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After dropping four straight, Lakers hold team meeting instead of practice to air issues

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Frustrated with losing, team roles and the uncertainty that next summer holds for the franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers held a team meeting to air out their issues.

The Lakers (11-22), who have lost four straight and seven of their last eight entering Friday's game against the Clippers, held the "heart-to-heart" meeting in place of practice on Thursday.

Lakers coach Luke Walton, who was peppered with questions about the team meeting before the game, said a big reason for the meeting was to do something productive during practice with so many Lakers players injured.

"It was a long meeting, we talked about a lot of stuff," Walton said. "It wasn't like we had a schedule printed out about how we were going to talk about everything. It went different places and everything was open... we were in there for a while."

Rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, along with veteran big man Brook Lopez, have been nursing injuries.

"We weren't going to get much done on the court that day anyway," Walton added. "It was a creative way of trying to grow and get better for that day. The amount of questions that are being asked about having a team meeting are a little blown out of proportion the fact that we had one. It was just a way for our group to get together."

Walton also decided to shake up his starting lineup, inserting Julius Randle into the starting lineup for the first time this season and starting Brandon Ingram at point guard to go with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart and Kuzma.

Ingram spoke about the team meeting during Friday's shootaround.

"Just clearing up some things, what we can be better at, how we can hold each other to be more accountable, more accountable for ourselves, and how we can just get a better feeling for the game," Ingram said.

"... I don't think you work through it in one day, but I think we put it out there about how each guy was feeling about how they play on the basketball floor, about how they're feeling about the business of the organization, how they want to be played or anything of that nature," Ingram added. "I think they just put it all out there, and ultimately I would hope they felt free after they did."

Following a lackluster 95-92 loss to Portland at home on Saturday, Walton said he noticed players "pouting" on the bench, and center Andrew Bogut said "guys are frustrated." The respected veteran cited injuries, rotations and how "everyone knows what is going on with the salary-cap situation next season" -- a reference to next summer, when the franchise hopes to land two superstar free agents and will try to create cap space to accommodate two potential max contracts.

"We just really had a heart-to-heart," Kuzma said. "We're just trying to get back on the same page. That happens at all levels. It's no different. Every team has problems. Championship teams have problems and whatnot. Meetings are always good. ... But, of course, everybody on the team said something about how they feel."

With team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka operating the team with an eye toward next summer's free agency and beyond, some of the current Lakers on the roster are playing under a cloud of uncertainty regarding their futures. Randle and Jordan Clarkson have often been mentioned as players whose contracts will be impacted if the Lakers need to accommodate two free-agent stars.

"Everyone knows what is going on with the salary-cap situation next season and all that," Bogut explained. "That is just distractions that we can't let affect us. That is part of the league, the business decisions that front offices and coaches make. So if that is distracting guys, that is going to be like that your whole career. That is just the nature of this league."

Also, Walton has often coached games by feel, and that has sometimes kept rotation regulars playing fewer minutes than they would like. Randle came into the season unhappy with his role coming off the bench, but he still played inspired and motivated, becoming one of the Lakers' key players. While he has finished several games in place of Lopez before the starting center injured his ankle, Randle has seen his minutes fluctuate recently based on game flow and Walton looking to send his power forward a message.

Randle logged just eight minutes in the Lakers' Dec. 20 win against Houston -- their lone win in the past eight games -- due to how Bogut and Larry Nance Jr. were playing. On Wednesday, Randle played just 11 minutes in an ugly 109-99 loss to Memphis. Walton said after that loss that he was unhappy with the team's passing and 14 total assists in the game.

"Julius has shown us how great he can be," Walton explained on Friday morning. "And I believe in Julius, and I continue to challenge him. And some nights when he doesn't play big minutes, it's because other guys are rolling, and some nights it's because I don't believe he is playing up to the standard that he set for himself. I want him to feel and realize the difference in those nights as part of his growth as a player."

"We want him running. We want him playing fast. We want him running into screens," Walton added. "He is such a dynamic roller when he does it that he collapses a defense with how he can move around the court."

Walton is a big believer in team meetings and talking out differences and what may be bothering individuals. The Lakers' schedule doesn't get any easier. After recently going through the most difficult four-game stretch the NBA has seen in three seasons (at Cleveland, against Golden State, at Houston and at Golden State), the Lakers follow Friday's game against the Clippers by playing at Houston and Minnesota before returning home to face Oklahoma City.

"I'm not sure. Only time can tell," Ingram said, when he was asked if the team meeting helped. "Hopefully, we think about what we said to each other, what we said to the coaches, and that the coaches have listened to what we said. Hopefully, we can take it into practice, into games and just get better."