Through Purple and Gold Frames

Lakers Hype

The company is expected to send Crawford new merchandise, including shoes, this week for the NBA playoffs. Crawford became the first NBA player — besides Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball — to wear the brand this season and has continued to do so in the postseason. At this point it isn’t a normal endorsement deal for Crawford, but he would sign a contract with Big Baller Brand down the line that would allow him to be under the brand yet have the freedom to pursue his own personal endeavors.

Walton’s improvement and maturation as a coach throughout the season has seemingly flown under the radar, however, as he has made significant strides in the handling of his players. Channing Frye has witnessed this first hand since being traded. He was asked whether James would want to play for Walton and eventually opened up after some initial trepidation. “Am I allowed to talk about that?” Frye asked aloud before continuing. “I’m going to say this, I think any superstar would like to play for Luke. I think he’s a players’ coach. I think when you talk about the continuity with the president, owner, GM, a lot of guys are looking for that.

“I don’t know what will happen in terms of [Isaiah Thomas’] contract, but he deserves to make money in this game,” said Olynyk, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Heat this summer. “He’s brought a lot to the game, brought a lot to that city in Boston. Anywhere he goes, he gives his heart and soul to the game of basketball. Last year, [during our playoff run] we didn’t know it, but he was sacrificing his own career for everybody in that city. No one knew that at the time.

It’s an uncomfortable place for Nowitzki to be after the 12 50-win seasons he’s so proud of, especially with his beloved franchise also in the midst of absorbing significant (and justified) criticism for the toxic workplace atmosphere on the business side revealed by a recent Sports Illustrated investigation. But Nowitzki remains determined to return for one more Mavericks season, which would break a tie with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant for the longest N.B.A. run while wearing only one jersey. It won’t be official until some point in the off-season, after Nowitzki steps away next month for a telling round of consultation with his wife Jessica and Geschwindner as well as a thorough evaluation of his health. Yet all signs point to a 21st consecutive season with the Mavericks, the only N.B.A. team he’s known. “As of now, I’m planning to come back,” said Nowitzki, who turns 40 on June 19. “I feel great. I’ve only missed one game all season. I signed a two-year contract because I wanted to play two more years. And here we are.”

After shooting 8-of-54 (14.8 percent) from three over an eight-game stretch, Lonzo Ball tried just one triple at Little Caesar’s Arena on Monday. And while the Los Angeles Lakers might have stolen a win from the Detroit Pistons with a few more long bombs from the rookie out of UCLA, head coach Luke Walton was no less pleased to see the Crown Prince of Chino Hills show off his burgeoning midrange game while shooting 7-of-8 from the field, albeit in a 112-106 defeat. “He was under control all game,” Walton said afterward. “The ones he was hitting were good shots, which I think kind of shows how much he’s been working on his game. Those are shots he wasn’t even shooting earlier in the year.”

In two months since being traded from Cleveland, Frye has found all of those qualities in the Lakers, with a popular coach and an exciting young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. “I think you’re going to see a lot of guys this summer who want to play with Lonzo and Kuz and Brandon and guys that they have here and just build from that,” Frye said. “This is a pretty appealing place. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the Lakers and that these young guys are some of the best young guys in the NBA.”

None of which bothered Murray, who told the media it was a bummer that the super-sensitive Lakers were getting all up in their feelings. “Whoever takes it to heart and takes their losses salty,” Murray said, “I can’t do anything about that.” As amusing as all that was, Will Barton might have been right. In the end, the season-long slap fight didn’t amount to much beyond a good time. “It ain’t real,” Barton said. “That’s some suburban beef, man. Come on. Somebody mad about somebody getting hot and talking a little bit? That happens every day in the NBA.”

And while Thomas sees himself as a starter, he told The Times he wouldn’t rule out returning to the Lakers in a role similar to what he has now, coming off the bench for significant minutes. “I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”

Lonzo Ball’s clutch threes in the closing minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 116-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs had every in the Purple and Gold’s locker room gushing over the rookie on Saturday night. The Crown Prince of Chino Hill’s recent hot streak had Julius Randle reflecting on the progress he’s seen from the 20-year-old over the course of the 2017-18 NBA season. “He went from hitting the side of the backboard to he can’t miss now,” Randle said. “He’s just confident out there, making plays, making huge shots down the stretch for us. He’s been great.”

“We believe. When I got here I said, ‘Why not win now?’ Not saying it’s all on me or we’re winning just because of me, but I think I put that in these guys’ minds. Like, we can win every game we play in. Why can’t we? We’re just as good as everybody else. Let’s think, ‘win now,’ and let’s try to make a run for the playoffs. Like I said, I’ve been in this situation before, when I got traded to Boston. It was a young team thinking rebuild and play the young guys and things like that. But we came together like, ‘Shoot, if we play hard and leave it all out there on the floor, anything can happen.’ I think that’s what we’re going through right now.”

The 20-year-old hit a season-high six 3-pointers — half of which came in the final three minutes — and led the Lakers to a 17-point comeback over San Antonio, 116-112. Ball needed only 10 attempts to reach his 3-point total, and has now shot 44.4 percent from deep over his last 15 games. During this span, the rookie has bucked back against the narrative that he can’t shoot, though he doesn’t necessarily expect minds to change quickly. “People are still going to hate, I think,” he said. “So it really doesn’t matter to me. I just go out and play.”

Clarkson didn’t believe he’d be traded. The Lakers had given him a $50 million deal in 2016. He, Nance Jr., Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were going to be the core of a new Lakers team that just needed a star player to be the spoke of the wheel. The morning of the deadline, “I was sleeping on the couch,” Clarkson said. “They was calling me — Rob (Pelinka, the Lakers’ GM) and Magic (Johnson) and them was calling. We had shootaround; we had a game that day. So I kind of was like pushing the phone to the side. I was still trying to get some sleep. But I woke up and callled them back and they gave me the news.”

Two weeks before the trade deadline, you joined me on The HoopsHype Podcast to discuss the rumors that had surfaced. But walk me through what that Thursday was like for you and how you found out that you were being dealt to the Cavaliers. Larry Nance Jr.: We were playing the Thunder that night. Well, the Lakers were playing the Thunder that night, so I was getting ready to head to shootaround. It was about 9:15 a.m. Like everyone else, I was following Woj (Adrian Wojnarowski) and had the tweet notifications set up just in case and just to find out what kind of stuff was happening. I had just woke up and I was going to wash my face, when I got the update that the Cavs and Lakers were in serious trade talks. I thought, “Oh? I don’t know who that could involve, but we’ll see.” Not even 30 seconds later, I got a call from [Lakers general manager] Rob Pelinka and Luke Walton and Magic Johnson were in his office with him. They all broke the news to me and told me that I was going to Cleveland. That’s how it happened.

But failure is not something LaVar Ball gives much oxygen to. If something isn’t going the way he wants it to, the Big Baller goes on blast. Lonzo was struggling with his shot, aggressiveness and confidence, and in LaVar’s mind, that was because Lakers coach Luke Walton wasn’t coaching him the right way. LaVar didn’t have a direct line of communication to Walton, and lobbying Johnson and Pelinka behind the scenes hadn’t resulted in what he’d wanted, so he started criticizing Walton in radio and television interviews. After a few rounds of cringe-worthy headlines, Johnson and Pelinka called him in for a meeting in late November and asked him to tone down his criticisms or, at the very least, come to them first.

None of this is to suggest Lonzo Ball has wasted his shot with the Lakers or is no longer essential to their future. He is. But in the span of a month, he went from the center of the universe to one of several planets in the solar system. His father, meanwhile, might as well be in another galaxy, spending most of his time in Lithuania, where his two younger sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, are playing professionally, hosting awards shows, hawking Big Baller Brand water and comically threatening that Lonzo won’t re-sign with the Lakers if they don’t add his younger brothers to the team. “No reaction,” Lonzo said of his father’s threat. “I always just play. He always talks. It’s always been the same way.”

Although it can be hard to remember now, with LaVar making threats from across the globe, the Lakers always wanted to be supportive of the Ball family’s business. Some in the front office even enjoyed the hoopla that LaVar was so adept at creating for himself, his boys and the family brand. This is Hollywood, after all. “I got a special relationship with LaVar,” Johnson says. “I think he understands … I just want the best for him. For his son. I told him, ‘I’ve been down this road that your son is about to go down, so you got the best person sitting here. So what I need you to do is just worry about the business side. Let me take care of the basketball side.'”

Before the deadline, the entire future of the Cavs was latched to LeBron James’ 2018 free-agency decision. The moves they made, though, allow them to stay afloat as a franchise no matter what James does — and that could make James more likely to stay. “I would have said it was a 50-50 proposition that he would go back to Cleveland this summer before all of this, even a week ago,” one league executive told Sporting News. “I think this moves it more in the Cavs’ favor. They’re younger and deeper. If the lifestyle is all the same to him, and I don’t know that it is, I’d think he would stay in Cleveland.

Is it safe to assume, though, that he wouldn’t be coming to town if there wasn’t a certain level of comfort with the opportunity? You guys could have forced a buyout and looked at other options. Aaron Goodwin: Once he spoke to (Lakers president of basketball operations) Magic (Johnson) and (general manager) Rob (Pelinka), he was ecstatic about the opportunity. It’s clear that he’ll get a chance to play, and play up-tempo like he has played throughout his career. And that’s all we can ask for. That was our biggest concern.

Kyle Kuzma was on one of his scorching hot runs, draining 3-pointers from all over the court and staring down a superstar scorer in the second half of a tight game. This time, Kuzma was locked in a fourth-quarter duel with Kyrie Irving and the rookie didn’t blink, scoring more than any Laker has in the fourth this season with 17 points and even recalling Showtime with a no-look behind-the-back beauty to Larry Nance Jr. for a dunk that sent Staples into a frenzy. “I just felt like every time I touched it, just trying to score and get in a good rhythm, they went in,” said Kuzma, who also had fun going at it with Irving. “… We were talking a little bit. He’s a great competitor. I like playing against guys like that. Good chirping.”

The Lakers want [Kyle Kuzma] to play better defense and become more of a playmaker who creates opportunities for teammates when defenses are focused on stopping him. They want to see Kuzma do some Lonzo Ball-like things. Proving that he will stay on Kuzma about this, Walton benched the rookie for most of the second half in the Lakers’ previous win over the Knicks because of defense, despite Kuzma scoring 15 points in 10 minutes. Kuzma made 6-of-8 shots but did not register a rebound, assist, steal or block in his 10:27 on the floor. “The past 10, 12 games, I’ve done a pretty good job of really facilitating,” Kuzma said. “Getting teammates into makes. Not really having nights where I have 20 points, zero assists. Just trying to find guys it’s been helping.”

The Lakers know they will have to live with Kyle Kuzma’s shot selection, which sometimes can feel like the aggressive and confident rookie is throwing up a heat check when he’s not on fire yet. But Luke Walton loves seeing Kuzma creating for teammates on drives, drawing the defense in and trying to make plays like that offensive board. “Yeah it is a fine line with Kuz because we need his scoring and we need his gunslinger mentality, but with that comes some bad shots,” Walton said. “So we show him all of his shots and we talk about good ones versus bad ones. “What I thought he did a really nice job of tonight is being a playmaker when he gets going. That really demoralizes a defense. When he drives and they come to double him and he throws a pass to Larry for a dunk, that is really winning basketball right there. So it is a going to be a constant learning curve.”

Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, they couldn’t end 2017 with a win, despite their best efforts. They fell in double overtime to the Houston Rockets, 148-142, but Julius Randle had his best game of the season in his second start. Randle finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. He was the first Laker to put up such numbers since Shaquille O’Neal back in 2004. Following the loss, Randle spoke about what led to his big night, of which he had a simple explanation, via Spectrum SportsNet: “Just aggressive. Mentally locked in. Attacking as soon as I got it to start the game. Just mentally trying to be prepared. Like I have been all year.”

So instead, Draymond Green narrowed his eyes on Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, the team’s No. 17 that has caught league-wide attention for his offensive and defensive versatility, rise up the Lakers’ depth chart and his 38-point performance in Wednesday’s win over the Houston Rockets. Green, who grew up in Saginaw, Mich., monitored Kuzma’s three seasons at the University of Utah after growing up in Flint, Mich. “When you looked at Kuz even before in college you’d see stretches where it’s like ‘Oh man, this kid is good, he’s skilled and he’s talented.’ Then you’d see some stretches where it looked like he wasn’t interested at all, which is why he was the 27th pick and not a top-10 pick,” Green said following morning shootaround on Friday. “A lot of people are beating themselves up in the head now. But even you looked at it, you can’t be like ‘Oh man, this kid is a top-10 pick.’ Sometimes this kid didn’t look interested.”

Around the NBA, there is an almost affectionate esteem for Ball’s approach to basketball; he is a 20-year-old whose primary motivation in life is to find chances for teammates to score. But when insiders are asked whether Ball can meet the Lakers’ expectations, their praise pivots to a series of disclaimers. Should Ball never evolve into a prolific scorer, he would have to transform into a species that’s nearly extinct — the score-last All-Star who relies on vision over pyrotechnics. Ball isn’t a pure shooter, nor is he the type of explosive pick-and-roll point guard that’s ascendant in today’s NBA.

“There’s this learning process you go through — when he likes to throw it, where he likes to throw it,” says Lakers center Lopez. “He’ll get the rebound, catch, turn and just fire — all in one motion. You very, very rarely see that kind of vision and anticipation. I can’t state that enough. It’s such a sublime talent at that age.” According to Second Spectrum, Ball ranks first in the NBA in pass-aheads — passes that travel at least 30 feet downcourt. And the average time Ball keeps the ball beyond the half-court line is 2.11 seconds, the fastest in the league among starting point guards. Those are auspicious numbers if you’re building a system, as Walton aspires to do, that incorporates principles that have defined the offenses of the Warriors and Spurs.

Former Clippers point guard and two-time NBA All-Star Baron Davis joined The Breakfast Club Friday, and said that the Lakers have the potential to be great with Lonzo Ball leading the team. “I like Lonzo Ball. I’ll say this, he don’t say nothing, you know what I mean. Whatever he say, he sticks to whatever he say. He ain’t his daddy. He ain’t out here talking like his daddy. He’s out here playing basketball, trying to win, playing good. [He’s] playing great for a rookie playing for the Lakers with this much attention and pressure. He handles it all well. I think he’s going to be great.

So there’s so much noise about LaVar, and all the questions about how you guys see that situation, that I think an honest perspective internally on how you see that situation might have some value to it. How do you see that? Is it something that you have to handle? (Editor’s note: While Pelinka didn’t share it at the time, it was later revealed that he and president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, met with LaVar just two days prior to discuss the importance of keeping a positive discourse). Rob Pelinka: “Yeah, I think. I told you at the beginning (of our conversation) that I’m grateful that I have a context because I had a basketball Dad, and every basketball Dad thinks their son is a hundred times better than the best player to ever play the game. That’s just the nature of being a parent. And now, we live in an age where there’s microphones and phone cameras everywhere and so stuff gets shared, which is different than when you played basketball or I played basketball. It’s just the reality of it, but I think it gave me a sense of understanding in who he is and then Magic and I have worked hard to develop a relationship with him and (his wife) Tina, who is making her way back (from a stroke). But in terms of our vision, and the work we have to do to move the Lakers forward, it isn’t really affected by any of that.”

But Pelinka, who represented Kobe for 18 of his 20 years in the NBA and also had former Lakers Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza as clients, was also someone she knew and trusted. What’s more, the fact he didn’t work for an NBA team meant Jeanie could recruit him without seeking the kind of formal permission that would have tipped off Jim Buss and Kupchak to her plan. “We were having lunch one day, just casually – and she (says), ‘Well, Magic is amazing at casting the vision, and big picture stuff, but I need a cap expert; I need someone who understands the business of the NBA, someone who can implement his vision,’ and she was like, ‘Someone like you, Rob,’” Pelinka remembered. “From there, it was just like a light bulb went on for everybody and it just unfolded.”

Turns out Billups isn’t the only one who has had that thought. Corey Brewer, the veteran Lakers forward who is close friends with Martin, passed along Ball’s phone number in hopes that the two might connect. But the ever-polite Martin — who was reluctant to be interviewed as he would like to keep a respectful distance given the daily hoopla Ball already endures — said he wouldn’t dare impose himself on Ball in the middle of his rookie campaign. “It’s not something you want to mess with during the season,” Martin said. “Sit down after the season and evaluate everything. Guys don’t want to hear it right now, every little thing that everybody else is saying. There could be a right time later on.”

“Lonzo’s shot is exactly how mine was through my freshman year of college — exactly,” Martin said. “The N.B.A. is a faster game, so I knew I had to tweak it just a little. Just moving the ball to the right a little bit, away from my face on the release, helped tremendously.” Combined with the Kings’ subsequent input, which included counsel from the likes of Rick Adelman and the storied former Princeton Coach Pete Carril, Martin went on to shoot 40 percent or better from 3-point range in three seasons and averaged at least 20 points per game for five successive N.B.A. campaigns at his peak.

For most of us, LaVar Ball is easy to tune out even when he’s impossible to turn off. But for his son, Lonzo, the nonstop hype has created a target that has made it unreasonable to develop on a realistic timeline. “He has the potential to be a really good player. But I feel like his dad is putting too much pressure on him. That’s why whoever plays against him just wants to kill him, just wants to beat him on that court, just because his dad is talking all that crazy stuff,” Knicks center Enes Kanter told the Daily News. “If he leaves him alone, I think it’s going to better for the kid because it’s not going to be that much pressure. That’s why I feel like he just needs to leave him alone and play his game.”

“I think my situation was different,” said Porzingis, whose brother is a representative of the agency that handles him. “It was just the wrong timing for what my brother said. But I stand behind what he says. “And yeah for [Ball], it’s maybe a little different,” Porzingis said. “He has all this attention, and I don’t know if he wants it that much. But it’s hard to be in his skin. It’s hard to imagine being in his skin. He has great talent, and I think as he gets more comfortable in the league, he will be just fine.”

How much does it help having Coach Walton for a second year in a row? And now that you’ve had experience with him and his system, how is your chemistry? Brandon Ingram: Chemistry-wise, we’re really good. Everybody gets along. Me and Coach Walton have a really good relationship. I can always go to him, even to talk about things that I don’t like. We’ve developed a relationship where we can always talk about the different things that we’re seeing on the floor. We discuss how we can get better [as a team] and how I can get better individually.

There are few things Brook Lopez cherishes more than his cat Poupin. With the Skirball Fire threatening his Bel Air Crest neighborhood and Lopez needing to leave home for four games on the road this week, he was not about to leave his beloved feline behind. Lopez loaded Poupin, a 10-year-old Maine coon mix with an Instagram account, into his carrier and loaded him into the car, hired through a limousine service. Little did the driver know that his responsibilities would not be limited to delivering Lopez to the Lakers team plane. Poupin needed to go to Fresno, where he could stay with Lopez’s mother and be out of harm’s way. “I had a car service for my cat,” Lopez said.

The Laker rebulding program dates to 2014 when they got Randle at No. 7, followed by three No. 2s, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball… leaving them far behind Minnesota which got Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and Philadelphia with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. No, the problem wasn’t Jim Buss, a figurehead… It wasn’t GM Mitch Kupchak, who was mostly, if not always, on the money with picks like Randle, Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance. The first rule is: Get lucky. The Lakers did, drawing those three No. 2s… just not enough to have a transcendent player there for them, as Towns was for the T-Wolves at No. 1 in 2015, or Embiid was for the Sixers at No. 3 in 2014 after hurting his foot before the draft.

Lonzo Ball has been the Lakers’ starting point guard from Day 1, and even as he’s worked through some early kinks in his game, the Lakers haven’t considered changing that. “The benefit is he gets the game experience,” Coach Luke Walton said this week. “Whether it’s close games, it’s blowouts, it’s playing against top elite point guards that do different things. John Wall, as good as it gets at getting to the rim, a [Russell] Westbrook, a Steph Curry. So he gets all that in-game experience on the go and gets to learn from it all.”

When Larry Nance Jr. comes back after breaking his left hand, Lakers coach Luke Walton expects to return him to the starting lineup. “I think our rebounding’s gone down,” Walton said. “Just the versatility at that four spot, the way we like to play, him being able to defend multiple positions. Obviously he’s got some years in the league. For a young team that’s pretty valuable. Larry’s great at doing all the little things that help teams win that don’t get a lot of credit. And he’s got the ability and the skill to do the fancy things too.”

“Obviously, being one of our own guys, I tune in and check him out,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of following how Russell is doing. “He’s been playing great. I’m happy for him. He’s shooting the ball well. Putting up big numbers. And they’re having some success right now.” Ball, meanwhile, is averaging 10 points, 7.7 assists, 7.5 rebounds and 31.1 percent shooting. Lopez, whom the Lakers were thrilled to get in hopes of having a stretch center to spread the floor and play pick-and-pops with Ball, is averaging 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 26.9 percent shooting from 3-point range.

LeBron James’ business partner Maverick Carter said James — in the final year of his deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers — won’t start thinking about his next career step until about a week after the NBA season comes to an end. And when that time comes, location won’t play much of a role. “These days it doesn’t matter anymore,” Carter said during an interview on The Rich Eisen Show early Wednesday morning when asked specifically about the importance of where James plays. “The Lakers and the Knicks have been bad. The Knicks for a very long time and the Lakers since Kobe (Bryant) kind of aged out of being the best player or one of the best players in the league and basketball is doing as great as ever with teams in Oklahoma City and Cleveland. These days it doesn’t matter because you can be known and be a star from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t actually matter.

So if James, who owns a house in Los Angeles, wants to go in that direction when his NBA career starts winding down, doesn’t playing there make perfect sense? “I understand people keep saying that and thinking that. But the reason it doesn’t make sense is because if he does play in L.A. or he plays on the moon he can only shoot movies for three months,” Carter said. “It doesn’t matter. Even if he played in L.A. and wanted to be in a movie, he can’t shoot from basically September to June.

LaVar Ball fired back at Patrick Beverley after the LA Clippers guard shouted an obscenity as he walked into the locker room that was presumed to be about Lonzo Ball. After the Clippers routed the Los Angeles Lakers 108-92 and held Ball to three points, four assists and nine rebounds in his debut, Beverley was heard screaming, “weak ass m—–f—–. Bring him out on the court with me and I will tear his ass up,” as he walked off the court and into the locker room. “Yeah, you shut the m—–f—– down,” LaVar Ball told ESPN after the game. “And your check still ain’t going to go no higher than what it is. Yeah, you shut him down. OK … Who is Patrick Beverley? He played all last year and nobody said nothing about him. Now we are looking at your first game. Why? Because Lonzo’s name is attached to it.

But other veterans around the league, such as a fellow slender No. 2 overall pick Kevin Durant — a player with whom Brandon Ingram was compared before the draft — have also passed along some wisdom. “[Durant] is always sending me motivational things. Though some things may need to be censored,” Ingram told Yahoo Sports. “He sees a lot in me. He actually told me to block out everything and be the killer that I am. To get a lot of guys around this league that see what I can be, it does nothing but make me want to work harder.”

Being basketball means he knows talent when he sees it. So I’m curious: What is it really like to raise a child prodigy? “It’s really the joy of the game,” Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant told me on Scoop B Radio. “I think as a parent, you figure he could play as long as he wants, as long as he enjoys the game. I think he made some comments about mentally…he’s fine. He likes the challenge. It’s your body. Your body takes you long to recuperate. That’s the challenge.”

“As a fan, just watching him play and putting up all those points and playing at such a high level at such a great organization like the Lakers. I think that’s probably one of the important things,” he told me. The fundamentals and doing things the right way is what Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant respects about his son. “These kids come out of school and they worry about being a number one pick, number two pick, I think it’s more important that you get with the right organization and Kobe was able to do that and as you see, playing with one organization is really something special.”

He will be the anchor in turning this thing around or not. The Nets, front office, coaching staff and front office get how important he is. He is already the face of the Nets, despite their team-first mentality. And yes, players will want to play with him because he’s going to make them better (and a lot of money). He also gets that he needs to understand his role better than he did in L.A. “I think guys enjoyed playing with me,” Russell told Zach Lowe. “Now I’m going to make sure they do instead of not really taking it into consideration.

Ingram received a 76 rating in the game, which some believed was too low. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet, Ingram disagreed saying it could’ve been even lower considering the season he had last year: “I can’t control it, I know it’s just a game. Of course with the season I had this year I could’ve expected it even lower. I know what I’m capable of and a lot of guys, especially my fans, know what I’m capable of and that’s why they were mad at it, but it’s kind of based off how the season went this year.”

The Los Angeles Lakers know that point guard Lonzo Ball is good at basketball. It’s why they drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick this past June. But what might be more surprising to them and the rest of the NBA is Ball’s musical talent. The 19-year-old graced the airwaves with his debut rap single titled “Melo Ball 1” on Friday. And, no, the lyrical flow is not about New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. Rather, the two-minute song is a tribute to his younger brother, LaMelo, who just became the first high school player to have his own signature shoe. Released by the Big Baller Brand, LaMelo’s kicks are called the “Melo Ball 1s.”

While Kuzma talks, Lakers President Magic Johnson drains a series of mid-range jumpers at the other end of the gym. The 58-year-old then stops to hold court as a group of about 10 basketball operations staffers form a semicircle to hear a tale from his legendary playing career. And Kuzma — a self-described “basketball junkie” — pauses to listen to what the Hall of Famer has to say. “For me to be a Laker and work beside him is an unbelievable feeling and pretty surreal because he’s one of the greatest.”

During halftime at The Lakers game on November 6, 2016, UCLA Health and The Lakers honored six retired servicemen who received specialized medical, surgical and mental-health care through the UCLA Operation Mend program. Army corporal Pablo Mena, army specialist Joey Paulk, marine staff sergeant Octavio Sanchez, army rangers staff sergeant Oskar Zepeda, army sergeant Jason March, and navy petty officer Michael Lammey were honored on the court after meeting with coach Luke Walton and receiving a practice-facility tour.

Ask Luke Walton to cite something he’s been pleased with early in the season, and you might be surprised where he goes. He doesn’t point to Nick Young’s resurgence, Julius Randle’s emergence or Timofey Mozgov’s effective play. Not right away, anyway. No, the Lakers’ coach recalls Brandon Ingram’s final three minutes in Los Angeles’ win over Atlanta last week — minutes the rookie forward watched from the bench. Up three late in the fourth, Walton pulled Ingram for Young. When Young canned a game-clinching three-pointer minutes later, Walton smiled watching Ingram leap off the bench and holler at his teammate. “When I took him out, you could see it in his face, he wanted to be out there,” Walton told The Vertical. “But he was right there, cheering for Nick. I think it’s good. Supporting your teammates late in games gives you perspective for what it’s like to be out there on the court.”

“A lot of ideas and philosophies come from Golden State,” Walton said. “And Steve took a lot of things from Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] in San Antonio. All the spacing and cutting, that came from Phil’s influence on Steve and I. Now, we can’t play like Golden State because no one else has the shooters they have. But we can still play an up-tempo style. Everyone is getting opportunities because we are sharing the ball. We have a deep team. We want to attack for 48 minutes.”

SLAM: Jordan Clarkson recently said that aside from himself, you, Larry Nance Jr, Roy Hibbert and Anthony Brown were the top Call of Duty players on the team last year. Is anyone else nice at COD? D’Angelo Russell: I honestly don’t know. We got a lot of vets on our team so I’m not sure if they even know what Call of Duty is, but I would say that’s about it. Maybe Julius [Randle]. He’s a fan and is good at it. SLAM: If you could pick one or two other players and form a squad, would you guys come out with the W against one of these top teams participating in the Call of Duty Championships? D’Angelo Russell: Oh yeah, I’d get my boy Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns and we’d be successful.

That drive led him to Wednesday’s free agent minicamp at the Lakers’ practice facility, where General Manager Mitch Kupchak labeled him as “one of the players that we did want to take a look at.” The Lakers only have so many spots left to fill for their 20-man training camp roster, and space for Henry is far from guaranteed. But it is nonetheless a major step for a player whose career could have very well been over. “I’ve been doing a lot of workouts this summer with a lot of different teams and getting feedback and seeing how I feel,” he said. “I’ve been feeling really good. I’m feeling blessed that I can even play basketball again.”

Three of those present at the Lakers’ practice facility — Jeff Ayres, P.J. Hairston and Johnny O’Bryant — played in the NBA just last season. Three more — Xavier Henry, Orlando Johnson and Travis Wear — also have experience in the world’s top league. Still, Kupchak cautioned that the team isn’t looking for a roster-shaking player with this one-day camp. “I don’t think we’re looking at players here that would be in the rotation, although you never know,” Kupchak said. “They come to camp and earn whatever they can get. But what I think we’re looking at here are known players. They’re free agents and we do have roster spots open in terms of our team. But also we have roster spots open in terms of training camp.”

Henry credited Santa Cruz’s training and coaching staffs with assisting his rehab and never letting him get too down on himself. In spite of this, it was still a far-from-perfect path for Henry, who only played nine games for the team. Nonetheless, his dedication to grinding his way back to the court was noticed from afar by his former general manager. “I think it’s a testament to a great kid,” Kupchak said. “That’s nothing new to us. We know the kid and we know what kind of heart he has. He’s had several different types of injuries and he’s worked his way through it. He’s still young enough to make a run at the NBA and playing basketball professionally, so we wish him the best.”

Q: I know you love the city and LA atmosphere, but you guys are still a young and developing team. With that usually comes a lot of losses and learning through mistakes. What went into your free agency decision of not wanting to look at other options? Jordan Clarkson: It really didn’t have much to do with the city and the lifestyle, even though it is a plus. I’m a big believer in the process, the struggle, and finding that light at the end of it all. I wanted to be a part of these tough times, so when we turn it around here it’s going to be a great feeling. That will be something we will always remember and will be amazing once we do.

Are you talking with teams right now? Metta World Peace: I’m waiting for teams. I can still play. I can play, it’s not even a question man. But, you know, sometimes you don’t get in the game, man. What are you going to do? I’m not going to be upset, I’m going to support. So if I don’t play, like this year on the Lakers I could have averaged 15 or 20 on the Lakers if I played, easily. But you know, I’ll be supportive [if I don’t play]. But the only thing that gets me frustrated with the whole basketball is people think I can’t play anymore. So as a man, I take that personally. But at the same time I’m able to still focus on making sure Julius Randle is doing his thing, and he’s focused, making sure I can give back. But when the season’s over, then I like to explain that I can play, and I can bust people’s ass. But the fans have to understand, it’s not up to me. It’s so frustrating to keep hearing it from the fans. ‘Come back to New York, come to Chicago. Why didn’t you play.’ It’s so frustrating at times.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: For me there are a lot of very good players in the NBA that “say” that they work hard but they don’t show it. I mean, everyone can come to you and tell you to work hard, right ? I remember in that meeting, when Kobe was talking he said to me, “My friend, when i was working i was working for 8 hours each day, I was shooting a thousand shots per day.” When i was hearing him saying those words, looking into my eyes I knew that he did those things, I knew it immediately .You could feel that wasn’t him saying bullshit just to impress you. He pointed out also how important a summer is for a player. He said in the summer I need to work as hard as possible and be as exhausted as possible and get used to it , so when I am playing during the regular season the exhaustion wouldn’t be visible.