Magic Johnson's presence keeping Lakers on their toes

February, 24, 2017
Feb 24
8:41
PM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- There he sat on the aisle, halfway up Section 114, maybe 15 rows directly behind the Los Angeles Lakers bench, beside the offspring of the owner who drafted him.

From his perch next to Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss, Magic Johnson munched on popcorn Friday and surveyed his young, rebuilding squad play its first game since he ascended from a nebulous advisory position to president of basketball operations in a dramatic in-house bloodletting earlier this week that shook the franchise's foundation and the NBA landscape.

And the Lakers can feel his presence.

“It’s like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell said after L.A.'s 110-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“Everybody has to look over their shoulders once again. It’s like coming to a new team. You try to impress the GMs and the guys in the front office with your play and off the court, the way you handle yourself. It’s just all different.”

Midway through the second quarter, Johnson joined the in-game broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet, and after preaching patience with repairing a team that has the NBA’s third-worst record and has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, he headed toward a nearby tunnel.

But star power of his caliber doesn’t visit Oklahoma on just any day, so nearby fans zeroed in with smartphones and snapped away, screaming “Magic!” He offered his classic smile in return.

“There’s a reason he’s as successful as he is, because he has a way with people,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said before his team fell to 19-40 on the season.

Magic JohnsonMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsNew president of basketball operations Magic Johnson was on hand Friday as the Lakers lost at Oklahoma City.

Johnson oozes charisma, not to mention the legendary clout that comes with being one of the most exciting athletes in history -- winning five championships, achieving Basketball Hall of Fame status and putting together one of the most successful nonsports résumés of any player ever.

But the task ahead of him is staggering -- a yearslong venture, at least -- and his lack of front-office experience justifiably gives many pause as to whether he is fully equipped to make the Lakers great again, no matter his other credentials or what he tweets or boasts during national media tours.

Still, Johnson is the first to admit that he is up against a monumental feat, that there will need to be baby steps before giant leaps. On Thursday night, Johnson took several members of the team’s coaching staff and front office to dinner at Mahogany Prime Steakhouse, a few blocks from their downtown Oklahoma City hotel, to lay out his vision and discuss ideas.

“He’s been awesome,” Walton said. “There’s been a lot of really healthy dialogue going on.”

Walton said the Lakers would love to have Johnson around as much as possible, and so far, Johnson has attended practices and even worked with players on individual moves. But Johnson likely won’t attend many road games beyond Friday, which was a statement appearance, given the team’s massive shakeup.

He did tell the players that the door to his office is always open, and Russell said he and his teammates are expected to have one-on-one sessions with Johnson over the next few days.

But from now until their regular-season finale April 12, the Lakers’ goal is twofold, yet it should unfold without much effort: to develop their young players and to lose.

With star reserve Lou Williams shipped to the Houston Rockets this week, Russell and Jordan Clarkson will play more, especially in crunch time, as Walton acknowledged.

As for losing, the Lakers won’t have to try much, because they simply aren’t talented or experienced enough to even be competitive most nights, especially in the Western Conference. In other words, no "tanking" is necessary. But all those defeats will come in handy during the NBA draft lottery May 16, as the Lakers are praying they’ll be able to keep a top-three protected first-round draft pick.

The outcome of that crucial draft lottery will help shape the Lakers’ immediate future, though their next 23 games are key for their young core to gain valuable experience and chemistry and to develop what Johnson hopes, as he said on Friday's broadcast, is an identity.

During that time, it will also be key for Johnson to gain more understanding of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, as well as the ins and outs of running a modern NBA front office.

Yet his presence alone is already changing the atmosphere around the team.

“He’s Magic Johnson," Lakers guard Nick Young said. "Change is happening. It makes you stay on your toes, stay focused.”

Right now, the Lakers will appreciate every positive step forward, no matter how small, as they know full well it will take many such steps -- along with dramatic changes -- for them to emerge from the lowest era in franchise history.

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The Spurs put a punctuation mark on their annual long road trip with an easy 119-98 win over the Lakers.
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LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season.


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Thomas Robinson gets the ball, and with the lane wide open in front of him, takes to the air to throw down a powerful one-handed dunk.
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Already with one highlight reel dunk on the day, Dewayne Dedmon adds another with a one-handed hammer putback slam.
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Jordan Clarkson makes the cut to the lane leaving his defender behind to then throw down the one-handed slam.
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On the break, Manu Ginobili finds Dewayne Dedmon, who throws down the nasty dunk right over Brandon Ingram.

LaVar Ball: I prefer Lonzo with Lakers to learn from Magic Johnson

February, 25, 2017
Feb 25
8:35
PM PT
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Lonzo Ball's father clarified statements made Saturday to an Arizona radio station about the UCLA star playing for only the Los Angeles Lakers.

"All I said was that my boy is going to play for the Lakers, and I'm going to speak it into existence," LaVar Ball told ESPN on Saturday night. "I want him to be a Laker, but I wasn't saying he's only going to play for the Lakers."

Earlier Saturday, Ball told KCUB Sports Radio 1290 in Tucson that he wants Lonzo to play for Jeanie Buss' franchise so much that he would discourage other teams from picking his son in this summer's NBA draft.

"I want him to be a Laker," Ball told KCUB. "He's gonna be the first one that's homegrown, and trust me, he'll do the same thing he's doing at UCLA."

In response to a question about the Lakers' hypothetically securing the third pick in the draft, the elder Ball told the radio station that he would tell the top two squads to avoid drafting his son.

Ball hedged that statement when speaking to ESPN.

"I'm not trying to say he won't play for a different team," he said. "But I'd like him to play for the Lakers because it's home, and I'd love him to learn from Magic [Johnson]. He's the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson."

Johnson, the Lakers' new president of basketball operations, sat in the front row at Pauley Pavilion and watched Lonzo Ball lead UCLA to a come-from-behind win over Oregon on Feb. 9.

When asked about his father's statement, Lonzo Ball said, "All I do is go out and play basketball, man."

Ball finished with 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in his team's 77-72 win at Arizona


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The Golden State Warriors have emerged as the strong favorite to sign veteran guard Jose Calderon once he completes his expected buyout with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com ‎that Calderon has the Warriors at the top of his list provided he can negotiate his release from the Lakers by Wednesday, which is the last day this season that players can be released and retain playoff eligibility for their next team.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced after Saturday night's 112-95 victory over Brooklyn that guard Briante Weber would not be re-signed for the rest of the season after completing his second 10-day contract. Kerr also acknowledged that Golden State was poised to sign a veteran guard to take that roster spot.

‎ESPN first reported earlier Saturday that Calderon had launched into buyout negotiations with the Lakers, with Golden State and Houston quickly emerging as interested suitors. 

Deron Williams was released by the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, cleared waivers on Saturday and quickly came to terms on a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin, will be made official Monday.

Calderon and former Warriors center Andrew Bogut


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The Lakers can win by continuing to lose -- honestly, of course: The NBA trade deadline passed Thursday with one notably loud and wonderful grinding of gears. The team that took the biggest step forward was the one that threw itself in reverse. The big winners were the Lakers, because they set themselves up to be losers. -- Los Angeles Times

Magic takes in Lakers; begins to leave his mark: Weeks ago now-Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson told Coach Luke Walton he was ready to grind. On Thursday morning, Johnson stood on a blue swath of Oklahoma City’s court wearing black warmup pants and a black Lakers sweatshirt, reviewing practice with Walton. -- Los Angeles Times

Lakers don't make a big move at NBA trade deadline as Paul George remains with Pacers: As the NBA’s trade deadline passed Thursday, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson sat in the Lakers team plane, flying to Oklahoma City, where they’ll play Friday. -- Los Angeles Times

Lakers acquire point guard Tyler Ennis from Rockets for Marcelo Huertas as NBA trade deadline passes: Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has fielded phone calls from numerous executives in his new job. While none of those conversations yielded a blockbuster move, they still resulted in roster changes. The Lakers acquired 22-year-old guard Tyler Ennis from the Houston Rockets for veteran guard Marcelo Huertas on Thursday. -- The Orange County Register

Lakers' Magic Johnson showing patience on all fronts: Magic Johnson is diving headfirst into his new role with the Lakers, starting Thursday on the team plane to Oklahoma, pulling off a minor trade before the midday deadline then grabbing rookie forward Brandon Ingram aside for some one-on-one tutoring during practice. -- The Orange County Register

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers.


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Russell Westbrook grabs his 10th rebound finishing off his triple-double, then sets up Alex Abrines' 3-pointer for his 11th assist of the game against the Lakers.
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Russell Westbrook hits Steven Adams with the nice bounce pass, and Adams absorbs the contact and finishes the layup off despite the foul against the Lakers.
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Steven Adams throws a dart to Alex Abrines under the hoop who finishes with the layup against the Lakers.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
D'Angelo Russell
PTS AST STL MIN
14.5 4.7 1.3 26.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Randle 8.1
AssistsD. Russell 4.7
StealsJ. Clarkson 1.3
BlocksI. Zubac 0.8