The changes came quickly to a team trying to blend so much in so little time.
The Lakers have old age, extreme youth and also one loss in as many tries, so Coach Byron Scott has decided to give rookie D’Angelo Russell more ball-handling duties for Friday’s game at Sacramento.
Russell looked lost Wednesday when he debuted as a shooting guard because Scott believed it would create an easier NBA introduction. Jordan Clarkson had the ball in his hands more often than Russell in the opener.
“We flipped that” at Thursday’s practice, Kobe Bryant said, condoning Scott’s quick reversal. “That’s what [Russell] does best, is organize the offense. JC is a great attack player, so on the [off] side, he’s probably more useful.”
Russell made two of seven shots and had only two assists with three turnovers in 26 minutes. He didn’t complain about being a shooting guard after the Lakers’ 112-111 loss to Minnesota, but he didn’t rave about it, either.
“It’s just in practice, you’re used to playing with the ball,” said Russell, who scored four points. “When it comes to game time, you’re playing off the ball, you’re not really familiar with the spots.
“You’re trying to figure out if you’re in the right spot,” Russell added. “You’re trying to figure out, ‘Kobe has the ball on the elbow, do you run toward him? Do you cut?’ ”
Russell did not finish Wednesday’s game, giving way to veteran Lou Williams, who had 21 points but missed the potential winning layup as time expired. No hard feelings from Russell.
“Coach does a great job doing what he does,” Russell said. “If I’m on the floor, I’m on the floor. If not, have to live with it.”
Russell, however, seemingly hoped teammates would keep a closer eye on the ball. Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass each fumbled unexpected passes under the basket from Russell.
“I don’t know, man. It’s either we get it or I just keep getting a turnover,” Russell said. “I’m down with it if it’s going to take some time and we see some improvement. If guys can’t catch it or if I make the pass at the wrong time, it’s both of our faults if it’s not a successful play.”
KG vs. Randle
Veteran Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett tried to irritate Lakers’ young power forward Julius Randle in Wednesday’s game, but Randle did not back down, instead sticking his nose very close to the side of Garnett’s face. Garnett was complaining to referees at the time, presumably about something Randle did under the basket.
“I knew they would get into it,” Bryant said Thursday, trying not to smile. “I know KG and KG loves to test the young guys. He loves to see just what they’re made of.”
Bryant liked Randle’s reaction to Garnett’s prodding.
“He responded like a grown-ass man. I think KG has a lot of respect for him because of it,” Bryant said.
Garnett did not talk to reporters after the game.
Farewell tour time?
Friday marks the Lakers’ first road game but don’t expect any gifts bestowed upon Bryant in Sacramento … or other NBA cities.
He doesn’t want it that way and hasn’t officially said he would retire, preferring to wait until after this season to decide.
Just the same, Scott remembers the farewell tour in 1988-89 for former teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“It was a circus everywhere we went,” he said. “If I remember correctly, before every game, it was gifts and all this other stuff. It was crazy, a little bit of a distraction I think at times, more for him than us. Everybody tried to take advantage in a good way of saying how much they appreciated the way that man played for so many years.”
Bryant said he wouldn’t want the same exit as his good friend, Derek Jeter, whose final season with the New York Yankees was a long, ceremonial goodbye.