Brandon Ingram

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With Lakers thinking cap space, don’t look for Julius Randle extension

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The Lakers’ plan is no secret: Spend this season developing the young core — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and on won the list — while hoarding cap space, create more with trades, then next summer get at least one and maybe two max contract players to come in and start winning.

The cap space part of the plan means don’t expect the Lakers to extend Randle before the season starts, even though he is eligible. They would like to keep him, but they want to keep his cap hold down, and Los Angeles has the rights to match any offer next summer.

Randle doesn’t sound like he expects a deal, speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“If it is right for both sides, we’ll see,” Randle said of trying to get a contract extension done early. “All I can really focus on is playing basketball. I can’t really focus on the contract situation.”

“At the end of the day, I am letting my agent handle all of that,” Randle added. “We have great communication and we are on the same page and he is in communication with the front office about that. Because if I think about that day in and day out, I will drive myself crazy.”

There’s not going to be a deal. Cap space is the priority for Los Angeles, a contract for Randle would cut into it. If the Lakers keep him beyond this season, it’s because the two sides reach a deal next summer, or the Lakers match another team’s offer.

That means Randle is playing for his next contract this season — and it’s not going to be easy. He’s in a battle for the starting four spot with Nance, and that plus the play of Kuzma could mean fewer minutes. Randle plays with power, his handles are improved, but he doesn’t have much shooting range (77 percent of his shots last season came within 10 feet of the rim), and his defense needs to be more consistent.

Don’t be shocked if Randle’s name comes up in trade talks. The Lakers would like to move off Luol Deng‘s contract — cap space, cap space, cap space — and that will require a sweetener. The Lakers might be willing to package Randle in that kind of a deal (although other teams will likely ask for Ingram).

Three questions the Los Angeles Lakers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 26-56, missed the playoffs.

I know what you did last summer: The Lakers had the lottery gods smile on them and were able to draft Lonzo Ball at No. 2, but that was far from the only move they made. They traded Timofey Mozgov and his massive contract, plus DeAngelo Russell to Brooklyn and got back primarily Brook Lopez. The Lakers also added Kyle Kuzma, Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart in the draft, then were able to snag Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency on a one-year contract. Veteran Corey Brewer is now a Laker and will come off the bench. The Lakers also lost Nick Young to the Warriors.

THREE QUESTIONS THE LAKERS MUST ANSWER:


1) The Lonzo Ball effect is real, but can he score enough for it to thrive and really change the Lakers culture?
Ball is one of those guys who has “it.” Not only do other players want to play with him, when they are on the court with him his run-the-floor, pass-first ethos infects everyone. Big men get out in transition knowing they will get rewarded. Guys make the extra pass. Luke Walton has a point guard in Ball who could bring the Warriors’ feel and style to Staples Center. The Lakers just feel different this season.

However, Ball has to score some to make it all work. He is always going to look to pass first, but teams are going to play him to do that and dare him to shoot — not just wide open jumpers, but on the drive. They are going to try to force him into floaters and midrange shots that are not yet a comfortable part of his arsenal. Ball has to hit some threes (which he is capable of doing, despite the funky release), and learn to score better at the rim when he attacks, he has to be a threat to score for his passing to have the desired effect.

Ball was not a heavy usage guy in college, and that’s not likely to change now — if he gets up to scoring a fairly efficient 10 points per game average this season that would be a win. The good news is as Summer League wore on teams more and more played him to pass, he adjusted and became more confident as a scorer (he had one 30-point game). That’s Summer League, and NBA defenders are longer, more athletic, and smarter, but if Ball can show that kind of development on the offensive end over the course of an NBA season it will be a great sign.

2) Is anyone going to play any defense? Last season, the Lakers had the worst defense in the NBA, giving up 110.6 points per 100 possessions. The season before, the Lakers were dead last in the NBA in defense (109.3). The season before that, the Lakers were 29th in the NBA in defense (108). The season before that the Lakers were 28th in the NBA in defense (107.9).

See a pattern here? The Lakers can run the court and whip the ball around on clever passes all they want, if they can’t get stops it’s all moot. With young players such as Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Kyle Kuzma getting heavy minutes this season the Lakers are not going to be great defensively, but they have to start getting better.

Some of the roster changes this summer will help with that. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a strong defender on the wing, and in a contract year he will be motivated to improve his reputation on that end (because wing defenders who can shoot threes get PAID). Brook Lopez isn’t a high-flying rim protector, he’s in trouble trying to defend in space if there is a switch off a pick, but he’s smart in the paint about being in the right place at the right time. He will help the Lakers’ paint defense.

Any culture change on defense will have to start with Luke Walton and the coaching staff — if the Lakers want to be a team that runs, they have to get stops. Walton has to make defense a priority and pull guys not hustling on that end. Then the players have to buy in, play the system, and put in the work — and if the Lakers do all that they probably still are bottom 10 in defense this season. But they need to start to see a change or nothing else will work.

3) How do Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, and the rest of the potential Lakers young core develop? If the dreams of Lakers fans and management — landing two big-time free agents next summer — are going to come true, the team has to do two things. First, clear out the cap space (which will likely involve dumping the Luol Deng contract before July 1, which would require sending out a sweetener like Randle or Nance or another nice young player in the trade).

The other thing is the young core of players on the roster has to develop to the point that “Superstar X” looks at the Lakers and thinks he can win there. Lonzo Ball and the culture change is just part of that, the other guys have to develop as well. Those players have the skills to be NBA players, but can they translate that into production on the court?

Brandon Ingram is at the top of the list of guys to watch. He has gotten stronger, he is more confident and aggressive — and he is shooting 26.7 percent this preseason. Small sample size and it’s preseason, but it’s a concern. He struggled with this last season, and his shots need to start going in (his form has always looked good). His defense needs to improve as well.

Beyond that, can Julius Randle (a better defender than he gets credit for) develop to the next level on offense and be able to be a threat stepping away from the basket. Kuzma has been a surprise both at Summer League and through the preseason with his hustle and suddenly sharp three-point shooting, will that continue or is his shooting a fluke? Can Zubac get stronger, develop a more diversified post game, and find a role as an old-school center on a running team? And the list goes on and on. Historically, the Lakers as an organization have never been great at developing talent (as opposed to the Spurs, for example) because they didn’t need to be, but in the modern NBA they have to figure it out. We’ll see if the Lakers can live up to that challenge.

Magic Johnson said he turned down Warriors, Pistons, Knicks before Lakers

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Magic Johnson wanted to stay loyal to the Lakers and the Buss family.

Sure, he ventured into baseball ownership for a bit with the Dodgers, but his heart was always in hoops. He had owned part of the Lakers in the past, and while he sold that (for the Dodgers) he was brought in earlier this year by Jeanie Buss, then eventually was asked to run the Lakers’ basketball operations.

Magic said on ESPN’s First Take it wasn’t his first offer.

Here’s the quote.

“I turned down three jobs. My good friends Peter and Joe Lacob bought the Golden State Warriors. They came to me I want you to be an owner, be a partner with us I said no I’m a Laker. My friends bought the Detroit Pistons, Tom Gores, and a Michigan State guy. Come on home it would be a great story, I can’t I’m a Laker. I could have owned other teams.”

He was offered the Knicks president job as well at one point.

We will see how good a job Magic can do in this role. He, and GM Rob Pelinka, have done an excellent job setting the Lakers up with young players and the potential to add free agents in the coming years, but a lot of the groundwork for that was laid by the much maligned Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office (they drafted Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and they planned for the cap space). The steps from potential to good to contender are difficult ones, and many a team has stumbled over them.

Magic got the job he wanted. Now we’ll see if he can do it.

LaVar Ball predicts LeBron James comes to Lakers to play with Lonzo

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LeBron James is doing what he always does, keeping his options open. After this coming NBA season, he will be able to do whatever he wants — stay in Cleveland or leave. He will be able to survey the NBA landscape, look at where he will be happiest on and off the court with his family, then make his call.

Still, the buzz that LeBron has his eyes on the Lakers — because of the brand, because his growing entertainment business, and because the young Lakers have potential — will not die.

So is it a surprise to anyone LaVar Ball predicts that LeBron is coming to the Lakers to play with his son Lonzo Ball. From a LaVar interview with ClutchPoints.

“Let me tell you this, it would be a great fit, and LeBron is coming to L.A. What’s in Cleveland? You want to be a superstar, man. Superstar franchise.

“It’s going to be like this, and I’m talking about reality. He’s going to say, ‘You know what? I went to Miami. Won a championship. Brought one back to my hometown. I’m the only one to go to three different places and bring a championship.’

“You do not give Lonzo Ball he best player in the game and don’t think they going to win! He is going to fall in love with Lonzo so much on the way that he play. They both understand the game. Best player in the game and you don’t think he coming? Stop it!”

Did LaVar just admit LeBron was better than Lonzo? I’m sure the master of bombast didn’t mean that.

Expect a lot of LaVar statements in the coming weeks as he works to promote his new reality show with his family on Facebook.

How Lonzo and Brandon Ingram look this season, along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the other young Lakers, will impact LeBron’s decisions next summer. So will how the Warriors play, how the Cavaliers play, how Boston looks now, and a number of other factors. LeBron takes his time and makes patient decisions, that will happen again here.

But not many around the league think LeBron is long for Cleveland.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?