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Laker GM rob Pelinka spelled it out last week, confirming reports that the surprising moves for Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo were Johnson’s choices, not LeBron’s. “Earvin and I had a conversation and LeBron echoed this sentiment,” said Pelinka. “I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. “No one is going to beat them at their own game so that’s why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth…" It won’t work. If the Lakers just came up with a counter-revolutionary adjustment that contains the shining emblem of an offensive revolution that was years of changing schemes and rules in the making, it will make all else in their storied history look like a bunt.
Of course, that didn't make it easier to fall back asleep the morning of July 1, as James made the choice that would either validate the Lakers' new course or send them back to the whiteboard. "I had friends in town and was hanging with them," Buss said. "But I must have been staring at my phone the entire time." Finally, a few minutes after 5 p.m., she got a one-word text from Paul: "Congratulations." "I'll never forget that moment as long as I live," she said. "This would make my dad really happy. This is something that he would want to accomplish."
James clearly trusts Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he ever trusted Gilbert. The four-year, $154 million deal he agreed to Sunday includes three guaranteed years. The fourth year is a player option, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The last time he gave Cleveland a three-year commitment was 12 years ago when he was coming off his rookie deal. He even gave the Miami Heat and Pat Riley four years guaranteed in 2010. Despite his willingness to spend, James never trusted Gilbert enough to give the Cavs the same lengthy commitment.
Tania Ganguli: Some non-free agency news. The Lakers are working to find a role for Kurt Rambis in their organization, likely in some sort of front office position or on the coaching staff.
Bill Oram: I think Magic Johnson just set a Jim Buss-esque timeline. He said there are great FA classes each of the next two summers. “If I fail,” he said, “I shouldn’t be in this position.”
Tania Ganguli: “If you’re judging us on one summer, that’s ridiculous,” Magic Johnson said. He adds that if he doesn’t get it done eventually, he’ll step down. “She won’t have to fire me,” he says of Jeanie Buss
Tania Ganguli: Jim Hill asks Magic if he expects the two draft picks to play right away. Magic says: "I better not speak for coach Walton. He handles the playing time. ... But I selected them to play."
Zach Lowe: BTW: the Lakers shouldn't care what anyone in a rival front office/coaching staff thinks of them. They're the Lakers -- one of the great orgs in the history of U.S. sports. They are in LA -- an amazing place. But there has been much eye-rolling in the last couple of weeks.
Bill Oram: Magic Johnson introducing draft picks Moe Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk. "We felt they could add to our team what we were missing," Johnson said.
Mike Trudell: Pelinka was asked about whether there's a sense of urgency heading into free agency: "I’ll feel a sense of urgency until we win a championship. We don’t compete to play games, we compete to win championships."
It​ began with​ an​ innocent and​ rather hopeless DM​ via Twitter. “Jeanie,​ any​ chance you’d talk to​ my Chapman journalism​​ class?” I sent it to Jeanie Buss roughly 2 1/2 years ago, when I was an adjunct professor at the Orange, Calif.-based university, charged with teaching 13 aspiring journalists the art of an arguably artless art. I knew the Los Angeles Lakers CEO and co-owner a little bit, in that a half decade earlier we’d shared a lovely two-hour lunch while I was researching my book, “Showtime.” But were we friends? No. Buddies? No. Confidants? No. Amig— “Sure. When do you want me to come?” Um, really? “Of course. What day of the week is your class?” Wednesday evenings. “I’m there.”
I shrugged, and what followed was … magical. Amazing. Terrific. For the next 90 minutes, Jeanie Buss treated my students as if they were her peers. She spoke at length of her role as a woman in a largely male-dominated profession. She explained the mentality of Kobe Bryant, the joy of Shaq, the PR complications of being in a relationship with the head coach (Phil Jackson), the sleepless nights that accompany losing seasons. She was honest and upfront, and when (as she was trying to leave) an obnoxious and clueless student asked if he could have her personal e-mail, Jeanie somehow smoothly escaped without bruised feelings. In short, it was a master class in kindness and decency.
When I called to ask her about it, Jeanie seemed almost surprised. There are jobs a team owner is responsible for, she insisted. Addressing fans has to be one of them. “Why wouldn’t I respond?” she said. “They’re the ones who make this all possible. I want them to know they matter.” Sure, I said. But what about the angry ones? The ugly ones? The haters? “Well, the first thing I do is look to see their profile,” she said. “Usually, if they love the Celtics or are from Massachusetts, they’re beyond my reach. And that explains the hostility. But if they’re polite, that’s all I can ask for.
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.”
After Kyle Kuzma lit up the 2017 summer league, we sat down with Lakers assistant GM and Director of Scouting Jesse Buss to figure out what L.A. saw in Kuzma that so many other teams hadn’t before drafting him at No. 27 overall. [...] Below is a transcription of our conversation, which also details a turning point in Hart’s season, why he’s more than a three and D guy and how beneficial it is to have him locked into his salary cap number: MT: Did you know about a potential pick trade with Utah earlier that day or did they just call after you took Kuzma? Jesse Buss: We were called immediately after we made the 27th pick, by Utah, and offered No. 30 and No. 42 for No. 28. We had considered a number of guys at that position, and felt there was still some first round talent on the board, and we felt we could potentially get two guys we had ranked in the first round by adding No. 42 since we still had six or seven guys up there. It just so happened that Josh, the guy who was highest on our board, and who we were going to select at 28, was also there at 30. That was a definite plus, and made the trade that much better for us, when we were able to acquire Thomas Bryant at No. 42, who we felt had first round talent.
MT: If I recall, San Antonio picked 29th, so were you sweating a bit not knowing if Utah or the Spurs were going to swoop in and steal Hart from you… Jesse Buss: We really wanted Hart, and it’s funny because Hart seems like a Spurs guy. What you’d imagine with some of the players they’ve had. He would have fit there, but they went a different direction (Derrick White), and we felt ecstatic that Hart was there and could come and do a lot of good things for us right away.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have more flexibility this summer than any other team, enough to sign up to two maximum-salaried players. "There are so many ways we can use that space. We can absorb an expiring contract and get a draft pick out of it," Buss said. "We can acquire a player [through trade] who will help us immediately next season. We can sign big-time guys and be right there and have the future in the palm of our hands."
So far, Buss is encouraged by the new management team. "Rob's leadership style reminds me of how Kobe was as a player," he continued. "I'm trying to perfect my craft, and I bring 100 percent every single day, and I want you to bring the same. ... I'm going to put my trust in you, and as long as I know that I'm able to ride with you along the way and I trust your ability, we're going to work great together. Very Kobesque."
Because Bryant developed a relationship with Jerry Buss, so did Pelinka, and the three power brokers used to meet at the owner’s home in Playa del Rey. But Buss died in 2013, leaving Pelinka to wonder what the Lakers patriarch would make of their current state. “I think there became a comfort in the banners,” Pelinka concluded. “No one saw the progress, the pioneering of new things, which is what we used to be known for. No one was saying, ‘We want to do what the Lakers are doing.’ It was the opposite. It was, ‘No one wants to go there anymore.’ ” He typed a five-page document under the heading “Pillars of Excellence,” blending Buss’s principles with his own.
Channing Frye: “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 think you’re looking for a culture, I think you’re looking for a guy who’s intense and wants to win now. I think his system is open for learning and growth.”
And if Bryant should wind up talking to an MVP-caliber talent like James or George during their free agency process, his message will extend far beyond the roster. The team’s revamped braintrust, Bryant believes, is the key to their turnaround. “I mean Rob (Pelinka) is one of the smartest guys I've ever met in my life, and he is going to figure this thing out,” Bryant said of Pelinka, who was hired in March 2017 after owner Jeanie Buss fired former Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim Buss. “So if you're a player, a marquee player, and your goal and your mission is to win championships, you can't just bet on the current roster, you also have to bet on the management, and you have to bet on the fact that they're going to make smart decisions and get players here that are going to win championships with you. I bet on Rob my whole career, and it's worked out pretty damn well for me, right? I'd make that bet on Rob Pelinka every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
Bill Oram: Would the Lakers consider trading Ball/Ingram/Kuzma/Hart if it meant netting a top-level player? "We're not going to talk about that," Magic Johnson said.
As she told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report on “The Full 48 with Howard Beck,” she is also pleased with how much more of a coherent and committed plan for the future that Pelinka and Johnson seem to have: “I have complete faith in them because everything they do is thoughtful and thorough. What was uncomfortable for me previously, was, we were going through coaches every 18 months. When you have a coach that’s really defensive-minded and you’re building a roster for him, and then let him go, and now you bring in the most offensive coach, he’s going to want a completely different roster. You can’t have that every 18 months, changing coaches and going in all these different directions. Those were the kind of moves that never made sense to me, because I couldn’t get a straight answer. In this environment, I understand their thought process. I understand the work that they’re doing in looking in every corner and trying to figure out what makes sense for us.”
When it comes to differentiating between Lonzo and LaVar Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers are more experience than just about anyone who’s not a blood relative. While fans, media and erstwhile observers still seem to struggle with the concept that the Big Baller Brand CEO’s opinions aren’t necessarily reflective of how his eldest son feels, the team for which Zo plays has made a point of keeping them separate—and would like everyone else to do the same. “I would ask that people judge Lonzo for himself,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio in L.A. “How many people are judged by their family? That doesn’t work out for some people very well.”
According to sources close to the situation, Johnson called an associate of LaVar's and strongly admonished him. Publicly, though, the Lakers said nothing. "Look, we had lost nine in a row and you didn't hear nothing from me, right? I was supporting Luke through all nine in a row," Johnson says. "So now, LaVar comes out and says something, and everybody asks, 'Why didn't you say nothing?'
But it was hard to hold their tongues. According to team sources, the Lakers were angry and disappointed with LaVar Ball over those comments. They felt as though no other franchise would be as accommodating and supportive as they had been, only to be rewarded with a constant disrespect and drama. Or, as one official put it, "He reaches out with one hand and slaps us with the other." Mostly, though, the Lakers were concerned about the effect on Lonzo, who was essentially being asked to choose between his father and his coach. Lonzo tried to split the defense when asked whether he agreed with his dad's assertion that Walton had lost the team, saying he'd "play for anybody."
But they knew where they wanted to draw the line. The Lakers wouldn't allow the Balls' Facebook Watch show, "Ball in the Family," to film games for free, as other NBA teams have. According to sources, AEG (a minority owner of the Lakers, which owns and operates Staples Center) charged the production company that produces the show when they filmed at games. And when Lonzo Ball wanted to buy 20 premier-level tickets to every Lakers home game for his extended family, a source said he was charged $150,000, the same amount as any other customer for those seats.
Bill Oram: I'm told this will be the Lakers only major deal, although there always could be something minor on the back end (like Huertas/Ennis swap last year)

https://twitter.com/laura_nelson/status/960998418012254208
Jeff Zillgitt: Lakers fined again for tampering - $50K this time for comments Magic Johnson made about Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

http://twitter.com/JeffZillgitt/status/960959730708598784
Randle will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Clarkson is owed $25.9 million over the next two seasons. The Lakers have listened to offers or explored trades for both players that included first or second round picks, but sources indicate that none of those deals would save significant cap space for the future, thereby negating the initial reason for exploring trades for those players.
While the Lakers could still move either or both players before Thursday's trade deadline, one league source put the chances of a meaningful trade at "50-50 at best." If the Lakers were to move Clarkson or Randle either now or at the draft, and find a resolution to the $36.8 million remaining on Luol Deng's albatross contract -- likely via the waive-and-stretch provision -- the Lakers could create $60 million in salary cap space in July of 2019. Nevertheless, if the Lakers sit out free agency this summer, they'll try to use their salary cap space to accommodate teams looking to dump bad contracts -- and willing to send draft picks to sweeten the deal, sources said.
"Of course the media stories are going to focus on the biggest free-agent names," Pelinka said. "But that's not the only road. We could use the cap space on superstars. We could use it for one star and some of our own players. Or we could just use it on our own free agents: Julius [Randle], Brook, and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] are all free agents, and I think we're evaluating all of those things.
The most pleasant surprise about his new job as Lakers general manager, though, is being linked with the other hundred-plus employees in the Lakers' new headquarters. "I love the continuity and team building and all working together for a common purpose," Pelinka said. "When you're an agent, you're really focused on an individual's brand. It's a very supporting endeavor. This has that team feel, collaborating with all the folks around here. That part I love."
For taking on Mozgov's contract, Marks got the considerable upside of Russell's potential, and Pelinka saw it as a nice byproduct that the Lakers were setting Russell up in a good situation. "The overwhelming driving force behind any trade is 100 percent what's best for the Lakers," Pelinka said. "But we're all human. There is a human element through every decision that's made in life.
According to this, from ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, that would not necessarily seem to be the case. "I have been told by multiple sources that Magic Johnson is doing that job the way that I thought Magic Johnson was going to do that job. Sort of whisking in and out of the office. ‘Yeah fire everyone. Trade everyone. You’re doing a bad job. I’m going to run my movie empire.’ Is he still doing that? The details, the specifics of the doing of that job. Magic Johnson has been given all of the power and isn’t doing any of the work that usually gets done. He’s doing the job the way Phil Jackson did the job. He’s pretty mad at (Rob) Pelinka from what I’ve heard."
Happily, at long last for the Lakers, they’re warming up, if not red hot. It may be because Magic, still a charismatic figure, is in charge, or that Kupchak did a good job before being fired so that they finally have the right young players, even if none of them is Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are showing signs of being special, as has Lonzo Ball in an earlier stage of development. Julius Randle, thought to be outward bound for cap room, has clawed his way up the pecking order. A year ago if you asked how many of their players had shown they were special as opposed to merely promising, the answer would have been none. Magic still dreams like a Laker, targeting the top free agents: Bron, Paul George and, at least until last week’s injury, DeMarcus Cousins.
Mike Bresnahan: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said team management supported second-year coach Luke Walton. “Luke’s done a tremendous job. We fully support him — Magic, myself, Jeanie,” Pelinka said.
Mike Bresnahan: Rob Pelinka added that the Lakers front office fully agrees on the need to keep ascending the Larry O’Brien “trophy mountain.” “Until we get to the top of it, we won’t be satisfied,” he said.

https://twitter.com/JeanieBuss/status/952258404097011712
James Worthy sees some Magic Johnson-like traits in Lonzo Ball and believes his old Showtime point guard will be able to "deliver" some star reinforcements in free agency this summer. Before the season started, Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers' president of basketball operations, said he can envision Ball and Brandon Ingram running the floor like Johnson and Worthy did during their Showtime days. Johnson set an extremely high bar for the past two No. 2 overall picks respectively. "Big shoes to fill," said Worthy, currently a Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet. "But I think I totally get conceptually where Magic was coming from and the style of play that Luke [Walton] is promoting, the fast-paced game. Lonzo Ball, for sure, presents some of the talents that Magic had. Not as tall, but he is 6-6 and has the IQ, has a vision like no other. "As soon as players get used to the way he passes and they get some really good shooters around him, I think people will really appreciate him. And they already have appreciated what he brings to the table, a very unselfish player."
Magic Johnson's biggest task will be to give Lonzo Ball -- who is averaging 12 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 3.3 steals in his past three games -- superstars to pass to. The Lakers will try to add two stars this summer when LeBron James is expected to headline the free agency class, and Worthy thinks his old point guard will not come up empty-handed. "You look at what Magic Johnson has been able to do throughout his basketball career, [and] in his post-basketball career, he's been able to manifest pretty good deals," the former Lakers great said. "When Magic is in the room, that is a major asset trying to recruit. "With Kobe [Bryant] gone and the young core players that we have, and I think players understand and see what Lonzo Ball brings to the table as a point guard, I really think we are in a good place and I think [Johnson] will be able to deliver next year."
Yet despite LaVar’s assertion to ESPN that the Lakers (13-27) were “not playing for Luke no more,” or that he’s “not connecting with one player,” a person with direct knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking told USA TODAY Sports that Walton’s job is not in danger and that the organization still has complete faith in the coach who is in the second season of a five-year, $25 million deal. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
"It's just a lot of white noise, in a sense," added Kuzma, who scored 14 points in a 132-113 home win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday to snap a nine-game losing slide. "Luke is my guy. I love playing for him. I'm sure most of us love playing for him too. ... We stand by Luke. I know the front office does."
Tania Ganguli: One thing to remember in the LaVar Ball discussion is that his statements do matter to the organization. That's not my opinion, it's theirs. Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson would not have met with him in November if his comments didn't matter.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George said Wednesday that the Indiana Pacers suspected his relationship with Los Angeles Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw constituted tampering over the summer, but the league investigation found no evidence of tampering by Shaw, multiple sources told ESPN. "They thought it was tampering," George said after the Thunder shootaround before their game in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). "There was no tampering at all. It was kinda crazy. Our relationship, myself and B-Shaw, was far more stronger than the teams, me coming to the Lakers was. B-Shaw has been a mentor for me, so it was kind of comical.
"The Pacers thought there was more depth, of him trying to recruit me. It wasn't. The only thing me and B-Shaw ever spoke about was fishing. We challenge each other on fishing trips. B-Shaw has way, way better class than trying to recruit me."
Before the draft, in front of all the NBA's GMs and top scouts, Kuzma helped himself at the league combine when he made four of five three-pointers in a game. But some scouts considered that an aberration. Not Magic Johnson, the Lakers' new president, or Rob Pelinka, their first-time GM, as they went into their first draft and needed to hit in big since taking over the basketball operations three months earlier. In a rebuilding campaign, they took Ball at No. 2 overall, believing that even with his funky shot and problems defending quicker point guards, he'd be the floor leader they needed, a player other players wanted to play with, and the kind of rare talent who could make his teammates better.
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.”
The Lakers can’t hope to stop LaVar. They can’t even contain him if they keep being so nice, as opposed to having someone – Magic Johnson is the one he might listen to – tell him to shut up already. From Jeanie Buss on down, the Lakers are gritting their teeth, increasingly unable to endure LaVar’s ceaseless jibes: Claiming they don’t know how to coach Lonzo; calling Luke Walton “soft” for “babying” him; belittling the organization’s commitment (“The Lakers should build around Lonzo. Why are they sitting him down and not starting him in the fourth quarter? This is why the record is raggedy”); zinging teammates such as Julius Randle for missing Lonzo on a fast break in the loss to the Warriors since he “had a wide-open layup or a 3-pointer!”
Get ready for more: Whatever happens in Lakerdom for the next 10 years or so will be punctuated by LaVar’s self-serving comments about opponents’ unworthiness or Laker clumsiness. With the Lakers’ investment in Lonzo, he’s akin to family, making it painful for them to think about confronting LaVar. That’s the danger. The Lakers will always be conflicted, hoping for the best. LaVar, who’s all about LaVar, will never be.
LaVar Ball said his oldest son, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, is "disgusted" with how the team has been playing. And the outspoken father blamed the Lakers' recent struggles on how the coaching staff has been utilizing his son. The Knicks announced he would be reevaluated after two weeks, didn’t give a concrete timetable and ominously announced he would start “a treatment and rehabilitation plan.” That language doesn’t sound like a two-week injury. A stress injury, according to medical experts, means Hardaway either has a stress reaction or, more severely, a stress fracture to either his fibula or tibia. A leading expert on basketball leg injuries, Dr. William Hsu of Northwestern, told The Post a stress reaction to those inflamed bones can put a player out two to six weeks. A stress fracture is more of a two-month process but surgery is not required.
LaVar Ball hasn’t been shy to share his inflammatory opinions about the Los Angeles Lakers, from Luke Walton’s “soft” coaching to Julius Randle’s poor recognition of Lonzo Ball during the team’s recent loss to the Golden State Warriors. But according to Lakers legend A.C. Green, the Big Baller Brand CEO’s proclamations aren’t a problem for Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the Purple and Gold. “There’s no issue. There’s no matter,” Green told TMZ Sports. “Earvin knows what he’s doing.” Rather than advise Ball to step back from the spotlight, Green said simple that “LaVar’s gonna do what he does” and that “The team is gonna keep playing.” "Earvin knows what he’s doing. Rob knows what he’s doing,” he added. “So I don’t see any issues there. I don’t think he has any affiliation with the Lakers, so he’s not involved with the Lakers,” he explained. “But he has an opinion, and you guys keep giving him an opportunity to share his opinion, and you should.”
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.
The second rule, and the only one you have control over, is: Make the most of opportunities. The Lakers had one big miss in 2015 when they took Russell at No. 2, even if it was a mistake other teams were lined up to make. The No. 3 76ers wanted Russell but took Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. That dropped Kristaps Porzingis--the prize, in retrospect--to the Knicks at No. 4.
The Lakers recently picked up your team option for the 2018-19 season. How have you seen the organization improve since you’ve been here? Larry Nance, Jr.: My first year was Kobe [Bryant]’s last, so that was a blast. Regardless of our record, getting to spend a full year with him and go along for that ride was an incredible experience. Then last year, we saw a change in coaching staff, so that came with its own different challenges and lost a couple more teammates. Since Magic [Johnson] and Rob [Pelinka] have taken over, the culture is changing. We’re shifting into a win-first mindset and if you’re not part of that mindset, then you’re out. I think we’re really heading towards and getting there quickly to a winning culture.
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Lakers legend Pau Gasol, Marc’s older brother, recently sat down with Spanish newspaper Marca as he discussed the future of his sibling. Pau’s response was cryptic, but it is clear that he is hoping that Marc returns to Spain: “Marc has earned the freedom and flexibility to make his own decision and he will do so when he decides,” Pau said (h/t Sam Yip of Fan Nation). “I know he has a lot of enthusiasm for Basquet Girona, a club in which I am also involved as vice president. He is in a different situation, because he is five years younger than me. We will see what he decides to do this season and later, I am also waiting.”
“I’ve been on him about things I need from him,” Billups said. “I said, ‘Nurk, I know you are going to be a free agent, and I understand you have to have a great year. You need me for you to have a great year, and I need you for us to have a good year. We need each other, right?’ “I’m going to give him every opportunity to have a great year. Because if he has a great year, that means we are a pretty damn good team. Because he is a good player. But that means he has to be focused and be in shape. Because you are only going to play as many minutes as you are physically able. If you are out there tired, uh-uh, come on, gotta get you out. There are good players behind you.”
It is unclear exactly what Nurkic and his role will look like under Billups, but to hear Nurkic talk, Billups has given him a vision of being more involved on both ends. Billups has been careful not to publicly define roles, but in general, he has preached that the offense will include more ball movement. “I just want to feel wanted, and I think I just need more support, and what I mean by that is different playing style, more inside-out game, more chance,” Nurkic said. “More chance to be successful and the position where they put you in. It’s all about the coach and where they put you, and I think Chauncey has figured out that certain people are going to have one to three points less, but the team is going to be way more successful with ball movement and playing together and be more fun. Even at the defensive end.”