Newsletter: Lakers! Lonzo Ball is finding his rhythm again
Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly Lakers newsletter.
I write to you from a patio in South Beach on our third and final day down here. Miami in February and early March will make you never want to leave (until you remember Miami in July).
Josh Hart felt that way until he broke his hand in practice. He flew home Thursday morning to be further evaluated by the Lakers’ doctors. Wednesday he posted a sad Instagram photo that led to Kyle Kuzma commenting, “You posted this like your career ending boy if you don’t relax and go play fortnight lol.” He added a few of those emojis that look like they’re laughing so hard they’re crying.
Larry Nance Jr. also chimed in with the same emojis to remind Hart that when he broke his hand he was back in three weeks.
Things are otherwise happy in Laker land. Julius Randle keeps having monster games. They are all but guaranteed to have a better record than last year, entering Thursday night’s with the same number of wins as they finished last season. And Lonzo Ball is back and nearing the end of his minutes restriction.
We’ll start there.
Lonzo Ball is finding his rhythm again
First, let’s get this out of the way: Lonzo Ball did not lose a shooting contest to rapper Bow Wow.
Well, he lost one game. That game went viral. But it was a two-out-of-three contest and Ball said (with a chuckle) he won the other two. They played in Atlanta after the Lakers beat the Hawks. Atlanta is a city known for its prominence on the hip hop scene, and that wasn’t Ball’s only interaction with that world while there. After shootaround, he listed the rapper Quavo, from the group Migos, as one of his top five rappers. Quavo came to the game, letting Ball know he was planning to do so.
They are fans of each other’s work, Ball said.
Ball put on a strong performance for Quavo on Monday night. He made all three of the three-pointers he took and all four shots overall. He made his two free throws, too, for 13 points. It’s been fun to see Isaiah Thomas watching Ball up close with fresh eyes. He noted that Ball’s shot is “ugly as hell,” but conceded it works.
Ball and his head coach disagreed on one point.
Ball didn’t think he and his teammates skipped a beat when it came to finding their chemistry again upon his return. Lakers coach Luke Walton said Monday night in Atlanta that Ball played great, but players were still adjusting to playing with Ball and the speed with which plays unfold for him in transition.
“I think guys are going to have to get used to playing with him again,” Walton said. “A few times he grabbed rebounds or steals and his head was already up looking to make a pass and the people downcourt weren’t looking.”
The Lakers had Ball on a 20-minute restriction in his first game back against Dallas. He skipped their next game, as it was the second night of a back-to-back, and was on a 25-minute restriction against the Hawks on Monday. Ball will start Thursday night in Miami, but will still be on a minutes restriction, just a looser one. He told us Wednesday that he felt good.
Since last we spoke
-- Randle wandering down a hallway at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento was a curious sight that had me worried he was injured in that game. Later Walton quipped that he hoped Randle was in a gym somewhere shooting free throws. Turned out that’s exactly what he was doing after an 0-for-5 performance that caused him to say, “jeez.” Randle has been playing great and he’s had three straight games with double doubles, including a triple double against his hometown Mavericks.
-- For everything he’s done for the Lakers, with a smile on his face, Corey Brewer was rewarded with a buyout so he can actually go play somewhere and perhaps be part of a playoff run.
-- Kuzma was named in the FBI bribery and corruption probe into college basketball as having taken several thousand dollars from ASM, a high-powered sports agency at the center of the FBI’s investigation. There were more than 20 players named and it’s unclear whether the players named face any legal discipline. Those that are still in college, of course, could face NCAA discipline. Our Nathan Fenno wrote this the day the story broke.
-- Kuzma has been pretty outspoken about his belief that college basketball players should get a piece of the pie when it comes to the revenue generated by the sport. He, understandably, didn’t want to go there after this story broke and declined to answer any specifics about it while his people figure out exactly what his role is and what the consequences might be. Ball and Walton were happy to share their beliefs that college athletes should be paid more.
-- Kobe Bryant and Isaiah Thomas are still in touch. “I like you better in L.A., anyway,” Kobe told Thomas when he got traded to the Lakers. Thomas got his first home game as a Laker on Friday.
-- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made eight three-pointers against the Kings on Saturday. It tied a record in that building, first set by Damian Lillard earlier in February, and matched Caldwell-Pope’s career high. Told that only Kobe had ever made at least nine threes in a game for the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope said he should have tried to get another.
Question of the Week
Bob Grossman writes: “All of the scenarios I read involve the Lakers clearing the decks over the summer to get the cap space to sign two max players.
“They will retain a core of four, Kuzma, Lonzo, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart I believe, but no IT, no KCP, no Brook Lopez (who’s come in handy) and I guess no Zu nor even Julius Randle (seriously?)
“But you can’t play with just 6. Who will fill out the balance of the roster? Anyone who will play for the NBA minimum? Us fans have been investing in the guys that seem destined to play elsewhere. Alex Caruso and Thomas Bryant have looked pretty good at times. Will any familiar names be retained? Acquired?”
Thanks for the question, Bob!
I think there is a good chance Randle departs in free agency, but I wouldn’t guarantee that at this point, especially given the way he’s been playing lately. And it will, of course, depend heavily on what they are able to do in free agency.
The issue for the veterans like Caldwell-Pope, Lopez and Isaiah Thomas is that if the Lakers can’t get two max players this summer, they’ll stick to a similar plan they used this summer of only bringing in contracts that don’t clog their salary cap space for the following summer.
The Lakers do like Zubac and he’s got another year on his contract, which becomes guaranteed in summer.
The Lakers have been very clear that their plan is to bring in two superstars and have them take the franchise back to its glory days. When that kind of thing actually works, it causes a ripple effect. When superstars join a team, they usually bring friends. Veterans who are good on the court and in the locker room are more apt to come to a team with a real shot at a title to play for the minimum.
And in the case the Lakers do get two superstars this summer – there is a distinct possibility they don’t, by the way – they’ll need other veterans to help smooth the transition. Adding seasoned superstars who are laser focused on championships to a team filled with talented young players with youthful attitudes could lead to some friction if you don’t have a buffer.
Until next time…
All times Pacific
Thursday at Miami, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday at San Antonio, 6 p.m.
Monday vs. Portland, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV
Wednesday vs. Orlando, 7:30 p.m.
Until next time
All things Lakers, all the time.
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