the Olympics.

He had teamed with former gold medalist Phil Dalhausser after the 2012 Games, only to get dumped prior to Rio de Janeiro in ’16. Now 37, Rosenthal knew the volleyball landscape was shifting and his window was closing. He might have to get creative if he wanted to make it to Tokyo with as many as six teams contending for two American slots.

Friends were in his ears about the former NBA player who spent his summers in Hermosa Beach playing four-on-four tournaments. Rosenthal, who lives in Redondo Beach, had been around Budinger in that setting, but never considered his potential as a partner.

“We have a lot of mutual friends,” Rosenthal said, “and all of them are like, ‘He sets perfect, he does this, he does that,’ and I was like, ‘OK, I’ve never seen that part.’ … I’ve seen him mess around in four-mans a little bit, four-mans all he’s doing is hitting and blocking, I know he can do that. He’s a big guy.”

Rosenthal reached out to Budinger, who was mulling offers to go back overseas. A couple of NBA tryouts had gone nowhere. If Budinger was serious about giving volleyball a real shot, this was about as good of an opportunity as would ever come.

“When Sean Rosenthal calls,” said Jessica Fine, Budinger’s girlfriend, “you answer.”

As Doherty put it: “Rosie is not going to pick anybody to play with where he’s not going to be able to win.”

All that was left was for Budinger to accept, and that meant coming to terms with the end of his basketball career.

“I think it was just the right time for me and just how I felt,” Budinger said. “I had a lot of good years, had a good run in basketball and this was always the plan when I was done, was to go back and play beach volleyball, so at least I had that mindset.”

Budinger is far from the first NBA player to find a second home on the beach. Wilt Chamberlain famously spent more than a decade on the pro volleyball circuit following his Hall of Fame career, and in Hermosa, Budinger plays regularly with fellow Arizona Wildcats Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson.

During Kobe Bryant’s farewell season in 2015-16, the legendary Laker pulled aside Budinger, then with the Indiana Pacers, and joked that retirement meant he had some free time coming up.

“When you have time let’s go to the beach and play some beach volleyball,” Bryant said.

“I have not taken him up on it yet, though,” Budinger said.

One week before the Huntington tournament, Budinger and Rosenthal were on the sand at 15th Street in Manhattan Beach, working the kinks out of their new partnership.

Sitting on a blanket next to the boundary of the court, Fine softly repeated the message she has told her boyfriend virtually every day since he decided to accept Rosenthal’s offer.

“Think less, just play,” the former UCLA libero said.

Rosenthal and Budinger spoke softly following each play throughout their scrimmage against the Brazilian team of Guto Carvalhaes and Vitor Felipe, assessing what worked and what did not.

“We’re still learning and I’m still in that process of asking a lot of questions,” Budinger said.

The 6-3 Rosenthal patiently tutored Budinger about the arc he needed from his partner when setting him the ball. “More of this,” he said, pointing straight up to the sky. Then, bending the arm over his head, “Not so much of this.”

The stonefaced Brazilians, meanwhile, barely spoke, responding to each other’s movements and communicating by feel.

But when Rosenthal sent a pass high to Budinger, the full scale of the newcomer’s power was on display. Budinger swung his arms back like a long jumper pushing off, then pogo-sticked off the sand, and slammed the ball over the net.

Carvalhaes dove for the dig but was not fast enough. He slapped the sand and swore loudly in Portuguese.

Budinger’s power is his trademark.

“His athleticism is most impressive,” said Tyler Hildebrand, the first-year director of coaching for the USA Volleyball beach teams. “He needs a lot of touches passing and setting, but the fact is, he’s so good at both of those right now. Because typically when you get a super big, super freak (athlete), usually they don’t know how to pass or set.”

But he’s new. And he will spend the summer playing in tournaments across the globe against players who have years of experience. From Huntington Beach, it’s on to Lucerne, Switzerland, and then Austin, Texas.

In beach volleyball, players lug their own balls, arrange their own practices, set up their own lines.

“It’s completely different,” Budinger said. “You’ve got to take a lot of responsibility on everything, nutrition, weight lifting, practice, cardio, traveling. Everything.”

While Budinger has completely closed the door on his basketball career, much of what made him an attractive NBA player carries over to the sand. The length and athleticism. His timing. NBA teams kept calling because they believed in his potential.

Over time, that wears off. Younger players come along who do similar things, for less money and with more upside. Teams are always looking to buy low, to find the bargain with the biggest payoff.

Rosenthal knows all about that. Maybe pairing with Budinger costs him tour points early on, but if the goal is the Olympics – and it is – then the 6-7 leaper opens a new world of opportunity.

The book on Budinger might have been written in the NBA, but in beach volleyball, the pages are completely blank. Here, his potential is the mystery, his upside the draw.

Back at Moonlight Beach, he’s up on Court 3.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/05/02/former-nba-player-chase-budinger-takes-his-talents-to-beach-volleyball/

Lakers final 2017-18 report card: Young team on the rise turns around season to notch 35 wins

When the Lakers lost their ninth game in a row on Jan. 5, it was difficult to imagine a turnaround quite like the one they achieved over the final 43 games of their season. As the season’s mid-way point neared, the Lakers’ record stood at 11-27, two games worse than the same point of the previous season.

Lonzo Ball had just missed half a dozen games with a sprained shoulder, the first of three injuries that would cause the rookie point guard to miss significant time. The overcharged analysis of LaVar Ball had led not only to speculation that Coach Luke Walton did not have control of his locker room, but to a baseless but widespread rumor that the Lakers had already identified David Fizdale as his preferred successor.

With the basketball world watching the Lakers closely, notably top free agents LeBron James and Paul George, things were trending very much in the wrong direction.

But the season turned around starting the day LaVar Ball’s most serious criticisms of Walton went public. The Lakers trounced the hapless Atlanta Hawks 132-113. They proceeded to win eight of their next 10 games, and went 22-21 over the final three months of the season. Their 35 wins were the most since 2012-13.

Following the midseason trade of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson created enough salary cap space to sign two max-contract free agents this summer (or next) and the Lakers just might have played well enough to attract them.

On to the final report card for the 2017-18 Lakers:

THE STARTERS

LONZO BALL, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Under team control through 2021-22

COMMENT: Whether you find the scrutiny of the Lakers’ top rookie to be relevant to the success of the team, or just an unfortunate side effect of the Ball Family Circus, there is no denying his value on the court. The Lakers’ system was designed for a player just like Ball: an unselfish point guard who moves the ball up the court without needing to take a ton of dribbles. For each ghastly 3-point shooting night, Ball offered at least one mind-bending play that didn’t involve him trying to put the Ball in the hoop. His 30.5 percent shooting from 3-point range either must go up, or his 5.7 3-point attempts per game must come down. But 6.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game are elite for any point guard, let alone one who only turned 20 during the season and faces the off-court distractions Ball does. This summer will be crucial for Ball and will reveal a lot about his work ethic. The team’s training staff has shown it can work wonders on young players’ physiques – see Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Nance Jr. last summer – as long as the player makes the commitment.

FINAL GRADE: B (not to be confused with BBB)

KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: Caldwell-Pope’s Lakers tenure will be best remembered for two things, neither of which speaks to his value on the court. The first was at his introductory press conference when Rob Pelinka compared signing the former Piston to the “time when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and all of a sudden bread came down from heaven.” The second came in December and January, when Caldwell-Pope missed four games due to a court-ordered stay at a work-release facility in Seal Beach after he violated his parole stemming from a DUI arrest last year in Michigan. He was the Lakers’ best 3-point shooter at 38.3 percent and proved himself capable of explosive scoring nights, like his eight 3-pointer outings in Sacramento on Feb. 24 and at New Orleans a month later. Unfortunately for KCP, he didn’t quite live up to the $18 million paycheck the Lakers signed him to in July. His off-court issue was a significant distraction both for himself and the organization. The awkwardness was enhanced due to the fact he is represented by LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul. If Caldwell-Pope gets what he wants this summer, it will be a multi-year contract – something the Lakers, with an emergent Josh Hart and dreams of bigger free agent fish, won’t be interested in providing.

FINAL GRADE: B-

BROOK LOPEZ, center

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: The former All-Star never experienced a season quite like this one, and at times, his frustration was palpable. Lopez recorded career lows in minutes (23.4 per game), points (13), rebounds (four) and free-throw percentage (70.3 percent). Along with the draft pick that became Kyle Kuzma, Lopez was the return for D’Angelo Russell and the sacks of cash convincingly decorated to resemble Timofey Mozgov. After developing a 3-point shot in 2014-15 in Brooklyn, Lopez knocked down 34.5 percent of his attempts for the Lakers. For most of the season, Lopez found himself on the bench at the end of games. It wasn’t until late in the season, when the Lakers started going to Lopez early and often at the starts of games, that he started to look comfortable. Might he be back next season? There’s no reason to think so, but for a guy who spent the first nine years of his career with one team, there might be value in the familiar. If the Lakers are able to build a championship contender this offseason, Lopez said last week he would consider returning for a salary well below the $22.6 million he earned this season. “That’s definitely hard to pass up,” he said.

FINAL GRADE: C+

BRANDON INGRAM, forward

CONTRACT STATUS: Under team control through 2020-21

COMMENT: Is Ingram the most important piece to the Lakers’ future? Go back to Feb. 2, when the Lakers entered a showdown in Brooklyn with D’Angelo Russell’s Nets. The Lakers had just been trounced on the road in Orlando by 22 points and with no Lonzo Ball (due to the second of his three injuries) the season once again was in jeopardy of coming apart at the seams. Walton shuffled his starters, moving Ingram to point guard and Josh Hart into the first five. The next 11 games yielded eight wins and the most productive stretch of Ingram’s season. In that span, he averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds. After a hard hit from Miami’s Justise Winslow on March 1, Ingram played just two of the Lakers’ final 21 games, the result of first a groin strain and then a concussion. As with Ball, durability will be the focus of Ingram’s offseason. He appeared in just 52 games in his second season, but when he played, the reasons Lakers officials are so confident in him came more into focus. He can switch four positions defensively, and play three on offense. The latter is a key quality when considering the positions of James and George, the Lakers’ dream combo coup.

FINAL GRADE: B+

JULIUS RANDLE , forward/center

CONTRACT STATUS: Restricted free agent

COMMENT: Like network television’s mid-day slate, one Randle drama always seems to lead right into another. He and Walton finally put their beef behind them and Randle had his best season as a professional just in time for free agency and the possibility that Randle’s days in L.A. are through. The upside, of course, is that the Lakers have the right to match any offer extended to the 24-year-old. After Randle averaged a career-high 16.1 points per game on a career-high 55.8 shooting from the floor, the Lakers will be eager to match. With one caveat: They only have room for two max free agents –not three. So if the Lakers are able to land George and James, the math becomes extremely tricky to keep Randle. Putting the future aside for a moment, Randle’s season merits study and praise. He arrived for training camp in the best shape of his career. He started the season on the bench behind Larry Nance Jr., was accused of pouting by Walton before refocusing his attention to his assigned role against opposing back-up centers, and eventually reclaimed his starting job alongside Lopez. He made himself a lot of money in the process.

FINAL GRADE: A

THE RESERVES

KYLE KUZMA, forward

CONTRACT STATUS: Under team control through 2021-22

COMMENT: It didn’t take long for the ball to get rolling on the mythmaking of Kuzma. From an early-season dinner with Kobe Bryant, to the most consecutive 25-point games by a Lakers rookie since Jerry West, Kuzma struck all the right notes in his first season. He gets the market, understands his moment. Kuzma showed up to a Lakers home game in the final week of the season in a Nick Van Exel jersey, then went out and sealed a victory the same night with a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook. He has the star qualities the Lakers have been desperate for since the Kobester hung up his Nikes. Whether his game continues to match the pizzazz will depend on how much more room he has to grow. Four years at Utah honed a relentlessly attacking mentality. The result was many eye-popping scoring nights, including a career-high 38 points to best James Harden and the Rockets on Dec. 20, but also many questionable shots. Still, nobody anticipated him shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range, and he was one of three Lakers to lead the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game. For all the hype Ball received from draft night forward, Kuzma was the team’s best rookie.

FINAL GRADE: A

JOSH HART, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Under team control through 2021-22

COMMENT: Walton’s lineup shake up in Brooklyn on Feb. 2 might have been highlighted by the move of Ingram to point guard, but Hart’s elevation to a starting job was just as crucial. When Hart replaced franchise cornerstone Ball with the four other preferred starters (Ingram, Caldwell-Pope, Lopez and Randle) the Lakers outscored their opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. When it was Ball instead of Hart, the Lakers were outscored by 0.4 points. Picked with the final selection of the first round, the swingman out of Villanova might have been the steal of last summer’s draft – and that’s saying something considering Kuzma went just three spots higher. The 6-foot-5 Hart logged eight double-doubles – Lopez, by contrast, only recorded four – and last week Magic Johnson declared Hart the second-best rebounding guard in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook.  All of this from a player who started the season bouncing between the Lakers and the G-League. Hart played a pair of games with the South Bay Lakers before the parent club realized how valuable he could be. On a team with an established trio of rising stars in Ingram, Ball and Kuzma, it wasn’t always clear that there was room for Hart in the so-called “young core” of untouchables. Hart said last week that he was recently shown two articles from the same author, about a month apart. The first listed the members of the young core but did not include Hart. The second article, listed Hart. “That’s kind of cool,” Hart said. “But that year is over with now. It’s just about getting better this offseason and taking it from there.”

FINAL GRADE: B+

ISAIAH THOMAS, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: Before undergoing season-ending hip surgery on March 29, Thomas used his short time with the Lakers to try and prove that he could return to the player that made him an MVP candidate in Boston. The jury’s still out in that one, with surgery just one more piece of a disassembled puzzle. However, Thomas was great in his 17 games with the Lakers, fitting in as many number changes in two months as Kobe Bryant had in 20 years. Whether it was as IT7 (29 points in a win over Miami) or IT3 (nine 3-pointers over two games in mid-March) Thomas’ time with the Lakers was memorable. Upon being traded to the Lakers, Thomas’ agent publicly declared that the former All-Star would seek a buyout if he did not start. Instead, Thomas accepted his role backing up Ball, never complained and earned praise from his teammates and coaches for his professionalism. His free agency is clouded by the surgery, but Thomas will likely be a good value for whichever team signs him. Just don’t bet that it will be the Lakers.

FINAL GRADE: B+

THE REST

LUOL DENG, forward

CONTRACT STATUS: Under contract through 2019-20

COMMENT: Ah, but what a glorious 13 minutes they were. After starting the season opener due to a suspension to Caldwell-Pope, the perfectly healthy Deng was relegated to a cheerleading role thanks to an agreement he and Walton struck. His contract might be on the books for two more years, but both sides are eager to find an exit from the pact. Despite a public, early-season trade request, Deng managed to stay professional and did not cause issues in the locker room.

FINAL GRADE: D+

CHANNING FRYE, forward

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: The floor-spacing big man underwent an emergency appendectomy after two games with the Lakers. He returned for the final seven games of the season and shot 36 percent from 3-point range in his brief time with the purple and gold.

FINAL GRADE: C

TYLER ENNIS, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Team option

COMMENT: In a season when Ball missed 30 games with no clear back-up point guard, Ennis had ample opportunity for a career year. However, in 11 starts Ennis averaged just 6.3 points and 3.3 assists. He was replaced as the fill-in point guard by Ingram and was lapped by two-way guard Alex Caruso.

TRAVIS WEAR, forward

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: After being brought in from the development league for emergency duty on March 3, Wear scored seven points and played the entire fourth quarter of a narrow victory in San Antonio. That was likely the highlight of his 17-game run, which saw the former UCLA star shoot 36.2 percent from 3-point range.

FINAL GRADE: C-

IVICA ZUBAC, center

CONTRACT STATUS: Team option

COMMENT: Zubac entered last summer as the likely starter at center, but took a backseat with the arrivals of Lopez and Andrew Bogut (who was waived in January). Couple those factors with a disappointing summer league, and Zubac’s second season was a disappointment. Zubac spent much of the season with the South Bay Lakers and averaged just 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game with the Lakers.

FINAL GRADE: C

THOMAS BRYANT, center

CONTRACT STATUS: Team option

COMMENT: The rookie out of Indiana remains very much an unknown. He spent 37 games with South Bay, averaging 19.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while making nearly two 3-pointers per game against lesser competition. If that translates to the NBA, he could have a future.

FINAL GRADE: Incomplete

ANDRE INGRAM, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: Unrestricted free agent

COMMENT: The career minor leaguer was the feel-good story of the season’s final days, when the Lakers made him a 32-year-old rookie. He poured in 19 points in a loss to Houston, highlighted by four 3-pointers on five attempts. Calling up Ingram bought the Lakers much goodwill, and made Ingram a global symbol of perseverance and a positive attitude.

FINAL GRADE: A+

ALEX CARUSO, guard

CONTRACT STATUS: One more year on two-way contract

COMMENT: The Lakers signed Caruso to a two-way deal following a breakout performance at the Las Vegas summer league, and he became a useful contributor in 37 games with the Lakers, including seven starts. His best outing came on Jan. 21, when he finished with nine points, eight assists and four rebounds in a win over the Knicks.

FINAL GRADE: B-

GARY PAYTON II, GUARD

CONTRACT STATUS: One more year on two-way contract

COMMENT: Payton followed in his father’s footsteps by attending Oregon State, then again when he signed with the Lakers at midseason. A defensive-minded combo guard, Payton appeared in 11 games and scored a career-high 25 points to go with 12 rebounds in the season-ending victory over the Clippers.

FINAL GRADE: Incomplete

THE COACH

LUKE WALTON

COMMENT: The most visible coaching decisions Walton made were starting the season with Nance at power forward and moving Ingram to point guard when Ball suffered a sprained left MCL. With the benefit of hindsight, one of those moves looks much savvier than the other. However, Walton was able to use Randle’s demotion as a tool to motivate the disgruntled power forward, who acknowledged last week that it was hard early on not to feel like he needed to move on from the Lakers. Instead, he ended up having a career year. How much credit the coach gets for such things can always be debated. What’s undeniable, though, is that Walton guided the Lakers to more wins than his two predecessors were able to in four combined seasons and has the team with which he spent nine as a player on the cusp of contending for a playoff spot in 2019. With two years under Walton’s belt, players seem to have bought into his system and grown comfortable in the relaxed culture he has built. The Lakers climbed from 30th in overall defense a year ago to 12th this season. That’s not a fluke. It’s Luke.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/17/lakers-final-2017-18-report-card-young-team-on-the-rise-turns-around-season-to-notch-35-wins/

Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma will not play summer league, Magic Johnson says

EL SEGUNDO – Lonzo Ball’s offseason will not include an appearance at the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas.

Lakers President Magic Johnson said Ball and Kyle Kuzma will skip the July event to focus on their individual progress following strong rookie seasons.

“We want those guys in the gym, working with weights, working on their game, so they won’t be playing in summer league,” Johnson said.

Rookies Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant will be on the summer team, Johnson said.

On Thursday, Ball left his status for Las Vegas more open-ended, saying if the Lakers “want me to play, I’ll play.”

Ball sitting out will buck a trend for the Lakers’ top draft picks. Brandon Ingram and ex-Laker D’Angelo Russell played in summer league following their rookie seasons, although neither played all of the Lakers games.

Instead, the offseason directive from Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka, who spoke to the media Friday after concluding exit interviews with players a day earlier, was more about Ball’s mentality than anything else.

“If you want to be an All-Star and you want to lead this team to the playoffs,” Pelinka said he told Ball, “that can’t be something we tell you how to work in the offseason. That’s got to be something that you choose to do. You should be hunting down the weight coaches, you should be hunting down the basketball development coaches. You should be begging to get in the gym and developing that drive for greatness.”

Top Lakers officials were united in the belief that, despite Ball shooting just 30.5 percent from 3-opint range in his rookie season, they do not want him making dramatic changes to his jump shot.

“There’s always little things you can change,” Coach Luke Walton said. “The balance of your shot, things like that. You always work on those as a shooter. But changing the form? I wouldn’t recommend doing that.”

Ball said Thursday the Lakers bosses told him this would be “the biggest summer of my life.”

That extends beyond the court. He and his girlfriend, Denise Garcia, are expecting a daughter in July, and Ball has various obligations with his father’s Big Baller Brand.

The weight room was a theme of Friday’s interviews. Ball was limited to just 52 games as a rookie, and Johnson said he wanted his point guard and second-year forward Brandon Ingram to get stronger to aid in their durability.

“It’s going to be about being disciplined,” Walton said, “and making the decisions that no matter what’s going on in your life, these are things that I’m doing every single day. Not because I have to, but because I want to. And I think Zo understands that.  He’ll be committed to that.”

Ball finished the season averaging 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds

Johnson praised Ball, the player he called the “face” of the franchise after selecting him second overall in June.

“He handled himself well,” Johnson said. “One thing about Lonzo, you don’t have to worry about him. He’s his own man. He has great passion and love for basketball and for the Lakers. He came in, I mean, man, with this big bang and high expectations from everybody. I think he was able to live up to a lot of the expectations.”

Johnson said at the start of training camp he did not need to “monitor” Ball’s father, LaVar. Despite a meeting he and Pelinka had with the elder Ball in November to ask him to tone down his criticisms of Walton, Johnson said the two “have a good relationship with LaVar” and did not anticipate any problems moving forward.

“We only had two conversations with LaVar,” Johnson said. “And they were both good, and we moved on. I don’t have to monitor LaVar. He loves his son and cares about his son and wants his son to be better and that is what we want. We want him to be better, and so I am not going to monitor him.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/13/lonzo-ball-kyle-kuzma-will-not-play-summer-league-magic-johnson-says/

Whether this summer or next, Lakers believe they will build a contender

EL SEGUNDO — These days, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are a bit more coy about their plans to rebuild the Lakers – funny the effect half a million dollars in tampering fines can have – but the team’s top executives remain no less certain of their ability to land superstars who can lead the Lakers back to the top of the NBA.

“We are going to find success one way or another,” Pelinka said Friday. “It is not going to be contingent on any specific decision of another player.”

The Lakers have long been expected to chase the top two free agents in this summer’s class, LeBron James and Paul George. After clearing salary cap space by trading Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson in February, Johnson and Pelinka massaged those expectations, saying their cap flexibility allowed them to add two maximum-level free agents from the classes of 2018 and ’19, and not both necessarily this year.

“We’re not going to give money away just to say we signed somebody,” Johnson said.

What rarely gets talked about is this: What if the Lakers strike out completely this summer, just as their predecessors did every summer from 2013-16.

“Those decisions are going to be controlled by those players, so we are only going to control what we can control,” Pelinka said. “And so if we have to do it some other way, we are going to find a way to do it.”

Might that include trading members of the vaunted young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart?

“We are not going to talk about that,” Johnson replied sharply. “We are not going to talk about that.”

When Johnson first came aboard as the president of basketball operations last February, he said the Lakers would listen to trade offers on every player except Ingram.

“We don’t have to sign anybody this summer because we already said that if we don’t feel that we can get somebody in ’18, then we will turn to ’19,” Johnson said Friday. “So we feel really good about where we are. I feel really good about the direction of this franchise.

“And last but not least, I feel really good about Rob and I, getting somebody in a room and talking to them about coming and playing for the Lakers.”

In a limited free agency market last summer, the Lakers acquired players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez on high-priced, short-term deals, while focusing on developing their home-grown talent.

They could do that again this summer, while focusing on retaining Julius Randle, a restricted free agent. But that would almost certainly be viewed as a disappointment by everyone in and out of the organization.

The Lakers, however, have a claim to the most appealing situation for free agents.

Pelinka, who likes to speak in parables, said Friday, “Let’s take a trip down memory lane. When we started, we were pretty much a team that was capped out without a pick.”

He referenced a recent news article that said after the moves the new front office made, including dumping Timofey Mozgov, “the Lakers are now in the envious position that every team in the league wants to be in,” with cap flexibility and a dynamic young core.

“Where we started,” Pelinka said, “we didn’t have that.”

Coach Luke Walton was asked what his pitch to free agents would be.

“We’ve got a young core of guys that love to play,” he said. “They love to get out and run, they love to compete, they love to work. So I guess that’s a pretty good pitch right there, but it’s just the truth about the young core that we have.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/13/whether-this-summer-or-next-lakers-believe-they-will-build-a-contender/

‘Biggest summer’ of Lonzo Ball’s life also carries serious weight for Lakers organization

EL SEGUNDO — Lonzo Ball emerged from his season-ending interview with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka armed with a challenge from the Lakers’ top executives.

“Basically just it’s the biggest summer of my life,” the rookie point guard said.

And couldn’t the same be said for the entire organization?

The franchise has carefully plotted to create the flexibility for two maximum-level contracts this summer if they can convince free agents LeBron James and Paul George to join up with Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.

So as Lakers players filtered out of the team’s headquarters the day after a 115-100 victory over the Clippers to cap a season that was at the end sentimental, in the middle controversial (thanks LaVar!), but overall encouraging, there was really just one question.

Were the Lakers, none of them more high profile than Ball, good enough to attract the top free agents the organization so plainly covets?

“The way I play is to help my team win,” Ball said. “I am not really worried about who is not here. I am worried about the guys that are here and I tried to do what I could and help my team out. So, whether it be LeBron, Paul George or whoever, if they liked it, they liked it. If they didn’t, they didn’t, I can’t do anything about it now.”

Therein lies the awkward balance between the franchise’s young players, who are on their own plan of gradual growth, and the front office, whose strategy of signing James and George could catapult them into Western Conference contention as early as next season.

“If guys want to come here, they come,” Kuzma said, “but if not, we’re not per se depending on that, because we want to be those great players and we want to be those max-level guys.”

Kuzma, though, thinks the Lakers can make a pretty good sales pitch to any potential shoppers.

“Who wouldn’t want to play in L.A.?” the rookie forward said. “Sunshine, there’s women here, great basketball. There’s so much you can do here, so why not come here.”

The Lakers have only five guaranteed contracts going into the summer and a late first-round pick, courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The fates of their own free agents, most notably restricted free agent Julius Randle, will not be known until James and George make their decisions.

Josh Hart, who in the season finale became one of four rookies to score at least 20 points in four straight games, said it “would be nothing but great for this team and this franchise” to land a superstar.

But signing top talent can’t be something the current players think about, he said.

“Our job as players is to work like we’re not going to,” Hart said. “To work as if nobody is going to come here in free agency and to work as hard as we can and to get to that next level. … If we take that mindset going into the offseason and work our butts off and do those kinds of things and get better and we’re able to add some great players in free agency, that makes this team that much more dangerous.

“If we go into this offseason thinking, ‘Oh man, we’re going to make a splash in free agency,’ and for whatever reason it doesn’t happen, then we’re just sitting here like, ‘We’re behind the eight-ball.’”

That means the Lakers will be back in the gym after a month away, participating in voluntary workouts. A year ago, Ingram and Randle transformed their bodies. This summer, each player was once again advised what they could work on.

No player’s summer will be of greater importance than that of Ball. The No. 2 overall pick was probably not the team’s best rookie this season, a mantle that belongs to Kuzma, who averaged 16.1 points per game after being drafted 25 picks behind his colleague from UCLA.

Ball missed 30 games with three separate injuries, including the final eight games with a contusion on the back side of his left knee. He finished the season averaging 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

The glaring weakness in his otherwise balanced game was his jump shot. Ball made just 30.5 percent of his shots from 3-point range, and in the 10 games before suffering the bruise that ended his season made just 10 of his 93 attempts from deep.

However, don’t expect the 20-year-old to change his mechanics unless the Lakers force him to – and that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

“They said they are fine with it,” he said. “Just make sure I am getting the reps up. Just perfect it pretty much. If you want to be a good shooter, you got to shoot and start making them and that will translate to the game.”

But for the biggest summer of his life to also be the most productive, Ball will have to do more than remain steady at the wheel.

The challenges to Ball came not only from Johnson and Pelinka on Thursday, but also from his closest friend on the team, Kuzma.

The Utah product said Ball needs to “attack his mentality.”

“For us to be great,” Kuzma said, “no matter who comes here, everything is going to fall on his head. No matter if it’s a superstar that comes or not. That’s just the reality we live in.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/12/biggest-summer-of-lonzo-balls-life-also-carries-serious-weight-for-lakers-organization/

Tweet from Kobe Bryant highlight of Andre Ingram’s overnight stardom

LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t the live hit with Charles Barkley and the rest of the Turner Sports’ “Inside the NBA” crew that was most surreal to Andre Ingram. Nor was it the fact that following his 19-point outburst Tuesday that his presence was requested across the street from Staples Center on set with ESPN’s late-night “SportsCenter”.

It was when his brother told him about the tweet sent by Kobe Bryant. “LOVE IT” the Lakers legend tweeted, joining a chorus of NBA stars in voicing admiration for the 32-year-old following his NBA debut.

“When he told me that, we both kind of went a little crazy,” Ingram said. “We are Kobe lovers. We just are, for some time now.”

Ingram was, quite literally, an overnight sensation.

The Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season, but Ingram’s feel-good performance in his NBA debut breathed life into what otherwise were two meaningless games.

Ingram came back to earth in his second game with the Lakers, shooting 2 for 9 in 33 minutes. After making four out of five 3-pointers in his debut, he was just 1 for 4 from deep against the Clippers, finishing with five points, six assists and three rebounds.

That did not diminish, however, what occurred one night earlier.

“It’s such a great story because people who play in this league know how hard it is and know what sacrifice and dedication it takes to make it here,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “People all around the NBA were watching and commenting on it and excited for him. And that’s a really cool thing.”

Ingram said he was “advised to just cut the phone off.” But when he turned on his cell in the hours after his sizzling debut, Ingram saw hundreds of messages from friends, former teammates and coaches, and the students he’s tutored in math to supplement his $19,500 salary as a player with the South Bay Lakers.

“I tried not to read them,” Ingram said, “because I’d end up responding. That’s just how it would be.”

The question now for Ingram, who will return to Virginia with his wife and two daughters, is whether he has a future in the NBA.

“I’m sure every team right now is talking about that,” Walton said. “What the answer is, I don’t know. … But when you can shoot the ball that well. … (In) the NBA you get superstars and you get specialists around those superstars. That’s kind of how you build out a really good team. He is a specialist at what he does.”

Whether he plays in the NBA again or not, Ingram has achieved the kind of crossover fame many NBA players never do. He is scheduled to appear on “Good Morning America” on Thursday morning. The morning after his breakout performance, paparazzi were stationed outside Ingram’s hotel.

“My wife and I, we look at each other every, I don’t know, 30 or so minutes and we say, ‘What is going on? What is happening here?’” Ingram said.

What happened was that on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, a 32-year-old math tutor from Richmond, Va., got to live to his NBA dream.

“It was pretty special,” Walton said.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/11/tweet-from-kobe-bryant-highlight-of-andre-ingrams-overnight-stardom/

Luke Walton ‘thrilled’ for growth Lakers can make in offseason

LOS ANGELES — Despite the Lakers’ season ending on a high note, the NBA playoffs will for a fifth year manage to occur without the 16-time champions’ participation. And as much as that frustrates second-year head coach Luke Walton, there is a purple-and-gold lining.

“I’m thrilled about the offseason,” Walton said. “The offseason was huge for us last year. It’s sad that the season’s coming to an end, it’s a group of guys I really liked working with … but I’m thrilled to get back in the gym.”

The Lakers will take a month off before players will begin showing up at the team’s El Segundo headquarters again. Last summer, players such as Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., now with the  Cleveland Cavaliers, transformed their bodies in the weight room and arrived at training camp with significant enhancements to their games.

This year, there is the added element of free agency, with a blend of urgency and optimism that has been uncommon during the Lakers’ period of rebuilding.

The organization believes it has a legitimate chance to land one max-contract superstar, if not two. Walton said last week that even if the Lakers do not attract an elite player such as LeBron James or Paul George – he did not mention them by name, for that would be tampering – he believes the team will develop their own superstars from within.

As for the playoffs, the Lakers are likely out of excuses. On March 13, the Lakers were just five games under .500 (31-36), and if not for a spate of late-season injuries, they might have remained closer to that mark.

“That’s our goal is to get back there,” Walton said. “That’s where we think this organization belongs. We weren’t ready to make that jump this year. That’s unfortunate, but there are still a lot of very positive things that we did this year and a lot of learning that we did that’s ultimately going to help us get back in that top eight seeds.”

FRYE AGENCY

It’s no secret that Channing Frye is a fan of Walton, his old college teammate, as a head coach. But he was also a teammate of LeBron James until February, when he was traded to the Lakers.

Does he think James would like playing for Walton, too?

The veteran forward double checked that he could not be held liable for tampering, then answered: “I think any superstar would like to play for Luke. He’s a players’ coach. … You’re looking for a culture. You’re looking for a guy that’s intense and wants to win now. I think his system is open for learning and growth and you’ve seen the growth in these guys this year.”

Frye was among a small group of veterans who held exit interviews with Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka earlier this week and made their final remarks to the media prior to Wednesday’s finale. Those players were Frye, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Luol Deng, although Deng, who only appeared in the season opener, was not made available to media.

With his own free agency forthcoming, Frye said he has a good feel for the Lakers, despite only appearing in nine games with L.A. after missing a month following an appendectomy in February. He said he would be interested

“I want to allow them to make the right decisions with bigger-name guys,” Frye said. “I’m a pretty dang good backup, emergency, break-the-glass type guy.”

After spending most of his career playing for Western Conference rivals like Portland and Phoenix, Frye said, “There’s a sense of style, a sense of pride when you put this Lakers uniform on that I used to not like. But it’s growing on me.”

BACK ON TRACK

Caldwell-Pope acknowledged that the legal issue that limited him from traveling outside of California in December and January and forced him to miss four games, affected him “a lot” in his first season with the Lakers.

“I couldn’t see my family like I wanted to,” he said. “It also affected me on the court. … That was mostly on my mind, getting through that situation. That’s what kind of took my mind off basketball.”

Caldwell-Pope was sentenced to 25 days in a work-release facility in Seal Beach after violating his probation following a DUI arrest in Michigan last spring.

He averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds after signing a one-year, $18 million contract with the Lakers last summer and started all 73 of the games in which he played. But once he was able to return home in January, his performance improved and he shot better than 42 percent from 3-point range.

“I felt a release,” he said. “So that just really made me get back focus on just basketball and just playing freely and not worrying about anything else.”

Another of the Lakers’ free agents, Caldwell-Pope said he is seeking for a multi-year deal for stability for his family.

“I’m looking for a long-term (contract),” he said, “but whatever fits my suit and whatever me and my agent come up with and what we decide is going to be in my interest and my family’s.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/11/luke-walton-thrilled-for-growth-lakers-can-make-in-offseason/

32-year-old Andre Ingram scores 19 points in NBA debut as Lakers lose home finale to Rockets

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram, left, gets a hug from forward Brandon Ingram after the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram, left, gets a hug from forward Brandon Ingram after the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram, right, passes the ball while under pressure from Houston Rockets guard Gerald Green during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram, right, passes the ball while under pressure from Houston Rockets guard Gerald Green during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute, right, shoots as Lakers guard Adam Ingram defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute, right, shoots as Lakers guard Adam Ingram defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard James Harden, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard James Harden, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, left, passes the ball as Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, left, passes the ball as Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, right, grabs a rebound away from Houston Rockets center Clint Capela during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, right, grabs a rebound away from Houston Rockets center Clint Capela during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram, right, shoots as Houston Rockets guard Tim Quarterman defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram, right, shoots as Houston Rockets guard Tim Quarterman defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker, left, reaches for the ball held by Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker, left, reaches for the ball held by Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Adam Ingram gestures after scoring during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Adam Ingram gestures after scoring during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, top, grabs a rebound away from Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, top, grabs a rebound away from Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard James Harden gestures to a fan who was heckling him during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard James Harden gestures to a fan who was heckling him during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram, center, shoots as Houston Rockets forward Zhou Qi, left, of China, and guard Tim Quarterman watch during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram, center, shoots as Houston Rockets forward Zhou Qi, left, of China, and guard Tim Quarterman watch during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Lakers guard Andre Ingram celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Lakers guard Andre Ingram celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, left, of Switzerland, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, left, of Switzerland, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso, left, shoots as Houston Rockets guard Joe Johnson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso, left, shoots as Houston Rockets guard Joe Johnson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, right, shoots as Lakers guard Andre Ingram defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, right, shoots as Lakers guard Andre Ingram defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, left, shoots as Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, left, shoots as Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard Gerald Green shoots during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard Gerald Green shoots during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, below, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, below, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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LOS ANGELES — As Chris Paul made his way to the scorers’ table to check in to Tuesday’s game with just under two minutes left in the first quarter, so too did Lakers guard Andre Ingram.

Two 32-year-old guards playing in the NBA. Such different paths to that moment.

Before the buzzer rang them into the game, Paul turned to Ingram, set to make his NBA debut after spending 10 years in the NBA’s development league, and told him he had heard about his story.

“That grind is unbelievable,” Paul said. “I told him much respect. Ten years grinding in the G-League, and to finally get an opportunity and to play like that, that is pretty special.”

Ingram was blown away by how genuine Paul, like everyone over the previous 24 hours, was in that moment.

“It was really cool of him to do that,” Ingram said. “He actually reached out to do that, which was cool.”

What was already a sentimental story took a turn to the surreal once Ingram checked in, and “M-V-P” chants soon followed.

With his wife and two daughters in attendance at Staples Center, the most prolific shooter in G-League history proceeded to drain his first four shots from the field and finish with 19 points in an eventual 105-99 Lakers loss to the Houston Rockets.

“I was just sitting back watching the game as a fan,” Lakers center Brook Lopez said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, this is the stuff dreams are made of.’”

The Lakers made headlines by signing Ingram to his first NBA contract with two games left in the regular season and injuries piling up.

“I was clear about the fact that this wasn’t just doing the nice thing,” Walton said. “We were bringing him up because we thought he could help us when we have bodies down, and he can shoot the ball. It was for us just as much as it was for him, and I think tonight he showed the basketball world what kind of shooter he is. … For being in the bright lights, he was pretty good tonight and it was a lot of fun to watch.”

The loss in Game No. 81 capped the Lakers’ home slate. They finished 20-21 at home.

Josh Hart led the Lakers with 20 points, while the Rockets starting backcourt of Paul and James Harden combined for 43 points.

The story of the night, however, was Ingram. And not the one Lakers fans are accustomed to.

With 384 games in the G-League under his belt, Ingram had made a development league record 713 3-pointers.

When his first opportunity to shoot the ball in the NBA came, two minutes into the second quarter, he rose up from 27-feet and shot. His 3-pointer was perfect.

As usual.

A minute later, he connected again. By halftime, the rookie with salt and pepper hair who doesn’t even have an agent, was the Lakers’ leading scorer with 11 points.

“Everyone was like, ‘Man, when you get it just let it go,’” Ingram said, smiling widely. “Everyone was like that. All the players, all the coaches. It was crazy to see that first one go in, I felt great.”

Ingram stayed perfect from the field well into the second half. His third 3-pointer came with 2:14 left in the third, and pushed the Lakers ahead 75-73.

He didn’t miss until 5:02 remained in the game and finished the night 6 for 8 from the field and with four of his five 3-point attempts splashing through the net.

“Obviously we know he can shoot,” Walton said. “But there’s a fine line between being aggressive and taking bad shots. I don’t think he took a single bad shot all night. I thought we could do a better job of getting him the ball more.”

They can try again Wednesday.

The Lakers will almost certainly be just as short-handed in the season finale against the Clippers as they have been for the final weeks of their season.

Brandon Ingram remained in the NBA’s concussion protocol on Tuesday, while Lonzo Ball (left knee contusion) and Kyle Kuzma (sprained left ankle) were also sidelined. The Lakers have been coy about admitting whether those players’ seasons are over, but it’s safe to say they are.

“It’s not looking good that they’ll play,” Walton said, adding, “most likely we won’t see them again this season.”

Andre Ingram, however, will be out there. No doubt, he will be smiling, and his teammates will be imploring him to shoot.

“Hopefully our team and some other people that were watching tonight, watching his story were inspired by him,” Walton said.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/11/32-year-old-andre-ingram-scores-19-points-in-nba-debut-as-lakers-lose-home-finale-to-rockets/

Lakers to finally make Andre Ingram’s NBA dream come true

Andre Ingram spent more than six years playing in the very building where the Lakers practiced. He would often arrive for work as players such as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and, later, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, departed for the day. Basketball’s biggest stage was right there, but always out of reach.

The development league’s career leader in 3-pointers, Ingram could finally make his NBA debut this week, 11 years after his professional career began. The Lakers officially signed the career minor leaguer to a contract for the final two games of the regular season, as first reported by the Southern California News Group.

Ingram, 32, has played 10 seasons in the development league since graduating from American University in 2007, including four seasons with the defunct Utah Flash. He has made a record 713 3-pointers while shooting 46.1 percent from beyond the arc.

With Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma all sidelined by injuries, the Lakers were eager to bolster their depth for their last two games, and also have the benefit of delivering an unanticipated late-season, feel-good story.

Ingram averaged 9.1 points per game for the South Bay Lakers this season, helping them to the G-League’s Western Conference finals, where the team, coached by Coby Karl, lost to the Austin Toros.

Ingram has appeared in 384 career games in the development league since making his debut in 2007 with the defunct Utah Flash. He has played for the team now known as the South Bay Lakers since 2012, playing in 186 games for the franchise’s affiliate.

The Lakers have leaned heavily on players who spent time with the South Bay Lakers this season, including two-way players Alex Caruso, Gary Payton II and Vander Blue, as well as forward Travis Wear.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/10/lakers-to-finally-make-andre-ingrams-nba-dream-come-true-2/

Andre Ingram, who never gave up NBA dream, earns call up from Lakers at 32

EL SEGUNDO — Every autumn brings the promise of a new season, and for Andre Ingram that has always meant another opportunity.

When the foliage starts to turn its shade of roundball orange in his native Richmond, Va., the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the NBA’s development league has, for more than a decade, packed up and headed west to pursue his NBA dream.

“I think this is it,” he would tell himself each year, believing that he was on the cusp of breaking out of basketball’s minor leagues and onto the main stage.

“That’s why I hung around,” Ingram said Tuesday, his close-cropped hair flecked with grays. “That’s why I kept coming back, honestly.”

On Monday, Ingram arrived at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo thinking he was walking into an exit interview following his sixth season with the South Bay Lakers, the team’s development league affiliate.

Shortly after the meeting began, Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka walked into the room. South Bay GM Nick Mazzella told Ingram that the reason his exit interview, originally scheduled for Tuesday, had been moved up a day was “because the L.A. Lakers want to call you up.”

Eleven years and 384 minor league games after the now-defunct Utah Flash drafted Ingram in the seventh round of the D-League draft, 32-year-old Andre Ingram made it to the NBA.

With four key players sidelined by injury, the Lakers were desperately in need of depth. It didn’t take long for coaches and executives to come to the conclusion that Ingram, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, needed to be the choice. His first assignment? Facing the league-leading Houston Rockets and MVP front-runner James Harden on Tuesday, before suiting up again for the season finale a night later.

Ingram, who is not related to Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, said the Lakers “tricked me pretty good,” with the happy hoax. He called his wife Marilee back in Richmond. Each year until this one she had traveled with him, but this season remained home so their two daughters, Maliyah, 6, and Navi, 5, could remain in school.

Ingram’s mother was there when he called, and as soon as he shared the news from 2,600 miles away, the two women started screaming.

“I couldn’t even hear what they were saying,” Ingram said. “Once I told them, it was just, ‘Aahh!’ … They probably let out what I truly wanted to let out.”

Two days later, Marilee and the kids were on a plane to Los Angeles to watch her Andre play in the NBA.

Ingram is believed to be the oldest development league player called up to make his NBA debut, and, at this point, perhaps the unlikeliest.

“It’s one of the coolest things that has happened in the NBA ever,” his coach with the Flash, Brad Jones, said in a text message to the Southern California News Group.

In his 10 seasons, Ingram made a record 713 3-pointers while shooting a career 46.1 percent from 3-point range in 384 games. This year with South Bay, Ingram shot a league-leading 47.5 percent from deep while earning the league minimum, $19,500.

For his two days of service with the Lakers, Ingram will earn close to $14,000 on a pro-rated 10-day contract.

With just two games left in the Lakers’ season, and no promise of a future with the team or even in the NBA, in a locker room populated with high lottery picks and millionaires, Ingram represents just how arduous the journey to the NBA can be.

“A lot of times with young guys you’ve got to teach the value of how lucky we are to be in this league,” Coach Luke Walton said. “It’s hard to make it here. He’s a perfect example of how hard it can be.”

Lakers guard Alex Caruso, who played alongside Ingram with South Bay, called his former and now new teammate “probably the most respected person in the G League.”

He certainly has the admiration of Caruso.

“(If) you set a goal,” the second-year guard said, “and someone told you that you are not going to be able to get it until 10 years from now, and you do this every day you will be able to get there, that is pretty impressive to me.”

He could have earned more money overseas, and even signed with an Australian club in 2015. He left after two games, choosing proximity to the NBA dream over the security of an international contract.

“You get commended for kind of hanging in there and sticking with it like there wasn’t any doubt at any point,” Ingram said. “There was doubt. There was hard times. There was, I don’t know. There was uncertainty.”

That doubt intensified as Ingram’s family grew.

“My first daughter (Maliyah) was born and I was probably like five years in at that point,” Ingram said. “I was transitioning to being a father and that was weird. And I hadn’t been called up yet. ‘Well, is the D-League (salary) good enough for your family to live on?’”

In 2012-13, there were no offers, and Ingram spent the year out of basketball. The next year, he got another shot with the then-L.A. D-Fenders, who that season had an assistant coach whose own playing career had just ended: Luke Walton.

“I’d jump into scrimmages and play with them back then still,” Walton said. “But I remember really enjoying being on the court with him.”

Each year, other players got the call that never came for Ingram. Each day, he arrived at the gym at the same time, performing his same, disciplined shooting routine. And each summer he would go home to Richmond, supplementing his income however he could.

He is a professional basketball player, so he trained kids to play basketball. He has a physics degree from American University, so he tutored math.

Those jobs helped supplement his meager income from playing, and bridged the end of one season to the next; seasons dominated by bus rides and team dinners and extended-stay hotels.

“I remember it all,” Ingram said, “and they are fond memories. They’re not angry memories, (like) ‘Man, I should be here. It’s not any of that. It’s just great that you appreciate it for what you do.”

And now, for at least two days, what Ingram does is wear No. 20 for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It’s a handsome reward for time put in,” he said.

And when the season ends, Ingram will head home to Richmond, resume training and tutoring, and wait for the fall. When it comes, he will follow the siren call and chase a familiar dream.

“I have no intentions of stopping any time soon,” he said.

https://twitter.com/billoram/status/983790145252999168

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/10/andre-ingram-who-never-gave-up-nba-dream-earns-call-up-from-lakers-at-32/

Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma borrows from Kareem and Magic to resurrect sky hook

When Luke Walton first saw Kyle Kuzma shoot his version of the sky hook, he was skeptical that the iconic move, made famous by one of the greatest Lakers ever, was truly in the young forward’s arsenal.

“In my head, I was trying to figure out, does he have that in his game or was that just a bad shot that went in?” Walton said, remembering back to last year’s pre-draft combine in Chicago. “And then I’ve seen him do it a lot more since.”

Kuzma’s sweeping hook shot has become his go-to move in a surprising rookie season. In the Lakers’ overtime win over San Antonio last week, Kuzma used a screen to lose Danny Green at the top of the key, then drove right across the lane and flicked in a hook shot over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-11 All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

By now, it’s become a familiar move for the 27th pick in last year’s draft. Kuzma isn’t sure if he yet has a signature move, but said, “That’s probably it if I have one.”

Earlier in the season, however, no one knew quite what to think.

“I was kind of shocked by it,” said Lakers television analyst Stu Lantz, who played with Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76. “I just didn’t expect the kids of this generation to have that in their arsenal.”

Next season will bring the 30th anniversary of Abdul-Jabbar’s retirement. In the three decades since his final game with the Lakers, the sky hook has become something of a lost art form, with the Hall of Famer acknowledging in a 2009 interview with ESPN that it was “not a macho shot.”

“I used it to become the leading scorer in the history of the NBA,” he said. “There has to be something about it that works.”

The shot Kuzma used to beat the Spurs, and other opponents this season, is not a direct facsimile of the one Abdul-Jabbar made famous. Abdul-Jabbar would back guys into the paint, gracefully pin them on his left hip, then raise his right leg as he flipped the ball in with his right. It was every bit a post move, and gorgeous.

When the time came to cast a statue of Abdul-Jabbar outside of Staples Center in 2012, it of course depicted Abdul-Jabbar mid-sky hook.

“When he shot it,” Lantz said, “the elevation he got up on that shot, it was almost like he was shooting it down out of the sky.”

In action, Kuzma’s version of the sky hook is perhaps closer to the hook Magic Johnson made over Boston Celtics center Robert Parish in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, which he labeled the “junior, junior sky hook.”

“It’s more like the running, floating hook shot,” Walton said. “It’s a beautiful shot.”

Lantz calls it a “traditional hook shot,” while Kuzma insists it qualifies as a sky hook.

Whichever label you prefer, the fact remains few players in the modern NBA rely on anything like it. There is what Kuzma calls the “big man jump hook” in the lane, a two-footed liftoff followed by a baby hook, but that’s different.

And while everyone agrees it is fitting Kuzma has dusted off a classic while wearing the uniform of the franchise with which Abdul-Jabbar made it famous (apologies to the Milwaukee Bucks), the franchise can’t take credit for the sky hook’s resurrection.

Kuzma is in line for an All-Rookie first-team selection this spring, though he might miss the final two games of the season with a sprained left ankle. Before each of the 77 games he played this season, he worked on his hook shot as part of his nightly routine with assistant coach Miles Simon. He has been shooting the shot for nearly a decade.

“I used to shoot it in high school,” he said, “then I went to college and I really didn’t have the confidence to shoot it. They didn’t tell me it was a good enough shot to shoot. So I didn’t shoot it until I got here, and then I just got free rein really to be myself.”

Kuzma would turn to the shot during summertime open gyms in Salt Lake City and was met with a riotous response from his Utah teammates.

“People used to make fun of me for shooting it,” Kuzma said, “because they were like, ‘Man, that’s an old shot.”

And now?

“Now it’s pretty effective,” Kuzma said. “I talk to them still and it’s pretty funny but they don’t laugh no more.”

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma shoots as Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge defends during the final seconds of overtime in their game last week at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma shoots as Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge defends during the overtime portion of their game last week at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/09/lakers-rookie-kyle-kuzma-borrows-from-kareem-and-magic-to-resurrect-sky-hook/

Lakers to finally make Andre Ingram’s NBA dream come true

Andre Ingram spent more than six years playing in the very building where the Lakers practiced. He would often arrive for work as players such as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and, later, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, departed for the day. Basketball’s biggest stage was right there, but always out of reach.

The development league’s career leader in 3-pointers, Ingram could finally make his NBA debut this week, 11 years after his professional career began. The Lakers plan to sign the career minor leaguer to a contract for the final two games of the regular season, sources told the Southern California News Group.

Ingram, 32, has played 10 seasons in the development league since graduating from American University in 2007, including four seasons with the defunct Utah Flash. He has made a record 713 3-pointers while shooting 46.1 percent from beyond the arc.

With Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma all sidelined by injuries, the Lakers were eager to bolster their depth for their last two games, and also have the benefit of delivering an unanticipated late-season, feel-good story.

Ingram averaged 9.1 points per game for the South Bay Lakers this season, helping them to the G-League’s Western Conference finals, where the team, coached by Coby Karl, lost to the Austin Toros.

Ingram has appeared in 384 career games in the development league since making his debut in 2007 with the defunct Utah Flash. He has played for the team now known as the South Bay Lakers since 2012, playing in 186 games for the franchise’s affiliate.

The Lakers have leaned heavily on players who spent time with the South Bay Lakers this season, including two-way players Alex Caruso, Gary Payton II and Vander Blue, as well as forward Travis Wear.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/09/lakers-to-finally-make-andre-ingrams-nba-dream-come-true/

Season likely over for Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram with two games left

LOS ANGELES — As the concrete footings of the Lakers foundation, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are expected to lead the Lakers into the postseason as early as next season.

Which is likely the next time either will be seen in a Lakers uniform.

Coach Luke Walton acknowledged Sunday that he “would not be very comfortable” playing the two young stars with only “one day left without a game and then a back-to-back.”

The Lakers have avoided ruling out their injured players, even though with just two games remaining in season there would seem to be little incentive to put them back on the court. That’s true, too, of Kyle Kuzma, who was in street clothes Sunday after spraining his left ankle on Friday.

Walton said the fact that “neither (Ball or Ingram) have played basketball in a while would be a little concerning.”

Ball last played on March 28 when he suffered a bruise behind his left knee. Ingram has been out since the next game two nights later when he was hit in the neck and suffered a concussion. He remains in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

Walton said both players are “actively trying to get healthy,” although it seems more and more likely the team will keep them sidelined through the season.

“If they were cleared we would have to have that talk,” Walton said, “but they’re not able to play yet so I’m not really worried about it.”

The Lakers coach has previously maintained that he sees value in the young players coming back from injury before the end of the season, even if for only the last game or two.

However, with no official practice and the Lakers closing the season with back-to-back games against the Houston Rockets and the Clippers, that may have been wishful thinking.

MITCH, PLEASE

The rebuilding project Mitch Kupchak first undertook five years ago has not yet come to fruition, but on Sunday the ex-Lakers general manager was handed another opportunity to revamp a struggling franchise.

The Charlotte Hornets introduced the 63-year-old Kupchak as their new president of basketball operations, a long-rumored move that gives Hornets owner Michael Jordan another top executive with North Carolina ties.

Kupchak, a Lakers executive for nearly three decades after his playing career ended, was fired along with Jim Buss last February by Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. The pair had long been on the hot seat after failing to attract top free agents to help the Lakers age gracefully out of the Kobe Bryant era. In the summer of 2016 signed veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to contracts worth $136 million over four seasons.

A longtime Laker earning a chance elsewhere was received as good news in the locker room Sunday.

“I loved the time I spent with Mitch as a player and when he brought me down here as a coach,” Walton said. “I’m happy he got another opportunity, I’m sure he’ll do a great job over there and wish him the best of luck.”

Julius Randle, who was drafted by Kupchak in 2014, offered congratulations as well and said he was happy for Kupchak, whose 15-year-old daughter died in 2015 following a long illness.

“He’s been through a lot as a person, and he’s going back to North Carolina,” Randle sad. “So personally I’m happy for him and know he’s going to do a great job over there and wish him the best of luck over there.”

STARRING CONTEST

When the final buzzer sounds on the Lakers season on Wednesday, the franchise’s focus will shift entirely to July 1 and the start of free agency and their expected to pursuit of LeBron James and Paul George.

However, when talk on Sunday turned to the Lakers need for the Lakers to find a closer for the ends of games – a la Kobe Bryant – Walton wasn’t thinking free agency.

“We’ll get one of those guys, as far as from within,” Walton said. “I’m not worried about the offseason at all, because we’ve got a great team here and we’ve got a very good young core that keeps working. So, whether we get players or not in the future we’re going to be fine.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/08/season-likely-over-for-lonzo-ball-and-brandon-ingram-with-two-games-left/

Donovan Mitchell dominates again as Lakers drop another game to Utah Jazz

LOS ANGELES – The battered Lakers served as a springboard for another team in the playoff race on Sunday, losing 112-97 to help the Utah Jazz clinch a playoff berth on Sunday.

Josh Hart scored 25 points, while Tyler Ennis added 22 off the bench, but the Lakers simply did not have enough firepower against a balanced roster that features leading candidates for both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

The Lakers (34-46) lost to the Jazz (47-33) for the second time in less than a week, and for the second time were picked apart by star rookie Donovan Mitchell. The first-year player out of Louisville poured in a game-high 28 points, eclipsing the 26 he tallied on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell added eight points and eight rebounds, while Joe Ingles finished with 22 points and 10 assists.

The Lakers struggled to find contributors throughout their lineup. Brook Lopez missed all 10 of his shots and did not score in 21 minutes.

Playing out the string of what has been, on the whole, a season of marked progress for the Lakers has proven to be quite a chore. Lonzo Ball missed his sixth straight game with a bruise behind his left knee; Brandon Ingram remained in the NBA’s concussion protocol for a fifth game; and Kyle Kuzma sat out with a sprained left ankle suffered in Friday’s loss to Minnesota.

Hart started in place of Kuzma and logged a career-high 41 minutes.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/08/donovan-mitchell-dominates-again-as-lakers-drop-another-game-to-utah-jazz/