EL SEGUNDO — It was late on a Saturday night when Isaiah Thomas, fresh off his 22-point Lakers debut in Dallas earlier this month, landed in Los Angeles for the first time after being traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With three days between games, the next practice was not scheduled until Monday morning, giving the All-Star point guard and free agent-to-be a brief respite to process the latest career twist.
Thomas’ phone lit up with a text from Lonzo Ball, the Lakers star rookie and the incumbent at point guard. The trade seemed to put the two playmakers at odds. Both were accustomed to big minutes. Each needs the ball in his hands to be effective. The Lakers were bombarded with questions about the fit.
Would Thomas start over Ball? Could they play together? Would Thomas demand a buyout?
The message on Thomas’ screen referenced none of that. Ball simply wanted to know if on days off his new teammate liked to get in the gym.
“I told him there is no days off,” Thomas said.
He would be at the Lakers’ practice facility the next morning at 11. Ball asked if he could join him.
“That says a lot about the type of person and player he is,” Thomas said. “He wants to be great. He wants to get better. I’m all for helping him. I’ve been in the league seven years and I know a little bit about the NBA. But at the same time I’m pushing to be great as well.”
Ball said he “was just trying to get a feel” for Thomas.
Starting Friday against Dallas, the Lakers (23-34) will spend the final 25 games of their season navigating the tricky and potentially awkward pairing of their two point guards. One is an established star, the other an unproven rookie to whom the Lakers have tethered their future.
Thomas and Ball have not yet shared the court in a game, with Ball missing the 15 games before the All-Star Break due to a sprained left MCL, but are so far saying the right things.
“Opposites attract,” Ball said. “I like to pass, he likes to shoot. So I think we’re going to work well. And he can definitely help me on the offensive end, just the way he comes off screens. How he gets to his spots on the floor so he definitely helps me a lot.”
At the end of each practice this season, Ball has wrapped up by shooting on one basket with fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma, engaging assistant coaches Miles Simon and Brian Shaw in shooting games before heading to the locker room.
On Thursday, Kuzma shot with Josh Hart, while Ball shared a basket with Thomas. Coach Luke Walton said he wants the two spending as much time together as possible, although, he added, “I don’t mandate it.”
“I don’t tell Isaiah and Zo you guys have to go shoot at the same basket together,” Walton said. “They’ve got their own rooms still on the road. Whether they go to dinner together or not is going to be up to them. Hopefully it’s a bond that they build from playing the same position and Zo can learn from him.”
The on-court chemistry is expected to be put to the test on Friday, the Lakers’ first game since losing 119-111 at Minnesota eight days ago.
Ball is listed as questionable for Friday, one day shy of six weeks since he first suffered his knee injury, which generally has a recovery time of one-to-three weeks. He was, however, a full participant in Thursday’s practice and a night session on Wednesday that Walton said was running intensive “to get … the All-Star break out of” the Lakers.
Before the break, Ball said he expected to play against the Mavericks.
“I’m not 100 (percent) but I feel I could definitely play,” Ball said. “I don’t think it’s going to get any worse from me playing so I feel I should be out there.”
When Ball returns, it will make for some interesting decisions with the starting lineup, where Brandon Ingram has filled in capably at point guard while Thomas has served as sixth man in his three games with the Lakers. Walton said if Ball is on a minutes restriction he will have to decide whether Ball will “be able to hit that easier if he comes off the bench or starting.”
Ball has started all 36 of the games he has played, averaging 10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
Thomas is recovering from his own injury. A torn labrum in his hip limited him to just 15 games in Cleveland before the trade, and while other stars headed to tropical locales for the All-Star break – Ball himself jet set to Miami – Thomas said he spent the week trying to get back into form.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Thomas, who said his hip has “for the most part” healed.
Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting last season in Boston, but does not seem like a long-term fit for the Lakers, due both to their commitment to Ball and his ball-dominant style of playing point guard. Despite those stylistic differences, Walton said Ball can absorb plenty from two months around Thomas.
“Isaiah plays the point guard very effectively, his way of playing it,” Walton said, “and (Ball) can pick his brain and see what that’s like. Pick and choose things that he wants to add to his game. … There’s always stuff to learn from no matter if they play the position the same way or not.”
It’s a mentorship program with an expiration date. Barring an unexpected run for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Lakers’ season will end on April 11 and Thomas will head into free agency while Ball moves into his first full offseason as a pro.
Until then, Ball said, he intends to “just make the most of” his time with Thomas.
And when the two step on the court together, the rookie said, “I think it’s going to be easy. … We know how to play the game. I think it will be fun.”
For the 27-year-old Thomas, it’s too early in his career to put him out to the pasture that is “mentorship” and “veteran influence.” He is striving for a toehold among the league’s biggest stars, seeking a maximum contract.
He is happy to take Ball under his wing, but it isn’t why he’s here.
“Whether he sees it or not,” Thomas said, “I’m going to be in the gym.”
Channing Frye will miss at least the next five games after undergoing an appendectomy on Feb. 16 in Cleveland. The Lakers hope he will be able to rejoin the team after their upcoming four-game road trip, which concludes March 3 in San Antonio.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/22/lakers-lonzo-ball-on-playing-with-isaiah-thomas-opposites-attract/
LOS ANGELES — When the NBA’s All-Star Game needed saving, LeBron James stepped up.
Now if he’d only do it for the Lakers. But more on that later.
If the goal on Sunday was to see stars, for most of the night banging one’s head against the wall might have been a more enjoyable method.
But the NBA and its stars have a funny way of ratcheting up the drama and the intrigue and making you wonder why you had to be so cranky about the whole enterprise in the first place.
Ninety seconds remained when James hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 144 and another boring, forgettable All-Star Game turned a corner.
James was the MVP, of course, after tallying 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and made the go-ahead layup with 34 seconds left in what was ultimately a 148-145 victory for the aptly named Team LeBron.
Following James’ lead, the game turned scrappy, the participants started to care. And after Compton’s DeMar Derozan pushed Team Stephen ahead by a point with a free throw when just 40 seconds remained, James scored and then his team forced a turnover and James found a streaking Russell Westbrook.
The game, then, ended with defense.
The speculation that James will come to L.A. as a free agent this summer began years before he took command of Sunday’s game. But it certainly fits nicely into the storyline. Maybe he’ll pull a Doc Rivers and hide his MVP trophy in the ceiling at Staples Center and retrieve it when he comes back to play for the Lakers next fall.
The new format the league unveiled this year, with James and Steph Curry drafting teams of All-Stars, will take some getting used to. It was hard to remember as the game went on who was on which side after generations of fans raised on East vs West.
But in recent years, the exhibition had lost its soul. There was no defense for it, let alone in it.
There had to be a better way to showcase the world’s greatest basketball players in the golden age of the NBA. With players more accessible, relatable and fun than ever, it continues to defy logic that the league’s signature event should be so sterile and corporate.
That’s something the league needs to continue to address.
Until then, on Sunday the NBA’s greatest stars at least offered more than a steady stream of dunks and 3-pointers.
There were plenty of those, make no mistake. By the time the game was over, the sides combined to attempt 123 3-pointers. They made, um, 36.
But there were also challenges at the rim! And James picking up full court! And even, gasp, trapping!
“The opinions of what the All-Star Game has turned into, I think we all took it kind of personal,” Irving said.
The players oversold just how much better the defense actually was – c’mon, really – but it was still progress. After last year’s game in New Orleans featured a combined 374 points, Teams LeBron and Steph managed to stay under 300.
Safe to say Mike D’Antoni’s All-Star team played more defense than any of his Lakers teams ever did.
After the theme of the weekend was the Lakers’ pursuit of Paul George, the fans on hand didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for the player many think could collude with James and land in L.A. next summer. The audience barely stirred when George checked into the game in the first quarter and offered only a tepid response when he knocked down a 3-pointer shortly before halftime.
Maybe they were just playing hard to get.
Or maybe closer to the truth: the All-Star Game is not actually for the fans. It is for shoe companies and broadcast partners and millionaires. Sunday was no different. All Hollywood without a lick of Los Angeles.
Putting Kevin Hart on the stage next to Clippers superfan Adam Devine does not make an L.A. event. That would be like calling “Avatar” a quintessential L.A. movie because it was filmed on a soundstage in Playa Vista.
The night ended with James heaping praise on L.A., calling it the “perfect place” to host All-Star Weekend, ignoring the soulless nature of any major event in a city with so many distractions.
“It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this,” James said. “We know the traffic. We understand that, but traffic is traffic.”
L.A., he said, can accommodate that.
“It’s built,” he said, “for stars.”
Read into that what you will.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/18/oram-lebron-james-steps-up-to-win-mvp-and-spares-us-another-indefensibly-sterile-all-star-game/
LOS ANGELES — Adam Silver said the NBA’s players and referees have taken important steps toward an improved relationship after the sides met Saturday to air their grievances.
“I think it’s fantastic that, and a great statement about this league,” the NBA commissioner said, “that these important stakeholders … think it’s important enough, and they have an obligation to the game, where they should be sitting down and talking to each other.”
The sides have been at odds for much of the season, with ejections on the rise and star players increasingly earning fines for their complaints about officials. The mini-summit was announced last month as part of an effort to open the lines of communication and ease the tensions
“I’ve never thought this was just about ratcheting up fines,” Silver said. “There’s a larger issue in play here, and almost one that’s a little societal in (that) we owe it to young people, fans who are watching. We owe it to young people who get enormous satisfaction out of sports to see that we truly can get along and be respectful and empathetic.”
Silver also addressed the $50,000 fine assessed to Lakers president Magic Johnson in the wake of comments he made praising Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“There is not always a simple, bright line,” Johnson said. “Context is everything. It’s one thing when you’re asking a coach a question about an opposing team right after a game. It’s another issue when a general manager or president of basketball (operations) sort of gratuitously issues a statement that is complimentary of a star player.”
The two met on Friday, Silver said, and after that détente the sides “certainly understand each other.”
Last summer, the league fined the Lakers $500,000 for tampering with Paul George when he was still with the Indiana Pacers.
“In essence, what we’ve said to him, and it’s a clear message to other team executives, is ‘stop talking about star players on other teams,’” Silver said. “There’s a plenty of other issues they can address. And there is sensitivity around it throughout the league.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/17/adam-silver-encouraged-by-nba-players-meeting-with-referees-in-effort-to-ease-tension/
LOS ANGELES — Larry Nance Jr. has still not had time to fully absorb the ramifications of his trade to Cleveland.
“It’s been a week,” Nance said Saturday. “So, no. It’s still kind of like ‘Jeez, I’ve got to pick up and move right now. I’m not fully adjusted. I’m not, for lack of a better term, over it.”
Nine days after being traded along with Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, Nance was back in L.A. to participate in the slam dunk contest as part of All-Star Weekend. With Nance saying the trade was “fresh in my mind,” he finished second in the contest, two points behind Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell.
After being drafted No. 27 overall by the Lakers in 2015, Nance grew to be a valued rotational player and won the starting power forward job over Julius Randle during training camp. Then, around 8 a.m. last Thursday, his stint here was over.
“It’s something that’s still kind of shocking,” Nance said. “But at the same time I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new teammates.”
In two games with the Cavs, the organization his father starred for three decades ago, Nance has totaled 18 points and 13 rebounds, helping his new team to a pair of wins. He averaged 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Lakers.
It’s a wildly new situation for Nance, who has never appeared in a playoff game.
Rather than trying to help the Lakers get to 30 wins for the first time since 2012-13, Nance finds himself playing alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, a piece of a revamped cast built to try to dethrone the Golden State Warriors.
Nance, who has been part of an incremental rebuild as a professional, is suddenly in “win now” mode. Not that he sees much difference in the two.
“I like to think of myself as a very winning player,” Nance said. “Whether we were building gradually in L.A. or not, I was trying to win every single game. It just feels right. Now that we can, we’re in it, we have a chance to win every single game.”
Nance was last seen in L.A. the day of the trade deadline, paying a final visit to the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo to say goodbye to his teammates.
“It was still the same day so it hadn’t hit me,” Nance said. “I’m sure if I went there now and saw everybody it would be like, ‘Man, this isn’t my home anymore.’”
From that final interaction, Nance flew to Atlanta to meet up with the Cavs for a Friday night game, took his physical, and made his Cleveland debut two days later at Boston.
Nance made a point of thanking the Lakers’ coaching staff and his former teammates, including D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and “my son” Ivica Zubac.
“I’m obviously still great friends with them,” Nance said. “I’m going to stay in contact, like I said. I’ll always have a little bit of purple and gold (in me).”
— James H. Williams (@JHWreporter) February 18, 2018
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/17/larry-nance-jr-is-not-over-trade-that-sent-him-from-lakers-to-hometown-cleveland-cavaliers/
LOS ANGELES — Before signing a contract that at the time was the second-biggest in NBA history, DeMar Derozan heard the siren call of the Southland.
It was 2016, the Lakers had salary-cap room, and a significant number of friends in Los Angeles were campaigning for the Compton native to come home.
“It’s flattering because if you grew up here, you’re a Laker fan,” DeRozan said. “So, for me, I just knew what my mind was at and my heart was at. As long as you know that, it really don’t get to you as much. It don’t make the decision that hard.”
Though no Lakers will play in Sunday’s prime-time game, the All-Star rosters feature five players who grew up in the L.A. area and a sixth, Kevin Love, who starred at UCLA.
Each of them have, at one time or another, been linked to the Lakers, either by hopeful fans, meddling agents or from the mouths of players themselves. The rumor mill has never run hotter than it does for Oklahoma City’s Paul George, the Palmdale native for whom the Lakers sacrificed $500,000 to make their affection known,
George’s pending decision remains a point of intrigue around the NBA and especially this weekend as the NBA makes L.A. its temporary home.
What DeRozan experienced two summers ago and George is encountering now are both part of a greater phenomenon.
The Lakers have made it clear they will try to find their franchise savior in free agency; owner Jeanie Buss said last spring that not having an All-Star with the game in L.A. would “break my heart.”
When a star player with L.A. roots hits the market, the Lakers will generally be first in line to sign him. And though it hasn’t happened over the past four offseasons, when the franchise has needed a savior more than ever, the outside expectation is that those players all want to sign with the Lakers.
“Oh, there’s definitely some truth to it,” said Warriors star Klay Thompson, who went to high school at Santa Margarita and whose parents still live in Orange County, “especially growing up down here, and having his family down here. There’s got to be … some truth to it.”
Thompson, it must be noted, is bound for free agency in 2019.
“I expect those questions for the next two years,” Thompson said. “That’s a long ways away.”
After clearing cap space by trading Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson prior to last week’s deadline, the Lakers will have upward of $70 million in cap space that they will dangle in an effort to sign two max-level players.
For obvious reasons that have nothing to do with his hometown, LeBron James will be one. George is the other.
During his appearance at Saturday’s media day in a cavernous corner of the L.A. Convention Center, a chant broke out among the fans on hand as George answered a question about sneakers.
“We want Paul! We want Paul!”
The Palmdale native was greeted by boisterous pleas for him to sign with the Lakers in each of his two visits to Staples Center this season, and one season ticket holder went so far as to customize a No. 13 jersey bearing George’s name.
Sitting several seats down from George, Russell Westbrook held court at his own dais Saturday. Westbrook, who attended Leuzinger High in Lawndale, was long expected to entertain signing in L.A. before signing a $205 million extension last summer that will keep him in OKC through 2023.
Hearing the chant, Westbrook cut himself off mid-answer and said, “That’s out. Paul ain’t going nowhere, it’s over for that.”
Reading the tea leaves has never been easier. He wants to be a Laker.
But then Westbrook called George’s All-Star snub “outrageous” and George, who was later selected as an injury replacement, said that kind of support from last year’s league MVP made it “more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”
Oh boy. The Lakers’ bid for George seemed over before it (legally) began.
“I think that’s just the media,” George said, “they see a headline and immediately they jump to conclusions. It’s funny but at the end of the day I know where my decision lands, or what my decision is, and that’s all that matters.”
Asked Saturday if he already knew what he would do this summer, George responded, “I don’t.”
If he had left it there, the comments would have been innocuous enough.
“I know what I feel is best,” he said, “but it’s a long ways until the end of the season.”
Maybe, then, he does know.
“It has a ton of layers to it,” said Love, who before being traded to Cleveland in 2014 was expected to be the Lakers’ top target when he hit free agency in 2015. “Having that aura around it of being the Lakers and having that tradition of excellence here as a franchise. … It’s one of those places that if you can make a name for yourself you can make a name for yourself anywhere.”
That echoes comments Kobe Bryant made this week to ESPN’s Jalen Rose.
“It takes a special person to want to play for this franchise and take the pressure that comes along with playing for this franchise,” Bryant said.
The Lakers’ message each time they swing for the fences in free agency is less that the object of their affection is the perfect player for the organization, and more that his contract has come up at a point that is compatible with the organization’s timeline.
The franchise will always bank on L.A. itself being the best recruiting pitch. Players love Los Angeles and, the logic follows, they should love playing here.
“That’s going to remain to be said with all the top free agents as long as the NBA’s around,” Love said, “(and) as long as L.A.’s a great city. Which it always will be.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/17/paul-george-just-the-latest-homegrown-star-to-feel-lakers-love-in-free-agency/
MAGIC JOHNSON and ROB PELINKA
POSITIONS: President of Basketball Operations and General Manager
WHY THEY’RE ONES TO WATCH: Magic Johnson gazed at Rob Pelinka with a look that was deeply affectionate, almost paternal. In the year since Jeanie Buss ousted the existing front office and replaced them with one Lakers great and the agent of another, Johnson and Pelinka have worked in concert to overhaul the Lakers’ roster and trajectory.
They are at the controls for L.A.’s glamour franchise and have been unafraid to make bold changes. That includes at last week’s trade deadline when Johnson and Pelinka shipped Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, draft finds unearthed by the previous regime, to Cleveland in exchange for the promise of salary-cap space and the chance to lure top free agents to the Lakers.
“I want to really congratulate Rob,” Johnson said after the trade deadline. “He did an outstanding job of working the phones and really bringing back something that I could get behind that’s really going to be great for what we want to achieve here, which is first we want to get back to the playoffs. Then we want to get back to being a championship team.”
Critics often point to the duo’s lack of experience, and the fact that when Jeanie Buss had an opportunity to overhaul the family business she turned to the most familiar candidates. However, Johnson and Pelinka have accepted their charge and been unafraid of change.
Of all the players on the current roster, only Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac, Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram were drafted or acquired by the previous regime of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. The front office team’s first true test comes this offseason, when they will attempt to woo LeBron James and Paul George.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/17/lakers-magic-johnson-and-rob-pelinka-making-their-mark-on-basketball-in-l-a/
POSITION: Point guard
WHY HE’S ONE TO WATCH: If anyone is qualified to anoint a new “face of the franchise,” it is Magic Johnson, a man who spent more than a decade in that role and a couple more, if not as the very face of the Lakers, one of their most important ambassadors. So the bar was set high when the Lakers introduced Lonzo Ball last June at their old practice facility, and Johnson pointed to a wall of retired jerseys and said, “We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day, all right?”
Knee and shoulder injuries have limited Ball to 36 games in his rookie season, but his averages of 10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists have offered a glimpse of the star the Lakers believe they drafted second overall. His Chino Hills roots and UCLA training make him the perfect readymade Lakers superstar, even if the organization has to withstand the occasional broadside from his bombastic father.
Ball dove right into off-the-court endeavors. Big Baller Brand, sure, is part of his portfolio. But the 20-year-old also has a burgeoning rap career and last year made a cameo appearance in “Fuller House.” It’s all so very L.A.
All of those endeavors might seem like distractions, if not for Ball’s acumen when on the court. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double back in November, and Coach Luke Walton structured the offense around Ball’s ability to push the pace and find open shooters.
To truly understand the appeal Ball has created in a short period of time, one needs to look no further than Nov. 17, when Ball – amid a shooting slump – made a dramatic visible alteration. Stories about the change went viral online and it was dissected for deeper meaning. What enormous change did he make? Lonzo Ball got a haircut.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/17/lakers-lonzo-ball-making-his-mark-on-basketball-in-l-a/
Lakers’ lone showing at NBA’s All-Star Weekend ends with Kyle Kuzma scoring 20 points in Rising Stars Challenge
LOS ANGELES — It was only natural that when the NBA’s exhibition showcase descended upon Staples Center that Hollywood’s team was well represented and represented well.
In 2011, the Lakers had a pair of All-Stars and Kobe Bryant won the MVP award.
Seven years hence from that Lakerpalooza, with All-Stars gathering on the corner of Figueroa and Chick Hearn Court, the only purple-and-gold representatives were the two healthy Lakers and another injured one on hand for Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge in front of a half-filled Staples Center.
There Brandon Ingram played his methodical style while his mentor, Jerry Stackhouse, watched from the baseline. Ingram knocked down mid-range jumpers, cut fluidly to the basket, accidentally played defense.
Kyle Kuzma drained a deep 3-pointer before the first-quarter buzzer, found his shooting stroke in the fourth quarter and occasionally got confused with Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, who also wore No. 0.
And that, in a 155-124 Team World victory over Team USA, was the Lakers’ contribution to a series of events on their home stage.
Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Team World and was named the MVP of a game limited to rookies and second-year players, pouring in 26 points after draining seven 3-pointers. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown scored a game-high 35 points for the defeated USA team.
“It was super cool to have three Lakers in the Rising Stars game in L.A.,” said Kuzma, who scored 20 points in 19 minutes. “(It) was pretty special.”
But there was the inescapable feeling that this All-Star Weekend in L.A. came a couple of years too early, as the Lakers, who entered the break at 23-34, rely on a roster that, at times, feels like a Rising Stars entry.
“We’ll have a couple guys on Sunday eventually,” Ingram said.
Larry Nance Jr. will participate in the Slam Dunk Contest as part of All-Star Saturday Night, but the Lakers traded him to Cleveland last week.
“I was gonna be part of a dunk,” said rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who still picked Nance to win, “so we’re gonna see how that goes now.”
The Clippers aren’t much better off, with Lou Williams and Tobias Harris participating in Saturday night events.
The Lakers were short one representative. Ball has missed the Lakers’ last 15 games with a sprained left MCL and watched the Rising Stars Game from the sideline.
Ingram added eight points in 11 minutes for Team USA.
Since the Lakers drafted Ingram 20 months ago, the Lakers have insisted through all of his ups and down that within that wiry frame, under those floppy braids a future All-Star exists.
“His ceiling is much, much higher,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said earlier this week. “He’s going to get to a point that all of those mid-range shots that some nights go in are going to go in on a majority of nights.”
The organization has long believed he would earn invites to many All-Star weekends, long after he runs out of freebie invites to the Rising Stars game.
“That’s my next goal,” Ingram said. “To make it to the All-Star game I think would be the most exciting thing that ever happened. That’s my next goal to do, go out and be an All-Star.”
Of the nine other rookies in Friday’s game, eight were drafted ahead of Kuzma. Memphis’ Dillon Brooks went 45th to Houston.
Earlier in the day, Utah rookie star Donovan Mitchell said that after he found out he and Kuzma would both play Friday, that he told the former University of Utah star, “You can take any shot you want. It’s your city, it’s your game, you got it.”
Kuzma hoisted 18 shots, making nine while grabbing seven rebounds and handing out a pair of assists.
The Lakers played Wednesday and Thursday in New Orleans and Minnesota, and Walton said he hoped the young Lakers played limited minutes in the rare back-to-back-to-back.
“Playing 50-plus games is definitely hard on your body,” Kuzma said, “especially if you haven’t really gone through it. … You always need time for a rest. We come back to the workplace Wednesday, so I’ll be on the beach somewhere chillin’.”
For a game that celebrated the rich future of NBA talent, the exhibition offered a reminder that for as dependent as the Lakers are on their young stars to carry them back to greatness, every team’s young players are good.
To players who grew up facing each other in AAU, in college and doing battle in pre-draft workouts, that was one of the biggest takeaways from Friday night.
“In today’s world, you play with a lot of them in high school and stuff,” Ball said. “So you already see them and it’s cool just watching them make it with you. Now you just get to see their talents on display and just everybody having a lot of fun.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/16/lakers-lone-showing-at-nbas-all-star-weekend-ends-with-kyle-kuzma-scoring-20-points-in-rising-stars-challenge/
MINNEAPOLIS — With one quarter to go before the All-Star break, the Lakers finally gave in Thursday night, blowing a 10-point lead in the final 14 minutes and losing 119-111 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers (23-33) will limp into the season’s ceremonial mid-point having lost three straight games and allowing an average 129.3 points over that span.
Against the Timberwolves, Julius Randle led the Lakers with 23 points, marking the first time in his career he scored at least 20 points in three straight games. However, his charge on Karl-Anthony Towns with 2:57 left signaled the Lakers’ last gasp.
The Lakers trailed by six at that point but two possessions later Towns drove and scored off the glass with his right hand to give the Timberwolves (35-25) even greater separation.
It was a frantic, frustrating finish for the Lakers. Randle was blocked by Towns with 1:16 left, and after he found Isaiah Thomas on the kickout, Thomas had his floater emphatically blocked by Jimmy Butler.
It was the exclamation point on a night to forget for Thomas who, in his third game as a Laker, shot 3 for 15 for seven points.
Brandon Ingram, who will play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday at Staples Center, finished with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in what likely marked his final start at point guard. The Lakers expect to have rookie Lonzo Ball back on the court when they return against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 23.
After Thursday, Ball has missed 15 games with a sprained left MCL.
The loss negated breakout performances from a couple of Lakers less accustomed to the spotlight.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished with his second double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds, falling four assists shy of a triple-double.
Second-year center Ivica Zubac, who was averaging 4.3 minutes per game, scored a season-high 19 points in 20 minutes, adding 11 rebounds.
The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter, and persistently held off the Timberwolves’ runs through the rest of the first half and the third quarter.
However, Jamal Crawford checked in for the Timberwolves with 1:58 left in the third and the Lakers leading by 10. The former Clippers sixth man scored 11 points over the next five minutes, helping the Timberwolves close the gap to 95-94 with 9:35 left in the game.
Gorgui Dieng pushed Minnesota ahead 98-97 with a jumper from the corner. Then after a pair of turnovers by Thomas, Crawford found Butler streaking to the basket for an alley-oop that put Minnesota on top 100-99.
The Lakers’ offense was working overtime to compensate for its lagging defense, once such a beacon of hope for this young team. After taking a 103-102 lead on a Randle layup, the Lakers were outscored 17-8 over the final 5:37.
More to come on this story.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/15/lakers-cant-close-out-timberwolves-stumble-into-all-star-break-with-3-game-losing-streak/
MINNEAPOLIS — Since a 15-year-old Isaiah Thomas first wandered into an open gym in Seattle where hometown legend Jamal Crawford was playing, the two have been virtually inseparable. Thomas was a groomsman in Crawford’s wedding. Crawford said they talk every day.
That means Crawford, the Minnesota guard in his 18th NBA season, has gotten daily updates as Thomas has endured one of the strangest slides in NBA history.
“If you would have had me say what happens next from last year,” Crawford said, “this would have never entered my mind in the equation. Ever. Like, ‘Oh, he’ll be in Boston,’ and that’ll be that. I never would have seen any of this coming.”
Since finishing fifth in voting for Most Valuable Player and leading Boston to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, Thomas has been traded twice; first to Cleveland then, last week, to the Lakers. After missing the first two months of the season with a hip injury, Thomas’ highly anticipated pairing with LeBron James lasted just 15 games.
“I mean that’s the thing about it,” Crawford said. “It’s not just the injury he’s dealing with or it’s not just the trade, it’s just … everything. Everybody throwing shots at him, whatever. It’s all those things. It’s a lot.
“I’m obviously not in his head to that degree so I don’t know exactly but it has to be a lot. That would weigh on anybody. But I have no doubt that at the end of the day he will have the last laugh.”
Thomas scored 22 points in his Lakers debut on Saturday, but was ejected after just five minutes on Wednesday in New Orleans.
After battling to establish himself as a starter in the NBA and, eventually, a two-time All-Star, Thomas finds himself in a reserve role with the Lakers – a situation more familiar to Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year.
“It’s just crazy how things have changed,” Crawford said. “He was fifth in the MVP voting and we’re talking about him not starting? To have this discussion right now is crazy.”
Crawford added that “this is nothing against the Lakers” but that Thomas is in “just such a unique situation.”
Thomas is hoping to repair his image before going into free agency this summer. Despite Thomas’ long-held desire to play for the Lakers, his desire for a max-level contract is unlikely to mesh with the Lakers’ plans to only spend their cap space on players like LeBron James and Paul George.
“I think he wants to play and have fun and compete,” Coach Luke Walton said this week when asked what he thought was motivating his newest player. “He seems like a player who plays with a chip on his shoulder and that’s a good thing.”
That’s something Crawford knows about.
“He had a chip on his shoulder when he was eight years old,” he said. “He was smaller than everybody. So that’s deep-rooted. He’s always had the chip, he’s always proved people wrong, he’s always come out on top.”
“But this situation,” he added, “it’s a lot. It really is.”
FATHER KNOWS BEST
Bill Walton was mid-broadcast on Wednesday night when he heard that his third son had been ejected during the second quarter of the Lakers’ loss in New Orleans.
“Luke was ejected?” Walton said, while announcing the Warriors-Blazers game in Portland. “I have failed as a father.”
Luke Walton has heard it before
“He told me that when he realized I had gotten a tattoo, as well,” he said. “It’s not the first time he’s failed as a father. It won’t be the last, I’m assuming.”
The Lakers’ technical fouls against the Pelicans remained a topic of conversation a day later. Walton said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka had reached out to the NBA about Thomas’ technical fouls after a skirmish with Rajon Rondo.
“I think that he (Thomas) has a very valid point with getting those rescinded,” Walton said.
Crawford, who saw the encounter on television, said “obviously there’s something there” between Rondo and Thomas, but like seemingly everyone in the Lakers’ locker room, was surprised Thomas was ejected.
“I was shocked he got thrown out,” Crawford said. “I’ll say that for sure. Absolutely shocked he got thrown out.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/15/jamal-crawford-calls-isaiah-thomas-slide-from-mvp-candidate-to-lakers-bench-crazy/
NEW ORLEANS — Five minutes into his second game with the Lakers, Isaiah Thomas was being escorted out of it, a Lakers security guard gently prodding him toward one tunnel while Rajon Rondo went for the other.
They’ve always been two players heading in opposite directions, these two former Celtics. Thomas arrived in Boston two months after Rondo was shipped out; and after a first-round matchup in last year’s playoffs, Thomas’ team advanced and Rondo and the Chicago Bulls went home.
“I don’t know him,” Thomas said, after a first-quarter altercation in the Lakers’ 139-117 loss led to both players being ejected. “Personally, I don’t know him. I’ve never talked to him. We’ve just battled and competed throughout the years. Every time we battle it’s been a little bit more and more.”
It boiled over Wednesday, as an old beef was given new life in a territorial swirl of hostility and hubris.
“Nothing should’ve made that escalate like it did,” Thomas said.
Rondo won a title with the Celtics in 2008. Last month, he criticized the organization for its plans to honor Thomas with a video tribute in his return to TD Garden, which Thomas ultimately declined so as not to distract from Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement the same night.
All of that was on the table Wednesday, when Thomas checked in to the game with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
“For whatever reason he’s an upset guy about me,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what it is. He kept bringing the tribute up when I was the one that shut the tribute down.”
Thomas said Rondo, who did not speak to reporters, made his intentions clear from the first possession.
“He already had his agenda written down right when I checked into the game,” Thomas said. “It was obvious. Picked me up full court, trying to be physical. It was obvious.”
After Thomas sank a free throw for a flagrant foul on Rondo with 33.3 seconds left in the first quarter, the two became entangled on the ensuing inbounds play. Officials warned Thomas and Rondo twice as play grew increasingly physical, finally assessing a technical foul to each.
While referees sorted those out, Rondo and Thomas continued to talk at each other, earning additional sanctions.
Thomas and his coach, Luke Walton, both questioned the way the officials handled the scuffle, arguing that they let things get out of hand before adjudicating.
“It felt like they were waiting for me to get upset,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a notoriously fiery player, said the technical fouls should be overturned.
“Hopefully, like I said, the NBA sees it, looks at it, figures it out,” Thomas said. “But I definitely need to get those technical fouls rescinded because I didn’t do anything.”
Walton, who was later ejected in the second quarter, said Thomas did everything he could to “not to get caught up in it” before receiving his ejection.
“They let it just keep going and going and going and in my opinion took the easy way out,” he said. “Just waited so they could give a double-T instead of calling it as it was happening.”
After being repeatedly hit in the face before anything was called, Thomas said he turned to the referees and said, “Are you going to control this?”
— FOXSports NewOrleans (@FOXSportsNOLA) February 15, 2018
Thomas was not alone in the locker room for long. Walton received his own technicals with 1:38 left in the first half and the Lakers trailing by 15 points.
Kyle Kuzma thought he had come up with a steal, but instead was called with a foul. He expressed his displeasure by leaping in the air, earning a technical foul. Walton stormed across midcourt, accounting for the sixth and seventh technical fouls of the first half.
“There was a lot of things that I was frustrated about at that point,” Walton said, “and I just had had enough at that moment.”
Walton retreated to the locker room and sat down next to Thomas.
“I try not to isolate when I am angry,” Walton said, “so I went and found someone to watch the game with.”
It wasn’t pretty.
All-Star Anthony Davis finished with 42 points and 15 rebounds while converting 15 of his 18 field-goal attempts to lead the Pelicans.
The Lakers had fallen behind by 23 points in the first half – while everyone was on hand to see it in person – but battled back to within 48-43 early in the second quarter. The Pelicans answered by pouring in 79 points by halftime and shooting 53.5 percent from the field for the night (14 for 32 from 3-point range).
An 11-0 run cut the Lakers’ deficit to 81-79 early in the third quarter, but the Pelicans answered again and pushed the lead as high as 24 in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans had 35 assists on their 53 field goals.
“We’ve stopped defending,” Walton said. “And that’s a big-time problem, but it’s something that we’ll fix.”
In the Lakers’ last two games since the trade deadline, they have allowed 130 and 139 points, both losses.
“We’ve got to get our mojo back,” Walton said. “We somehow lost it quickly, and the last two games offensively we’ve been fine, we’re just not playing any defense.”
Kuzma led the Lakers with 23 points, while Brandon Ingram added 21. Former UCLA standout Jrue Holiday added 24 points and 11 assists for New Orleans, while Darius Miller scored 19 off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/14/lakers-isaiah-thomas-following-altercation-with-rajon-rondo-i-dont-know-him/
NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers are more familiar with rivalries with the Boston Celtics than rivalries between Celtics. But the organization found itself in the middle of one such beef in their matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday when former Boston point guards Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo were both ejected in the first quarter.
For Thomas, the ejection came less than five minutes into his second game with the Lakers.
The newest Lakers guard became entangled with Rondo, who started at point guard for the Pelicans, on an inbounds play in the final minute of the first quarter, but that was not the beginning of their conflict.
That can be traced to January, when Rondo said it was silly for the Celtics to honor Thomas in his return to Boston with the Cavaliers.
“What has he done?” Rondo told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Thomas played just two-plus seasons with Boston before being traded to the Cavaliers last summer, but did lead the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals last spring.
“This is the Boston Celtics,” Rondo reportedly said. “This isn’t the Phoenix Suns, no disrespect to any other organization, but you don’t hang conference titles. Do we hang going to the conference finals?”
The Lakers acquired Thomas, along with veteran Channing Frye, at the trade deadline last week. Thomas was scheduled to play his first game back in Boston on Sunday, and a planned video tribute became a controversy due to the scheduled jersey retirement for Paul Pierce.
The tension between Rondo and Thomas apparently carried over to Wednesday, when Thomas and Rondo were both ejected with 33.3 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Both players received a technical foul after being separated, and while that was being sorted out, Rondo appeared to continue after Thomas, resulting in both players being ejected.
It was a busy first half for the officials, who called a total of seven technical fouls as the Pelicans posted nearly 80 points, taking a 79-66 lead at the break.
Lakers coach Luke Walton was ejected with 1:38 left in the half after storming across midcourt to protest a technical foul on Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma was called for a foul on an attempted steal and leapt in the air to show his displeasure with the call.
The technicals were Nos. 7 and 8 for Walton, who earned the praise of former Laker Larry Nance Jr. earlier this month in Oklahoma City for saving Nance from a technical by earning one himself.
Among head coaches, only Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer has more technical fouls than Walton. Budenholzer has received nine.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/14/rajon-rondo-isaiah-thomas-ejected-after-scuffle-in-lakers-pelicans-game/
NEW ORLEANS – As Josh Hart ran off the Pelicans home court on Wednesday morning, he stopped in front of Lonzo Ball, who was chatting with reporters, to tease the point guard about when he would return to the court.
“First game back after All-Star, man,” Ball responded. “I’ll be there.”
Ruled out earlier this week for Wednesday’s contest at New Orleans and Thursday’s game in Minnesota, Ball said he “definitely” expects to play on Feb. 23 against Dallas, 42 days after spraining his left MCL in an overtime win against the Mavericks.
While Ball has progressed to full contact practices, the Lakers will not practice until next Wednesday, by which time Ball expects to be free of the soreness that has persisted.
“It’s at a point where I can play but it still hurts a little bit. So they want to just get that out and take this week, and we are playing good right now so no need to rush it.”
Ball said he still feels soreness in his knee when he pushes off with it and tries to slide defensively.
Ball was officially ruled out of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star Weekend. The NBA announced on Wednesday that Sacramento Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox would replace him in the exhibition that will also feature Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram.
None of this is to say that Ball will be sitting around with his feet up when the NBA’s annual showcase descends on L.A. this weekend.
Ball moonlights as a rapper and will release a mixtape on Thursday. He will be on hand for a Big Baller Brand pop-up shop, which his father, LaVar, is expected to fly in for before heading back to Lithuania
“He will be here on Friday,” Ball said. “I haven’t (seen him) ever since he went over there, just on FaceTime.”
There are autograph signings and interviews. There will inevitably questions about LaVar’s recent comments that Lonzo Ball will not re-sign with the Lakers if the organization does not also sign his other two sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo.
Ball said he saw those comments, but brushed them off.
“I did (see them),” he said. “No reaction. Like I said, I always just play. He always talks. Its always been the same way.”
Ball also confirmed a TMZ report that he will soon become a father himself. The gossip website reported last week that Ball’s longtime girlfriend is four months pregnant.
“Yup, supposed to be on the way,” Ball said. “It’s a little different, kind of unexpected. But it’s life.”
All of it makes for an intense amount of pressure away from Ball’s primary focus: getting back on the court for the Lakers.
“I knew All-Star was going to be big,” Ball said, “especially for the signing stuff. The mix tape was already done, just a matter of when I want to put it out and I feel like that is the right time for that.”
Ball will appear on an episode of Lip Sync Battle with LaVar on Thursday night, but don’t worry, that was done months ago.
“Did that during the summer too,” Ball said. “It is crazy how you do something so early and it is just coming out this Thursday. So that should be a lot of fun to watch.”
RISING AND FALLING – Don’t expect the remaining Lakers to make a big splash in Friday’s Rising Stars game.
Coach Luke Walton said he has requested that Kuzma and Ingram play limited minutes, due to the fact it will be their third game in three days.
“I need to figure out who’s coaching that team and call them and tell them not to play our players very many minutes because of the fact we had a back-to-back that they’ll be coming off of,” Walton said.
Houston assistant coach Roy Rogers is coaching the U.S. team, which Kuzma and Ingram will play on, while Toronto assistant Rex Kalamian will coac the World team.
Walton said 15 to 20 minutes “would be a lot to me.” Last year, Ingram scored four points in 16 minutes while D’Angelo Russell scored 12 points in 18 minutes.
Ingram said he would be “absolutely fine” with a minutes restriction. Kuzma, however, may have something to say.
“There’s a good chance that Kuz still argues his case (for more minutes) to whoever his coach is,” Walton joked.
Added Ingram: “Kuz can have it all. He’s going to want to shoot it all anyway. He can have it all.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/14/lonzo-ball-expects-to-play-in-lakers-first-game-after-all-star-break/
EL SEGUNDO — As Isaiah Thomas was making a splash in his Lakers debut on Saturday, knocking down 3-point shots and trying to carry his new team to a win, he experienced something he had missed in the seven months he was sidelined by a hip injury and his brief, failed marriage with LeBron James in Cleveland.
Buckle up, Lakers fans: Thomas felt like a Celtic again.
“You see the bench every time I was shooting,” said Thomas, acquired in a deadline deal from Cleveland, “they were standing up cheering. That was the feeling I had in Boston where we were playing for each other and had happiness and joy for each other, and that is big.”
Thomas, a lifelong Lakers fan, completed his first practice with his new team on Monday, an occasion that coincided with Lonzo Ball’s first practice, albeit a limited one, in nearly a month.
At the conclusion of the practice, Thomas sported a black T-shirt with Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 stylized to read “LA,” a feature of the Bryant-designed “City Edition” jerseys the Lakers wore as recently as Thursday.
“I was brainwashed into being a Lakers fan as a young boy,” Thomas said, “and Kobe has been my favorite player so … it hasn’t hit me yet that I am a Laker but when I do look at gear in my locker and my jersey, it’s like, dang, I always dreamed of it and it is finally here.”
With just one game and one practice under his belt, Thomas has already been a pleasant surprise to Coach Luke Walton, who anticipated more of a learning curve as far as Thomas getting comfortable with where his new teammates like the ball and to come off screens.
“You can already see that he’s a natural point guard where if he’s coming off those type of plays,” Walton said. “He’s directing guys on where to go, where he likes to get the ball. So, it’s different for everyone, but I assume someone that plays like him he’ll be just fine.”
After averaging 28.5 points per game last season with the Celtics, the two-time All-Star scored a season-high 22 points in his Lakers debut on Saturday. Going forward, his role is uncertain. An extended stay with the Lakers remains unlikely. For now, Thomas seems committed to seeing through the final 27 games of the season, starting Wednesday in New Orleans.
Already, he was talking about the “push to the playoffs.”
“All I know is how to play to win and I am going to try to instill that into these young guys,” Thomas said, “and give it all you got and leave it on the floor and have fun doing it.”
Ball’s gradual return to the lineup passed another important milestone on Monday, with the rookie point guard participating in the non-contact portions of Monday’s practice – a first since suffering a sprained left MCL on Jan. 13.
“He hasn’t done any practice,” Walton said, “so you don’t just go from zero practice to full-contact practice, you go to doing practice non-contact and if that feels good then you do some more contact. And then if that feels good you start playing again.”
Theoretically, Ball could practice fully on Tuesday and play Wednesday in New Orleans, although that seems slightly ambitious with Walton reiterating that the Lakers are “going to be patient with Lonzo no matter what.”
He continued, “Being a rookie point guard that we know is going to be a huge part of our future, we’re not going to risk that to try to get him back earlier than he’s ready to.”
If Ball is limited whatsoever on Tuesday, that will likely rule him out for the two games the Lakers have before the All-Star break, which begins Friday.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/12/isaiah-thomas-first-game-with-lakers-made-him-feel-like-a-celtic-again-and-thats-a-good-thing/
LOS ANGELES — With his cell phone pressed to his ear, Rob Pelinka wandered through the office suite at the Lakers’ El Segundo headquarters. Through large bay windows, he could see the team he was trying to improve as it completed its morning shootaround, and they could look up and see him.
Pelinka had already traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland on Thursday morning. As Julius Randle finished morning work, he wondered if he could be next.
“I didn’t know,” Randle told the Southern California News Group hours later, after scoring 17 points in a blowout win over Oklahoma City. “The ups and downs of the season and not knowing what’s going to happen, it could have happened to anyone. So I was ready for whatever.”
The Lakers, however, chose to hold on to Randle, the last player on their roster who was coached by Byron Scott and played alongside Kobe Bryant.
Throughout the fall and leading up to the trade deadline, Randle was the Lakers player most often discussed in trade rumors. But as the deadline neared, his game took off, and it became harder to envision the Lakers parting with the resurgent 6-foot-9 power forward.
By trading Nance and Clarkson for the expiring contracts of Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye and the Cavaliers’ first-round pick, the organization sent a clear message that they want to sign two maximum-contract free agents over the course of the next two offseasons.
The trade also gave the Lakers the flexibility to match any deal for Randle this summer, depending on their ability to lure All-Stars, potentially giving Randle a place in the franchise’s long-term plans.
That was tough to envision back in October.
The franchise chose not to offer Randle a contract extension in October, making him a restricted free agent in July. He started the season on the bench after losing his starting job to Nance.
When Nance broke a bone in his hand in the eighth game of the season, it was rookie Kyle Kuzma who replaced him in the starting lineup.
The result was “me and him butting heads over it,” Coach Luke Walton said.
Something happened after those early-season setbacks.
“I couldn’t really focus on whether I was going to be here long-term or not,” Randle said. “The extension didn’t happen, so that decision of what was going to happen. The season was really up to me to go out and play and figure out the rest in the summer.”
Randle finally rejoined the starting lineup after Brook Lopez sprained his ankle in December, and his productivity has skyrocketed.
His per 36-minute averages of 21.3 points and 11 rebounds per game would make him one of the most productive big men in the league and, with a 55.3 field goal percentage, one of the most reliable.
As a starter, however, he isn’t that far off from those numbers in a mere 24 minutes per outing. Since replacing Nance in the lineup, he has averaged 16.8 points and 9 rebounds over 24 minutes per game, with nine of his 13 double-doubles coming since he left the bench.
“I love the way Julius is playing right now,” said Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. “This is the best I’ve ever seen him play. We want to see him continue to do that.”
Even Walton, who has repeatedly challenged Randle to be a better defender and a smarter scorer, seems to have come around on the fourth-year forward.
Since the Lakers snapped a nine-game losing streak with a win over Atlanta on Jan. 7, Randle has played 27 minutes per game and become one of the Lakers’ most reliable players down the stretch of close games.
“Julius, with all that talk going on, he has been one of our most steady players,” Walton said. “He has done everything we have asked of him, he is getting so much better at reading when to make a pass and when a double team is coming and when to go score the ball. All that is just little signs of a player growing up and starting to really understand the NBA game, and let the NBA game kind of slow down so he can do what he does well.”
There’s still a decent chance another team will benefit from Randle’s progress this season, even with the trade deadline behind him.
To bring in two stars this summer, the Lakers would have to renounce Randle’s rights to clear his $12.4 million cap hold, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.
“Regardless of what they’re doing, they’re going to do what’s best for them,” Randle said of the Lakers, who drafted him seventh overall in 2014. “You’ve just got to go out and be a professional, do your job.”
Since arriving as a teenager in 2014, Randle has become a husband and a father. He has gone from starter to reserve to, once again, starter. He has fascinated and frustrated his two head coaches, both of whom took away his starting job as a method of motivation.
“He has grown up a lot in the time that I have known him,” Walton said.
Randle didn’t disagree.
“Basketball has a funny way of building character,” he said. “Not just for basketball, but just life and a lot of moments throughout the season that I won’t forget that have really built me up as a person and as a player. Stuff that I’ll be able to teach my son, as well.”
His four years with the Lakers, he said, have taught him how to fight through adversity and that no matter how hard he works for things, they won’t always work out like he expects.
The result has been that Randle is playing the best basketball of his career and is valued more than ever by the franchise that drafted him. To get here, he had to endure those early challenges. That was a trade worth making.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/09/lakers-julius-randle-has-thrived-while-taking-life-lessons-in-stride/
LOS ANGELES — After the Lakers spent Thursday focusing on the future of the franchise and the successes that inevitably await, the players who remained past the trade deadline served up another reminder that the present doesn’t have to be so terrible.
Behind 20 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and 19 from Brandon Ingram, the Lakers took advantage of an Oklahoma City team playing without Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, blowing out the Thunder 106-81.
After clearing the salary cap space they need to sign a superstar (or two), the Lakers put on a show for the very star who is known to be the primary object of their affection: Paul George.
The Palmdale native scored a game-high 29 points for the Thunder, but 16 of those came in the first quarter. As the Thunder wilted over the final three periods, George shot just 5 for 15 from the floor.
The triumph capped an emotional day after the Lakers shipped two of their longest-tenured players, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick.
After being told of the trade, Nance still showed up at the team’s El Segundo headquarters Tuesday morning, where he said goodbye to his teammates following their morning shootaround.
“It’s hard, but it was good to see him,” Coach Luke Walton said. “I wished him luck. He’s going home (to Ohio). It’s not easy to come by after you get traded, but I think it shows a lot of maturity and character from him to be there.”
By the time players arrived in the locker room late in the afternoon, the lockers belonging to Nance and Clarkson had been cleared out, their nameplates removed.
“We have a very young group and a lot of them have never gone through this and had teammates traded,” Walton said. “So, this morning it was pretty quiet in the film room getting ready for this game. We kept engaging them and saying this is part of the business, we’ve got to grow up learning that this is how this league works.”
It was eerie.
The Lakers have long been understood to be in a rebuild, but the team had also been playing its best basketball in years, winning 11 of 15 games before Thursday’s showdown with the star-laden Thunder.
The disruption to Walton’s lineups was bound to affect chemistry and, it seemed, momentum.
“Our guys had definitely found a nice groove together,” Walton said, “counting on each other. But, this is part of it. Whether we struggle or not until we figure it out, that’s part of the learning curve too.”
For at least one more night, the Lakers stayed ahead of that curve.
What happens when Thomas and Frye arrives is anyone’s guess. The two veterans are expected to join the team for Saturday’s game in Dallas. Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball has already been ruled out for that game, which will be his 13th absence since suffering a sprained left MCL the last time the Lakers faced the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center.
While the Lakers await their new arrivals, they stayed active on the glass, were aggressive getting to the rim and locked in defensively.
“Everybody had something to do with it,” Ingram said. “Everybody is doing their job.”
Sure, they caught a break with Westbrook and Anthony both recovering from sprained ankles, but it was impossible to escape the feeling that this was the kind of game Lakers teams of the past few years would have lost.
“We’ve been having success because we’ve been competing our tails off, trusting each other, making extra passes,” Walton said. “And we can do that no matter who is playing. That’s more of a mindset and an attitude to have.”
After falling behind by 11 points in the first half, the Lakers responded, building a 52-46 lead by halftime.
The Thunder shot just 1 for 10 from 3-point range in the third quarter and the Lakers distanced themselves from George & Co., outscoring OKC 31-20 in the period.
Five Lakers scored in double figures, including Kyle Kuzma, who led the Lakers’ depleted bench – which previously could count on the production of Clarkson and Nance – with 16 points and nine rebounds.
After notching three straight double-doubles, rookie guard Josh Hart finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 9, 2018
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 9, 2018
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 9, 2018
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/08/lakers-trounce-thunder-to-cap-emotional-trade-deadline-day-with-4th-straight-win/
LOS ANGELES — Officially, the Lakers on Thursday traded two key bench players for a two-time former All-Star, a sharp-shooting veteran forward and a first-round draft pick.
What the Lakers gained in the hours before Thursday’s trade deadline was far more valuable than Isaiah Thomas, more desperately needed than Channing Frye’s range, more prized than a draft pick.
It was Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for two superstars to be named later.
“This,” Magic Johnson said, “is what I came here to do.”
You don’t build a runway unless you believe planes will land on it, you don’t open a restaurant unless you think people will dine there and you certainly don’t clear $70 million in salary cap space unless you think NBA stars will take your money.
The Lakers have the space, they just need to find the superstars willing to occupy it.
Thomas and Frye are both on deals that will expire at season’s end, which, depending on what the Lakers decide to do with an energized Julius Randle, leaves enough space for two maximum-contract free agents, either this summer or next.
“This was an essential step for us to get a playoff team and a championship-caliber team back to the Lakers,” General Manager Rob Pelinka said, “which is the sole goal that Earvin and I have working together.”
As painful as it was for the Lakers to say goodbye to Nance and Clarkson, two players they identified as talents and plucked out of the draft with late picks, the Lakers are only partially basing their future on homegrown talent.
The organization is committed to rebuilding quickly, and the fastest way to do that is by bringing in ready-made stars elsewhere. In another time, another place, that might have included Thomas, who finished fifth in MVP voting last year and ascended to face-of-the-franchise status in Boston with a career year with the Celtics.
He arrives without a defined role. Coach Luke Walton said he and Thomas exchanged voice mails on Thursday. When they connect, perhaps Walton’s advice to his newest player should be this: Rent, don’t buy.
Because that’s exactly what the Lakers are doing.
By ensuring cap flexibility for the coming summer, the Lakers brass threw water on the notion that they were giving up on the summer of 2018. Taking on another team’s bad contract that runs through next season – say, Denver’s Kenneth Faried – and a draft pick would have signaled that they believe chasing members of the upcoming free agent class would be futile.
Instead, they did the opposite.
“It is not either 2019 or 2018,” Pelinka said. “It could be one in each year if we wanted it to be, two in ’18 (or) two in ’19 or just sticking with our young core and growing these guys. We will have many things to look at and we will make those decisions when they come.”
The Lakers stressed they will not buy out the contract of Thomas, who will come in expecting to start despite the presence of No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
It could make for an awkward fit over the final two months of the season, although Walton stressed that he believes Thomas, who appeared in just 15 games with the Cavs after being swapped for Kyrie Irving in August, will adapt to the Lakers’ system.
“He’s a great player,” Walton said. “He’s still coming back from injuries. I think the more time he’s on the court and playing his game, he will continue to get better. He’s obviously proven he’s been an All-Star in this league before. He can shoot the ball. He knows how to win. Excited to get him in here.”
But not as excited as the Lakers are to get him out of here, so they can spend their money on the players they hope to move forward with, be it LeBron James, Paul George or any number of members of the highly regarded class of 2019 (which will include Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler).
The true impact of this deal will not be felt for months or years, but in the meantime, Johnson and Pelinka delivered on their promise to create a hospitable environment for star free agents.
They have built it. Now, will they come?
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/08/oram-lakers-double-down-on-belief-they-can-lure-free-agents-by-clearing-cap-space/
Lakers exec Magic Johnson ‘surprised’ by NBA’s $50,000 fine for comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo
EL SEGUNDO — Magic Johnson seems to have learned what he can and cannot say.
The Lakers president of basketball operations was fined $50,000 by the NBA earlier this week after comments he made praising Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo were deemed to have violated the league’s tampering rules.
Asked if he was surprised by the fine, Johnson said, “Yes. And still surprised.”
Johnson made light of the fine while he and General Manager Rob Pelinka discussed the Lakers’ deal at the NBA’s trade deadline to acquire two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
The move allowed the Lakers to clear the salary cap space necessary to make a run at elite free agents in each of the next two summers.
“If you look at teams that are doing really well right now,” Pelinka said. “if you look at the Boston Celtics in the East, they had flexibility to take advantage of a very unique situation that happened in the offseason. We can’t talk about specific players’ names.”
Johnson clasped both hands over his mouth in an exaggerated motion.
The fine marked the second time the Lakers were publicly admonished for tampering, after Pelinka earned the Lakers a $500,000 fine in August for discussing the future of Paul George with George’s agent, Aaron Mintz.
Johnson’s comments on Antetokounmpo were far more benign. He told an ESPN reporter that he believed the “Greek Freak” would become an MVP candidate and win a championship with the Bucks.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/08/lakers-exec-magic-johnson-surprised-by-nbas-50000-fine-for-comments-about-giannis-antetokounmpo/
EL SEGUNDO — The trade deadline has passed and Luol Deng remains a Laker.
After executing a deal for two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas that primarily ensures the Lakers will have the salary cap room to chase top free agents each of the next two summers, Magic Johnson was asked whether the Lakers engaged in any substantive discussions that would have freed the franchise of the $36 million owed to the 32-year-old Deng over the next two summers.
Johnson began to laugh, and then turned to Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager.
“We wish, huh?” Johnson said, continuing to chuckle. “No, that didn’t happen.”
To the reporter who asked, Johnson quipped, “You want to make a move for us?”
It was a moment of levity on a day that was overall celebratory, as the Lakers parted with valued reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, but added the expiring contracts of Thomas and Channing Frye, as well as Cleveland’s first-round pick.
None of that helps Deng, who has publicly expressed his desire to either be traded or bought out. The Lakers are likely to consider using the league’s stretch provision to waive him next summer, although there is also a line of thinking that the contract, signed amid the spending bonanza of 2016, will become easier to move as its 2020 expiration gets closer.
“We want to say this about Luol,”Johnson said. “Rob has been working very well with him to try to get him to a place where he can be happy. But there’s not been a trade for him. He understands that and he knows that.”
Deng has not suited up for the Lakers since opening night, when he started in place of the suspended Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He appeared in 56 games last season, averaging 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“Luol has been an unbelievable professional and has stayed very positive,” Pelinka said. “He understands the situation. At some point we’ll figure out a way to resolve that (in a manner) that’s a win for him and for us, but this trade deadline wasn’t the window for that to happen.”
Magic Johnson was asked by @billoram if there were any substantive conversations about Luol Deng during the trade deadline, and his initial response is AMAZING! #LakeShow #Lakers pic.twitter.com/IWNU76YGx0
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) February 8, 2018
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/08/lakers-magic-johnson-finds-notion-of-a-luol-deng-trade-hilarious/
The Lakers said goodbye to two of their most productive role players on Thursday, agreeing to trade Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick.
The trade, first reported by ESPN three hours before the NBA’s noon trade deadline, gets the Lakers out from under the final two years and $26 million owed on the contract Clarkson signed in 2016.
Thomas and Frye both have expiring contracts, allowing the Lakers to gear up for a big-spending summer in 2018 if they can lure Paul George or LeBron James in free agency or, if not, for the following summer.
ESPN reported earlier this week that the Lakers had pivoted their focus to the summer of 2019, when Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler could all be free agents. But Thursday’s trade signaled that they have not completely given up on the coming free agent class, which will include Thomas.
The 5-foot-9 superstar automatically becomes the Lakers most dynamic player, but given his pending free agency and the Lakers commitment to Lonzo Ball as the point guard of the future, it’s unclear whether the Lakers would have interest in keeping him beyond this season.
An original second-round pick of the Washington Wizards in 2014 and traded to the Lakers on draft night, Clarkson was averaging 14.5 points off the bench this season. Nance, mined late in the first round of the 2016 draft, was a favorite of Coach Luke Walton and started 17 games this season, and averaged career highs in points (8.6) and rebounds (6.8).
Nance, a native of Akron, Ohio, who grew up watching LeBron James play in high school and later with the Cavs, is scheduled to participate in the slam dunk contest at All-Star Weekend on Feb. 17 at Staples Center.
Thomas appeared in just 15 games with Cleveland after getting traded from Boston, where he averaged a career-high 28.9 points per game last season and finished fifth in Most Valuable Player voting. He missed the first 36 games of the season with a hip injury.
He was the key piece of a package traded by Boston to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving last summer. The Lakers will be Thomas’ fifth team after the Sacramento Kings made him the final pick in the 2011 draft.
In 2014, Thomas told Grantland that he was interested in signing with the Lakers in 2014 before eventually landing in Phoenix.
“I always envisioned myself playing with the Lakers,” Thomas said, “but like you said, they were waiting on Carmelo (Anthony) and other moves.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/02/08/lakers-trade-jordan-clarkson-larry-nance-to-cleveland-for-isiah-thomas-channing-frye-and-pick/