Newsletter: Lakers! How did All-Star weekend affect Paul George?
Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly newsletter.
Well, it’s become semi-weekly in the past few, but with the All-Star break and trade deadline behind us, we’ll get back to a regular schedule. As always, please send me any questions you might have. I’ll try to pick one to answer here most weeks.
The Lakers have 25 games left, starting with Friday night’s matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. They are 11th in the Western Conference standings at 23-34, and they will be hard pressed to make up the six games it would take to somehow sneak into the playoffs.
The rest of this season will, for the fifth year in a row, be about the future.
Here’s Lakers coach Luke Walton on his goals for the rest of the season: “We want to be a top-10 defensive team for these last 25 games; we want to continue to play at the pace that we’ve done. I think going into the break we were No. 1 in pace still. Want to continue to develop our young players, they need to keep playing, they need to keep getting reps. they need to keep finishing, learning how to win games. … We’re really going to need them in the future.”
We’ll catch up on all that happened since our last newsletter, but before we do, let’s talk a little Paul George.
What All-Star weekend told us about George’s mind-set
During the All-Star game on Sunday, I made a comment on Twitter that the atmosphere felt like a Saturday afternoon Clippers game. Outside a few offended Clippers fans, that got the point across to most people. The arena was completely dead for most of the game.
George got the first big cheer from the crowd during pregame introductions, but when he entered the game for the first time, they barely made a peep, which our friend Andy Kamenetzky of ESPNLA noted, along with a glib, “Hope he’s not offended.”
George loves the attention he gets in Los Angeles. Fans chanted “We want Paul” during All-Star media day (there were fans at media day this year) and George smiled and acknowledged them. Hilariously, a few podiums away, Russell Westbrook angrily yelled back at those fans “Paul ain’t going nowhere!”
It was an awkward weekend for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They wanted George to be an All-Star, because they wanted him to know that was an attainable goal while playing in the small market of Oklahoma City. But this particular All-Star Game happened to be in Los Angeles, the place George is on record as saying he wants to play, a place not far from his hometown of Palmdale.
I went to Palmdale two weeks ago and spoke to some of its residents and spoke to George’s sister for another story. The main themes that emerged about George were his loyalty and his affinity for a simple, outdoorsy lifestyle.
At All-Star media day, George was asked directly if he knows what he’s going to do this summer, when he could become a free agent.
“I don’t,” he said. “I know what I feel is best.”
To me that sounds like he has an idea and that he is leaning in a certain direction. We won’t know for months if last weekend swayed him one way or another.
Since last we spoke
—Four years ago Larry Nance Jr. told his dad that he was going to do Nance Sr.’s signature dunk in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest one day. So last Saturday night, Nance, whom the Lakers traded to Cleveland two weeks ago, changed into an old-school Phoenix Suns uniform — the same one his father wore in the first ever dunk contest — and perfectly executed his dad’s signature “rock the cradle” dunk. Nance did better than I expected in the dunk contest. It’s difficult for big men to seem impressive, given how much closer they are to the basket to begin with. He was creative and not too gimmicky. He made it to the finals where he lost to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell.
—There was another sweet story involving Nance and his dad. On Thursday, Nance announced his plans to wear his father’s retired jersey with the Cavaliers.
—Rajon Rondo tussled with Isaiah Thomas when the Lakers played the Pelicans. Rondo was physical with Thomas and chatty. He brought up the video tribute Thomas was scheduled to get in Boston on Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement night, which had so offended Rondo. Thomas got in some zingers about Rondo after the game.
—Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram played for a third straight night in the Rising Stars game, with Lonzo Ball on the bench with them. The team they faced walloped them and was full of Philadelphia 76ers, offering a glimpse at what it looks like when a rebuild succeeds.
—LeBron James said L.A. is the perfect place to hold the All-Star game, touting its ability to handle star power, and everyone freaked out.
With fresh legs Friday night, the Lakers face the Mavericks at home before heading out for a four-game road trip that spans Sacramento, Atlanta, Miami and San Antonio. Until next time …
All times Pacific
Friday vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Saturday at Sacramento, 7 p.m.
Monday at Atlants, 4:30 p.m.
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