Through Purple and Gold Frames

Lakers Hype

As a Lakers fan, you must be pumped about the LeBron news. Do you see a renewed L.A.-Boston rivalry, considering LeBron’s rocky relationship with Kyrie Irving? Ice Cube: A little bit, yeah. I think the Lakers have a lot of work to do to get to where the Celtics seem like they’re already at. I think it’s going to be cool just because Kyrie vs. LeBron is always going to bring some attention nowadays. It’s great because both of those great players are on storied franchises, so that’s going to be good. But until the Lakers get into playoff contention, contending for a title like the Celtics are, then it’s going to be like “Come on, hurry up to the party.” The Lakers have some work to do.

How tough was it not to hear your name called on Draft night? Joel Berry II: It was pretty tough. It’s always a dream to hear your name get called, but honestly, I’ve always taken the path where I was always overlooked and my game is not the flashiest – I just win – and that speaks more than being a flashy player. I necessarily don’t get looked at like other guys. It hurt for a little bit, but then I realized that’s the path that I’ve always taken and that’s what’s gotten me to where I’m at today. This is why I work so hard. I realized the path I had to take to get to where I want to be.

As an incoming rookie, what are some personal goals you’ve set for yourself as you begin your NBA journey? Joel Berry II: I’ve set high goals for myself. My first plan is just to make the official roster. But having to take the path I’m taking – being undrafted and having to do a lot of pre-draft workouts – getting a chance with the Lakers was the first goal of mine. So now it’s taking it step by step, making the roster and once I get on the roster, I want to be able to contribute and play. My goal is not just to make it to the NBA, but be somebody one day. That’s what I’m striving for. I’m going to set high goals for myself and I want to be in the talks of winning Rookie of the Year. I know that’s a long way and I have to do a lot, but those are the goals I want to set for myself.

James spoke for the first time with the media on Monday during the opening of his ‘I Promise’ public school in Akron, Ohio. In an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, James said that he wasn’t at all disappointed yb George’s decision to remain in Oklahoma. “I didn’t have many conversations with Paul, and I think Paul did what was best for him,” James told Nichols. “And I think that’s what everybody should do as players, they should do what’s best for them and their family. You shouldn’t get too pressured by anybody. If there’s somebody they want to play with, and they have the opportunity to do it, then go for it. I think we all see that he made the best decision for himself and his family.”

A few weeks later, on Sunday afternoon via his Uninterrupted platform, LeBron made his first public comments about his imminent donning of purple and gold. “You look at the Lakers,” he said. “Being able to play for a historic franchise with so much history, and now being able to partner with Magic Johnson, someone I kinda like looked up to when I was younger and wanted to make no look passes like Magic, wanted to get on the break and be Showtime like Magic and then for it to all come to fruition at this point…”

But while there was a unified front — sentimental yet appreciative — between the fans and the Cavs’ key decision-makers when it came to processing James’ plans, the rest of the league had mixed reactions to the news. Those reactions — culled from more than two dozen players, coaches, executives and agents contacted by ESPN — weren’t always as sunny as the Southern California locale James is embarking for. “He wanted to come to L.A.,” one Western Conference player said. “They just had to not f— it up. Jerry West just said it, and I was like, ‘Finally.’ He’s not coming to the Lakers. He came to L.A.”

West, now an advisor for the LA Clippers, told Sports Illustrated that, “LeBron was not a tough free-agent signing.” While the player’s swipe — like West’s — was aimed more at the Lakers than at James, the four-time MVP also had his motives for the move questioned. “My thought was, ‘Good luck. You must really want to live in L.A.'” one prominent agent said. “Playing Western Conference teams night in and night out is not going to be the same. You don’t get a ‘night off.’ I would not want to end my career just making the playoffs.”

When it comes to trainers, Dallas Mavericks head athletic trainer Casey Smith is arguably the LeBron James of NBA trainers. Smith is so highly sought after that he’s been on the training staffs of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team for the Pan American Games in 2003, the World Championships in 2006 and ’10, and the Olympics in ’08 and ’12. That means, on a daily basis, he’s constantly dealing with the world’s best players while helping them stay physically fit. “He’s the best of the best, in my opinion,” Mavs assistant coach Jamahl Mosley said. “I’m not taking anything away from anyone else, but I just love how he approaches all of it.”

Mo Evans: “It’s crazy that you asked what I remember, because recently I was looking at the stat sheet somewhere in some old little folder, a little scrapbook. Seeing how he played, seeing that I had 14 points or something like that [he had 10], it was fun to look back. Because does it matter who won or lost? Being in on that experience and not even realizing that it was the beginning of history in the making.” LeBron James: “We didn’t win as much as I wanted to. I remember that.”

AJ Guyton, Spurs guard: “I don’t know anything about LeBron James being in that summer league. I really don’t. I don’t remember! I can’t believe I missed it! I’m pissed!” Fifteen years later, the league itself is missed by those who were there. No one knew it then, but that would be its last summer in Boston. It was put on hiatus in 2004 because of the complicated logistics of having the Democratic National Convention in the city at the same time. The hiatus never ended.

Also participating in the game will be NBA assistant coaches Bill Bayno (Indiana Pacers), Harold Ellis (New York Knicks), Adrian Griffin (Raptors), Mark Hughes (Clippers), B.J. Johnson (Houston Rockets), Patrick Mutombo (Raptors; Democratic Republic of the Congo) and David Vanterpool (Trail Blazers), Raptors President Masai Ujiri (Nigeria), Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka, Magic Director of Player Development and Quality Control Becky Bonner, Magic scout Prosper Karangwa (Rwanda), athletic trainers Will Sevening (Spurs) and Stanford Williams (Phoenix Suns), as well as NBA referees Tony Brothers and Derrick Stafford.

I talked to several NBA people who are familiar with the Cavaliers (and don’t work for them), and virtually all of them said the team was smart to sign Kevin Love to an extension that means his contract is now $145 million for five years. All of them mentioned how it’s hard to attract free agents to Cleveland. Or as one executive said to me, “Let’s make that free agents who didn’t grow up in Akron,” meaning LeBron James. While James has played more games than any player in franchise history and spent 11-of-15 seasons here, he also has left twice.

George said he privately decided to return to the Thunder several weeks before free agency began on July 1. He also acknowledged having an expectation that NBA star LeBron James would sign with the Lakers as a free agent. So why didn’t George give the Lakers a meeting in free agency? “It was absolutely tempting,” George said. “Honestly, I wanted to come back home. But again, I got traded to Oklahoma. Loved the situation. Loved where I was at. I decided to stick around a little longer. …

Speaking at USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas on Thursday, George said he fell in love with Oklahoma in his first season with the Thunder. “When I told the Pacers I wanted to play [in Los Angeles], that was true feelings,” said George in a Sports Illustrated piece by Ben Golliver, who grew up about an hour and a half northeast of L.A. in Palmdale, Calif. “I wanted to come back home. To play for home, to put that jersey on for family and for what I grew up watching. I wanted to carry that legacy. But I went to Oklahoma, fell in love with it and I’m happy with the decision.”

His statements about both teams echoed some of what he said in the ESPN document “Paul George: My Journey” in early July. “My feelings for the Lakers are the same. I love the organization, I love the history, I love the legacy,” George said. “But being around Sam, being around Russ, being around [coach] Billy [Donovan], Dre [Andre Roberson], Steven [Adams], I gained a brotherhood. [Giving that group only] one year just didn’t sit well with me. I went to war, I went to battle, we made the playoffs, we were in the hunt, and we stuck together all year long. You never heard of any turmoil, no matter how we played, in the locker room. We built a real brotherhood there and I didn’t want to walk away from that.”

With LeBron James now with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics are considered among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference entering the season. “Nothing but excited to lead that group. I mean, we haven’t started [yet, so] everyone is zero-zero right now. … The most important thing right now is finding our cohesion,” Irving said, pointing out that he and Hayward basically haven’t played together in a game yet. So finding that [cohesion] is going to be a process, which I am looking forward to doing with Danny [Ainge], Brad [Stevens], everybody.”

Anthony Davis on ESPN, asked whether the Pelicans checked with him on their handling of Cousins: “They did. There’s a lot of different stories out there, but for me, there’s nothing we can do about it now. I just move forward and try to worry about the team that we have now. You can’t dwell on whether they should’ve came back or Rondo, whoever it is. You’ve just got to move forward with the team I have now and try to find a way to make the playoffs as well and make some noise. Of course it was tough, but at the same time, I’m past it. Like I said, there’s nothing we can do about it. The team kept me in the loop. Whatever happened on their end happened on both sides. And now we’re here. So, like I said, we just have to move forward and try to figure out how we can be successful with the team we’ve got now.”

In a promo for the show, LeBron James said that he regrets giving his son, LeBron James Jr., his name. “I still regret giving my 14-year-old (LeBron James Jr. turns 14 in a few months) my name because of that,” James said in response to a question from former Daily Show host Jon Stewart about his son having to live up to his name. “When I was younger, I didn’t have a dad, so my whole thing was when I have a kid, not only is he gonna be a junior, I’m gonna do everything that this man didn’t do. They’re gonna experience things that I didn’t experience. The only thing I can do is give them the blueprint, and it’s up to them to take their own course whenever that time comes.”

Michael Beasley defended the array of personalities the Los Angeles Lakershave added around LeBron James this offseason and said Monday that he doesn’t like the idea of people judging them on their personas or reputations. “I think it is going to come together like a basketball team,” Beasley said on a conference call when asked how he thinks the Lakers will mesh with the new additions. “You got [14] guys other than LeBron James that know how to play basketball, and I think you got 29 teams that [are] overlooking the fact that they know how to play basketball.”

Hart, who exploded for 37 points against Cleveland and averaged 22.4 PPG while leading LA to a 6-1 Summer League record, wasn’t in the mood to discuss his MVP after the blowout loss, even though Lakers president Magic Johnson suggested the second-year guard could compete for a starting spot in the fall. “It was cool,” Hart said of winning tournament MVP. “I’ll talk more about that later down the line. We came in and missed shots and we fell in the hole and we couldn’t find a rhythm. After this horrible game today, I can’t wait to get back to training camp and wash this taste out of my mouth. That time can’t come soon enough.”

The Lakers were already high on Hart’s defensive and rebounding abilities, but Hart feels he has shown some of the other things he has worked hard on this offseason with assistant coach Miles Simon. “Probably my handle,” Hart said by telephone when asked what he feels he has put on display this summer. “My ability to shoot off the dribble. Those are the two main things that I have really been working on the last several months. Hopefully guys see that and say, ‘Oh man, JHart is really working.'”

Talking with TMZ, Nike Vice President of Innovation Tinker Hatfield confirmed that there’s buzz about [LeBron James’] move at Nike and seemed particularly excited about the new storytelling opportunities it provides. “I think we’re all excited about the fact that LeBron is really still interested in winning more championships,” said Hatfield. “He’s coming to LA to do that. We’re all excited to participate. If we can help him do that by, first of all, designing a product that helps him play at his highest level, that’s job one. Job two, of course, is how can we leverage his personality moving to LA and kind of build a nice story around that. And then, of course, from that, style can be unique and interesting and it can be what I would call a groundbreaking kind of product.”

“I was in the Hamptons and I was sitting next to a couple really good friends, and I just looked down at my phone and said ‘Oh, Bron just signed a $154 million contract with the Lakers,’” Love said. “I said ‘Ok, gotta make a few calls,’ so I stepped out and that was that. Texted him later that night, told him I loved him, told him I appreciated him and good luck.” Who knows? Perhaps down the road, James and Love will be teammates again. The Lakers could use some shooting, you know.

“I was in the Hamptons and I was sitting next to a couple really good friends, and I just looked down at my phone and said ‘Oh, Bron just signed a $154 million contract with the Lakers,’” Love said. “I said ‘Ok, gotta make a few calls,’ so I stepped out and that was that. Texted him later that night, told him I loved him, told him I appreciated him and good luck.” Who knows? Perhaps down the road, James and Love will be teammates again. The Lakers could use some shooting, you know.

Luke Walton on the Lonzo Ball-Rajon Rondo dynamic: “I think it will be great. I know Rondo and I know Zo, and they’re both very competitive people. To me, that’s how you get the most growth and how you get a team that can reach its full potential – when you have people going at each other and pushing each other in practice. They key is to make a culture where they go at each other, but they also have a brotherhood within the locker room so as soon as they’re not competing in practice, [they’re part of] that family atmosphere where they’re pulling for one another in the games and learning from one another and teaching each other.”

Lonzo Ball believes his brother, LiAngelo Ball, will be drafted in the NBA Draft later this month. LiAngelo recently worked out for the Lakers in a pre-draft workout with other prospects. “I thought he did pretty well,” said Lonzo, who was with his brothers and father at the Big Baller Brand Junior Basketball Association media day on Monday. “I have high hopes for him. I think he is definitely going to get drafted. I definitely would love to play with him, love to have him [with the Lakers].”

A little over a week ago, Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes saw first-hand how much fans in China love the National Basketball Association. Barnes was in China to celebrate the NBA Finals with Chinese fans and to help support the continued growth of basketball in China. The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyler Kuzma and former San Antonio Spurs superstar David Robinson joined Barnes in spreading some NBA cheer in China. […] “It was pretty cool to kind of see where the game is in different countries and the excitement and the passion,” Barnes said. “That was pretty cool to watch that”

It won’t bother James to be in Houston rather than a glamor capitol like Los Angeles. If the best players usually want the brightest lights and the biggest stage, Bron is 180 degrees different. It has always a personal conceit that wherever he is is a marquee market. He wasn’t even 21 as a young NBA player when he began convening an annual marketing conference—in his home town of Akron, not even nearby Cleveland—obliging his sponsors to show up there. It’s true that LeBron owns two pricey homes in Brentwood, suggesting that he is, indeed, thinking about the Lakers… but that may mean little in the end. “These days it doesn’t matter because you can be known and be a star from anywhere-–anywhere in the world,” Maverick Carter, Bron’s point man, recently told syndicated talk show host Rich Eisn. “I mean, could he sell a few more sneakers if he was in a gigantic market like Boston, Chicago, New York, or L.A.? Maybe. But not as much as if he wins. What matters the most is if he wins. When you win as an athlete, that matters the most.”

LaVar, who recently spoke with HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy, is concerned about his son’s injuries. However, he seems to blame the Lakers’ head trainer Gunnar Peterson for the issues that arose throughout Lonzo’s rookie season. “My expectation for Lonzo is for him to be twice as good as he was this year, and to be more healthy,” LaVar told HoopsHype. “He understands, he went through it. If you’re going to be doing those rubber-bands like that dude Gunnar has him doing, that bullsh*t training. That’s what I call it. Sh*t, he wasn’t like that when I brought him over there. When he first came , he never got hurt. He was never hurt.”

After one season, LaVar was far from impressed with his son’s training regimen in the NBA. “Now, you’ve got these guys talking about, ‘Well, I’ve got this special workout for Lonzo…’ No! Lonzo’s gotta lift that pig iron, that real iron, and he’s gotta run some hills. That’s stuff they don’t have him doing,” LaVar said. “Some of these guys try to act like they’re the best trainers in the world because they trained some people with some God-danged names. But me? I ain’t worried about the names. I want to see your production! You have all these players coming through. Well, why are they getting hurt?”

LiAngelo, 19, hopes to show the Lakers that he can not only play at the next level but that he will be a good fit alongside his brother, who earned second-team All-Rookie honors after averaging 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds in 52 games last season. “The Lakers are my priority, for sure,” LiAngelo said recently on the Marcellus and Travis show on ESPNLA radio. “I want to play with my brother. Ever since I played with Zo, we went undefeated. When we get older, we will get stronger, faster and a better feel for the game.” “I’m willing to play for other teams, but my priority is to play with my brother.”

Julius Randle on his impending restricted free agency: “I try to separate emotions from business. I know sometimes they go hand in hand, you spend four years in a place, it kind of goes hand in hand. But honestly, I’m just so focused on my craft and continuing to get better as a player. It’s an exciting time to be a [restricted] free agent, it’s an exciting time. Even more exciting for me is the ability to get better and build off this year. So I mean it might be an emotional time, I don’t know, I’ve never been through this process before but I’ll try to separate [business and emotion] and really just try and enjoy the process and things and educate myself. My team, my agent, everybody has done a great job of educating me on the whole thing and I feel prepared.”

Julius Randle on what he values as far as culture when he considers teams in free agency: “I just feel like culture is important. I feel like having an identity as a team of who you wanna be is really important. You look at the teams who are in the conference finals right now: Boston has an identity and a culture, Houston, Cleveland Golden State, those teams have a culture that makes them successful. I think a reason we had success was because we bought into the way we wanted to play every night with the Lakers. So I feel like identity, culture and direction are really important, and I feel like if you get all the players to buy into that, then everybody has success. Because then you know what you’re working for and how you fit into that.”

Julius Randle on the Lakers not negotiating an extension with him last summer in favor of holding onto their cap space: “I feel like I really had no choice but to separate it [his feelings from the business side of basketball]. I think the extension [had] to be done the day before the season, but I really didn’t have a choice. I had to focus on what I could control. I couldn’t control not getting that extension or whatever happened throughout the year with coming off the bench. I could just control what I could control. That’s just like my preparation, the work that I put in, my focus, my attention, my energy, you know, all those things I could control. I knew that I put in the work, so it was only a matter of time before everything would line up and I just feel like I’m in a better position anyway this summer than if I had worked out an extension last summer. So I guess it’s just funny how life works.”

Julius Randle on the locker-room dynamic in Los Angeles with the team prioritizing cap space over keeping the team together, and whether not it was weird: “Not weird, I thought it was, I felt like everybody thought it was funny, like it was jokes. Like constantly, nobody ever took any report or anything that was coming out being said seriously. We weren’t focused on it, because I think a part of being a player is you realize really quickly that you only have so much you can control. So you can’t control being in trade talks, you can’t control contract negotiations, you can only control that with your play. And everybody just bought into each other, tried to build something and win games.”

As for their experience, Johnson and Pelinka have enjoyed the process of developing relationships with players and the coaching staff. “For me it’s really just learning the players, understanding one through 15, one through 12, their mentality. Watching them in practice, how they practice, how they go about their job,” Johnson explained. “Just talking to them, also to getting a chance to know Luke and the coaching staff. We came in, we didn’t know anybody so we had to get to know everybody. For me, that was the biggest learning curve. Rob brought in knowledge of the (salary) cap and all of those type of things, so we had that covered.”

Despite inexperience in their respective positions, Jeanie hiring the tandem to lead the Lakers front office appeared to be a strong fit on paper, and it’s carried out in reality. “Magic has a keen ability to, just like when he played, in the heat of the battle, in the heat of the moment, he’s running the break and there’s five different options and he’s got to choose one,” Pelinka said. “I like to be the guy that’s bringing the five options to the table. There’s been a harmony and a beauty from the trades we’ve done to the roster decisions we’ve made, it’s been a real joy for me to work side-by-side with him.”

During a Sunday appearance on FOX Sports Radio’s “Chris and Caron,” Bryant cautioned against splitting up the club’s young core in favor of a more expedient return to title contention via free agency, with the likes of LeBron James and Paul George in L.A.’s crosshairs. “If you want to be a dynasty or a team that has longevity, those things take time, and generally are grown from within,” Bryant said (h/t Silver Screen and Roll’s Christian Rivas for the transcription). “You slap a couple All-Stars together, you can maybe win two of three, but eventually players get traded. But if you build a team organically, that dynasty team tends to stay together longer.”

A member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity at Howard University, Ted Cook loved Michael Jordan, a fellow Omega Psi Phi brother at North Carolina, and the Lakers, who wear Omega Psi Phi’s signature purple and gold. On school nights, when Quinn was in elementary and middle school, Ted often let his only son stay up past midnight to watch Lakers games on TV. “Ted was the coolest,” said Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, one of Quinn’s best childhood friends. “He was just one of those cool guys where everyone loved being around him, especially those young hoopers who were coming up in the area. If you ever needed anything, he was there for you.”

Kyle Kuzma’s trip to Atlanta is the gift that keeps on giving—especially as far as the Los Angeles Lakers Troll Wars are concerned. When asked who he would start, cut and bench for his squad in the popular multiplayer game “Fortnite,” Kuz chose fellow rookie Josh Hart for the first of those designations and saved the last two for Lonzo and LaMelo Ball. “I’m gonna cut Lonzo because he’s played with my little brother before and he’s told me that he’s terrible,” Kuzma said. “And Melo is the bench. I’m guessing Melo is second because he’s in Lithuania right now and there’s nothing else to do but video games.”

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.