Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly Lakers newsletter.
This week offered a good reminder of the human element in sports. Lonzo Ball was on the first multi-city road trip of his NBA career and as it began news surfaced that his brother, LiAngelo, had been arrested in China, then questioned by police, for alleged shoplifting. He is facing an unfamiliar legal system that could tie him up for weeks or months.
It’s a scary proposition to see a family member go through that. Ball did his best to focus on basketball throughout the day. Laker Coach Luke Walton made sure to check in with him, wanting to bear in mind that personal situations can have a big effect on a player’s mental state. Television cameras and reporters surrounded Ball in the Lakers’ locker room, just to observe him. At one point Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw walked by and teased, “Over here we have the rare Floridian crocodile,” causing a ripple of laughter from everyone including Ball. Walton said Ball seemed fine when they spoke.
After the game, Ball, a man of few words, offered five to reveal that this wasn’t absent from his mind, “It’s still my little brother.” But then quickly reminded us again of his steely focus by directing the conversation back to basketball.
The Lakers landed in Washington late Wednesday night after losing to the Boston Celtics, 107-96.
I am on my way to D.C., where they will play the Wizards on Thursday night – a Wizards team that is surely out for revenge.
They’ll do it shorthanded
The Lakers were dealt a major blow Nov. 2 when they lost power forward Larry Nance Jr. to a broken bone in his left hand. Nance was despondent in the locker room Thursday night. It was a rare moment when he refused to speak to reporters postgame.
He had surgery the next day and was fitted with a cast. The bone he broke is the second metacarpal, which anchors the index finger.
His spirits quickly rebounded. Nance joked with us before the Lakers’ Sunday night game against the Grizzlies that the biggest tragedy of his injury was that he couldn’t fit video game controllers in the opening of his cast.
In truth, what made the injury especially sad was that Nance had worked so hard to finally become a starter in his third season with the Lakers and then had this setback. This could also jeopardize Nance’s availability for the Slam Dunk contest during All-Star Weekend, which would have been a nice story. Nance’s father won the contest in 1984, and this year’s festivities are in Los Angeles. Nance wasn’t able to participate last season because of a bone bruise.
Since last we spoke
-- Kyle Kuzma became a starter: Among the Lakers options to replace Nance in the starting lineup were Kuzma and Julius Randle. Kuzma immediately made an impact. He had two double-doubles as a starter, to add to one he had earlier in the season coming off the bench. There were plenty of people, including many in the building, who thought the wait would be longer to truly see what Kuzma could do. Instead, he’s become a sensation right away. In his first start he made eight of 11 shots and scored 21 points. In his second start he had another double-double. In his third, at Boston, Kuzma came back down to Earth a little bit, but so did the Lakers.
-- NBA point guards remain fans of Zo: Add Mike Conley and Kyrie Irving to the list of point guards who are impressed with Ball. Conley said Ball’s unselfishness makes him Conley’s type of guy. Irving told reporters that Ball was incredible in transition and complimented Ball’s desire to get his teammates involved. Damian Lillard, too, had nice things to say about Ball – on the court and on the mic. I asked Lillard, a rapper himself, if he’d heard Ball rap. He said he had caught some of Ball’s freestyling. “He can rap,” Lillard said.
--Luol Deng went public with his desire to be somewhere else: Deng and his agent have been working with the Lakers since shortly after the season began to find him a new home, whether that’s through a trade or a buyout. He first spoke about it with ESPN. I checked in with Deng on Wednesday and asked him if he regrets signing with the Lakers. “I really was really excited about the opportunity that I was given financially and also looking forward to playing for an organization like the Lakers,” Deng said, to start. There’s much more in this story. Deng thought he’d have more of an opportunity to contribute on the court than he has. For what it’s worth, this isn’t a toxic situation with his teammates. Both Walton and Deng said things are fine because it’s not a personal situation between them. Deng simply wants a better situation. Moving him will also be difficult. He makes $18 million a year and his contract has two more seasons on it after this year. There won’t be a lot of teams willing to take on that money without receiving a significant asset back – likely a player with whom the Lakers don’t want to part. Deng declined to say what he’d be willing to give up in a buyout.
The Lakers will be on the road until Monday. After facing the Wizards, they’ll play Milwaukee and then Phoenix.
In Milwaukee they’ll face Giannis Antetokounmpo, perhaps the player in the league with the highest ceiling.
When Kuzma was asked last week if he compares himself to other rookies, he said he doesn’t. Instead, he said, he compares himself to the kinds of players he aspires to be like one day. The two he mentioned? LeBron James and Antetokounmpo.
(All times Pacific)
Thursday at Washington, 4 p.m.
Saturday at Milwaukee, 5:30 p.m.
Monday at Phoenix, 6 p.m.
Wed. vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. ESPN