About half a mile from where the Lakers slept in Memphis is Earnestine & Hazel’s, a bar and grill full of cigarette smoke, beer, flat-top hamburgers and a haunted jukebox plugged into the beaten-up wall.
Legend has it the machine can read the mood of the room, playing the perfect song for a situation. And maybe, those same spirits followed the Lakers to Oklahoma City.
As the team wrapped up practice Tuesday afternoon, the speaker inside the arena started playing Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” a song title that probably best encapsulates life as a Laker.
They’ve taken knock after knock since the latest blueprint for a rebuild was drawn, with Luke Walton coaching a young team.
“Coming down, I was aware of what we were trying to do. We’re trying to build something where we can be really good again for a long time,” Walton said Tuesday. “I know that takes time. It takes failing. It takes coming together as a group. It is challenging going through it. You want to win now. You want instant gratification.
“But, that’s not the way it works in this league.”
That’s how Walton and his staff are thinking as they try to navigate the Lakers back to the standard set by the franchise’s history. To get there, he has had to alter the definition of success to fit the team’s path.
Wins and losses? They can’t be the benchmark. Instead, the focus is on subtle improvements, improved competitiveness and sounder fundamentals.
The players, Walton said, can’t be concerned with the long-term trajectory of the team. Their focus has to be with what’s directly in front of them.
“For them, it’s about being present and trying to get better right now. For us as a staff, it’s continuing to challenge them to do those things day in and day out that’ll get us through. … It’s about us setting that foundation,” he said. “For them, it’s about coming into work every day and giving it their all and being pissed off when they lose and not understanding why and wanting to win. With a combination of that, we will eventually win consistently.”
While the team is only a game removed from a four-game winning streak, that’s an outlier. It’s why, in a sense, Walton has had to help the young players deal with losing.
“He’s been a big help,” forward Brandon Ingram said of his coach. “His message to us is pretty disciplined, same messages, that we want to get better every single day no matter if we win or lose. And we want to stick to playing basketball the right way, and we come here every single day and harp on it. And we try to practice it every single day whether it is on the offensive or defensive end, and we just try to translate it to the game.”
By showing improvement, even modest gains, the Lakers can offer some hope to some coveted free-agent targets who are playing for opposing teams.
And while the players learn how to handle all the hard knocks in their young professional lives, the hope is the losing actually springs to life competitiveness that lives within them instead of snuffing out a player’s confidence.
“It can make their will to do whatever it takes to win much stronger depending on how they feel about losing, how they feel about failing,” Walton said. “That’s when you normally learn the most about yourself and about your team, and how you respond to it.
“The great ones that have played in this league have failed, have lost and have come back and worked that much harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Although your confidence can get shook a little bit from losing, the character and core of who you are as a player can be much stronger.”
Elgin Baylor statue at Staples
Elgin Baylor, a former star forward for the Lakers and general manager for the Clippers, will be the next person to be immortalized with a statue outside Staples Center, the Lakers announced.
Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds over a career that ended with a number retired by the Lakers and a place in the Hall of Fame.
The statue, designed by Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany, will be the 10th outside Staples Center.
The statue will be unveiled April 6 before the Lakers host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ingram in, Ball out
The Lakers probably will get one of their top two young players back Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when Ingram likely will return from a left ankle injury.
“I’ll see how it feels in the morning but I feel confident about tomorrow,” Ingram said. “I know that this is a possibility that I’ll play tomorrow. I really want to play tomorrow so I probably will.”
Rookie Lonzo Ball, on the other hand, didn’t practice Tuesday, essentially ruling him out. Walton said Ball’s injured knee is still “too sore” to get him on the court.
“It’s nice to get Brandon back. Obviously, we want them both back. But, we’ll take one for now,” Walton said. “Like we say, it’s other people’s job to step up when guys go down. We need to do a better job of making a concerted effort to make the extra pass, to push the ball ahead, all those things that Zo helps us do as a team. We have to take those responsibilities on us as a group and go out there and play the same way.”
AT OKLAHOMA CITY
When: Wednesday, 5 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: ESPN, Spectrum Sportsnet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Update: The Lakers will need to bounce back from a performance in Memphis in which they were out-toughed by a marginally talented team. Oklahoma City has a lot more star power, with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, whom the Lakers saw two weeks ago in a 37-point Thunder win in Los Angeles.