Brandon Ingram

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Paul George: If Thunder reach conference finals or beat Warriors, ‘I’d be dumb to want to leave’

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Paul George supposedly told his former Pacers teammates for years he wanted to join the Lakers. George publicly flirted with the Lakers. The Lakers reportedly received word not to trade for George, because he might just sign in Los Angeles anyway in 2018 free agency. George told the Pacers he’d leave Indiana, reportedly preferably for the Lakers. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George was still reportedly telling friends he planned to sign with the Lakers.

Is George, a Southern California native, truly hell-bent on the Lakers?

Now, we can hear it straight from him.

George, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” George says. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”

“It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.”

“I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”

I’m a bit surprised George laid down such direct benchmarks – reaching the conference finals or upsetting the Warriors – but they, especially the former, are achievable.

Russell Westbrook is the best teammate George, who reached consecutive conference finals in Indiana, has ever played with. The Thunder have built a quality supporting cast with Steven Adams, a re-signed Andre Roberson and newly acquired Patrick Patterson. Even Raymond Felton plugs a major hole at backup point guard.

The Thunder – who won several coin-flip games – probably weren’t as good as their 47-35 record last year, so assessing improvement can be difficult. But they should be better this year.

George is a great fit. Westbrook’s singular offensive ability allows Oklahoma City to fill the floor with defense-first players, and George is another wing stopper with Roberson. For a star, George is also extremely comfortable playing off the ball – a must around Westbrook. Yet, George can also take the lead, easing the burden on Westbrook at times.

Staying with the Thunder could look very appealing next year.

But so could joining the Lakers, especially if George gives them a hometown advantage. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. aren’t yet ready to win, but George is spending a season of their growing pains in Oklahoma City. By next summer, the Lakers’ young core will be closer to ascending. The Lakers, who already dumped Timofey Mozgov, are also working toward clearing enough cap space to lure multiple stars at once, as George alluded to.

He spoke in terms of other players joining Los Angeles first, though his commitment would go a long way in recruiting. The Lakers probably can’t bank on that at this point.

Neither can the Thunder.

But the battle lines are being drawn – surprisingly bluntly, by George himself.

No Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, other key Lakers for game vs. Kings

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LAS VEGAS — Usually, by Monday night of Summer League, the crowds of fans have started to thin out a little, the people who came to town to see a top pick headed home after the weekend.

Not this Monday, the Thomas & Mack arena is filling up to the top levels because the Lakers are playing…

But not with Lonzo Ball. The No. 2 pick and biggest draw at Summer League suffered a mild groin strain and will not play Monday, the team announced earlier in the day.

Which will disappoint some fans who wanted to see him renew his college rivalry with the Kings’ De'Aaron Fox. Maybe including Fox, although he was smart enough to pull his tweet back (as if you can actually do that).

Ball’s injury is nothing major, he got in a workout according to Mike Trudell, but the Lakers are being cautious. Which a lot of teams are with high picks at Summer League.

The Lakers also are not playing Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart.

It’s that point in Summer League, expect a lot of teams to pull star players and not risk injury.

LaVar Ball on Lonzo’s debut: ‘His worst game ever’

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — It took Lonzo Ball 20 seconds to get a near-capacity crowd off its feet in his first summer league game.

Just like LaVar taught him.

Ball’s highly anticipated Los Angeles Lakers debut on Friday night started with a flourish on a perfectly timed lob pass to Brandon Ingram. But that was one of the few bright spots for a player Magic Johnson has dubbed as the new face of the Lakers in a 96-93 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The No. 2 overall pick scored just five points and missed 13 of his 15 shots, to the disappointment of a near-capacity crowd that came out to see him. Leave it to his father to sum up the night with some of his trademark straight talk.

“He don’t be discouraged because that’s the worst he can do,” LaVar Ball said. “He can’t go but up. And he still kept them in the game playing his worst game ever. That’s what I like about it.”

Lonzo Ball was 1 for 11 from 3-point range, including a bad miss from well beyond the line – the kind of daring pull-up the Ball family is known for – with 1:16 to play in regulation.

He was also a little slow to react on defense, including when Brice Johnson made a quick spin past him for a dunk. The Clippers posted the highlight on their Twitter account, calling it a “pretty baller move.”

That’s the kind of target that LaVar’s antics have painted on his son’s back. And it’s much bigger than the purple No. 2 under his name.

“Tough game. We didn’t get the job done,” Lonzo Ball said. “I need to be better.”

Scouts do wonder how that unorthodox shooting stroke will translate to the NBA game. What is not up for debate is the Lakers’ return to must-see status with the pass-first point guard on the trigger and his carnival barker father on the mic.

While LaVar Ball has dropped hints that he could tone down the bombastic comments and unending marketing of his Big Baller Brand apparel that turned him into an internet villain of sorts during Lonzo’s lone season at UCLA, he was totally in character for his son’s debut.

“The Lakers fans are coming and my boy is gonna bring `em out,” LaVar Ball crowed at halftime. “Because there’s excitement for the game. It’s entertainment. That boy is going to entertain. He’s been doing it all his life.”

LaVar Ball entered the Thomas & Mack Center to a raucous ovation, flanked by more than a dozen family members. They watched the game from a raised stage behind one baseline, and as he ascended the stairs for the first time, he raised his hands and pumped his fist to the crowd.

Lonzo Ball got off the bus wearing a black Big Baller t-shirt, red shorts and black Big Baller ZO2 shoes – yes, the ones with the $495 price tag – and did two television interviews before he even changed into his Laker uniform. A bedazzled, patent leather backpack draped over his shoulders and established NBA players including DeMar DeRozan, D'Angelo Russell and Isaiah Thomas were all in attendance for the game, while Johnson, the new Lakers president of basketball operations, sat courtside.

Lakers games have always been well-attended here in Vegas, just a four-hour drive from Los Angeles. But this one reached another level, with fans piling into the arena three hours before game time and sitting through a Bucks-Cavaliers game before finally getting to the main attraction. And when Lonzo found Ingram for the alley-oop on his first possession, it looked like things were going to come easy.

“I always said get `em out their chairs on the first play,” LaVar Ball said. “That’s how we used to play with his brothers. Either hit a long 3-pointer from halfcourt or a dunk.”

But it became clear very quickly that things wouldn’t always go smoothly. The sophomore Ingram shined with 26 points in 31 minutes, playing with more assertiveness than his celebrated rookie teammate. Lonzo finished with five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

“It’s got nothing to do with him,” LaVar Ball said. “He’s going to make this team come up and make everybody start passing the ball. And that’s when that chemistry comes in and that’s when that winning comes in. That’s when the winning comes in. Once you start winning, everybody starts feeling good.”

In that way, LaVar is right on the money.

Lonzo’s clothes are flashy, and the first play was quite a highlight. But the rest of his game was decidedly understated, much like his personality. Magic may have dubbed him the new face of the NBA’s marquee franchise and his father says the rookie is on the Lakers because he spoke it into existence. But there is nothing “look-at-me” about him.

He speaks quietly and with a straight face, nothing like the mega-watt smile Johnson brought to Hollywood from Michigan State. Surrounded by cameras after the game, he couldn’t wait to move on.

“The only way to go now is up,” Lonzo said. “That’ll probably be the worst game I’ll have all week so hopefully I keep getting better.”

Lakers Lonzo Ball era begins… and he looks every bit the rookie

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The Lonzo Ball hype machine in Los Angeles is close to overheating (in no small part thanks to his father). After hearing for years — remember, Ball grew up in L.A. and went to UCLA — unfair comparisons to Jason Kidd and how he is the best passing Laker guard since Magic Johnson, many Lakers fans expect… you know.

Those fans sold out the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday night to see Ball and the Lakers open Summer League against the Clippers. Every time he touched the ball early in the game, there was a roar.

His strengths were on display — he has great court vision and passing instincts, and he showed that on the first play of the game connecting with Brandon Ingram.

As the game wore on… Ball looked like a rookie.

His potential weaknesses were on display as well — his unconventional shot was 1-of-11 from three, and as he tried to set up others the Clipper defense started trying to make Ball a scorer, and he didn’t fill that role. He also got torched defensively at times, unable to stay in front of his man at the top of the key.

It’s one Summer League game, it means about as much as “proof” the Earth is flat.

What this game can do is give us an idea of the journey Ball will need to take as a professional to live up to the hype (or at least come close to it, his hype man/father makes it hard to live up to all of it).

Ball did a number of things well, things he can build upon. My personal favorite is that he didn’t need to bring the ball up himself and control the action, when he could he threw the ball ahead to forwards who ran the court, which allowed guys like Ingram to operate in space, kept the tempo up, and it led to easy baskets. The Lakers ran and moved because he would get them the rock.

Ball finished with five assists, but that undersells the number of shots he created for Lakers teammates with hockey assists and those hit-ahead passes. His passing set the tone, and as a team the Lakers pushed the pace and moved the ball. Those are good signs going forward.

The biggest concern was the shooting — he knocked it down in college, but not every scout was convinced his shot would translate. He struggled with his shot in his first game, took some poor ones, and finished 2-of-15 overall and 1-of-11 from three. He missed all his shots in overtime.

“I liked the looks, I just missed them,” Ball said after the game, sounding like a shooter.

(The Lakers eventually lost to the Clippers in OT. If you care about the final score of a Summer League game it was 96-93, but if you really care you need to re-evaluate parts of your life.)

Ball is going to have to prove to teams he can knock down shots when they go under picks, or things will be far harder for him. The Clippers laid back on him and took away driving/passing lanes playing off him more as the game went on, Ball couldn’t make them pay this night. Part of his development needs to be doing just that.

Other notes from this game:

• One of my favorite barometers in Summer League is: How much did a guy who got regular NBA run last season improve from a year ago? Summer League is about development, this league is a measuring stick.

In that front, Brandon Ingram was fantastic. His ball handling skills were much improved (even from the second half of the season), which opened up his face up game and attacking the rim. He’s gotten stronger, but he’s gotten smarter about how to use his body to create space. The result was he was the best player on the court, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Ingram did not take part in overtime after mildly tweaking his knee late in the game — Magic Johnson was courtside and after the play signaled to the Laker bench Ingram was done for the night. After the game the Lakers said it was nothing serious, he wanted to go back in, but the team is understandably being overly cautious.

• Lakers’ second-round pick Bryant showed potential as an energy big off the bench, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. He had a very good night.

• The Clippers did not run out anyone likely to see a lot of time on the court with the big club next season. Maybe the one exception is Sindarius Thornwell, the rookie who turned heads at South Carolina last season, as he finished with 26 points on 13 shots and had a good night. NBA vet Brice Johnson added 23.

Lonzo Ball’s first play as Laker is alley-oop pass to Brandon Ingram for dunk

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The Thomas and Mack Center is sold out on a Friday night in Las Vegas because Lakers fans want to see Lonzo Ball… even if it’s just Summer League.

And his first play is exactly what fans came to see — an alley-oop to Brandon Ingram for the dunk.

I could give the usual “be careful about reading much into Summer League” warning, but Lakers fans aren’t going to listen. So enjoy it.