Weeks ago now-Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson told Coach Luke Walton he was ready to grind. On Thursday morning, Johnson stood on a blue swath of Oklahoma City’s court wearing black warmup pants and a black Lakers sweatshirt, reviewing practice with Walton.
Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram, often used as a 6-foot-9 guard, wandered over to Johnson. The legendary 6-foot-9 point guard worked on the court with Ingram. He offered advice on how Ingram could better come off pick-and-rolls.
“He was telling me he noticed some things I could’ve done during the scrimmage we had that he thought could be helpful,” Walton said. “He’s probably over there explaining it to him right now. Who better to tell a tall guard how to finish around the rim than Magic?”
Johnson traveled with the Lakers to Oklahoma City on Thursday morning. The NBA’s trade deadline elapsed while they flew, and the Lakers made a final move — one smaller than many wondered if they might make.
The Lakers inquired about Indiana Pacers star Paul George, a native of Palmdale, Calif., but those talks never went past a preliminary stage. Indiana reportedly had no real interest in trading George.
“I’m from L.A.,” George told reporters in Indianapolis of the idea he wanted to be traded to the Lakers. “There’s ties, there’s connections. But you can’t jump to conclusions based on that. If that was the case I wouldn’t have took a long extension here. I wouldn’t have thought about taking an extension; I would’ve played there a lot sooner. It is what it is.”
That the Lakers didn’t trade for George doesn’t preclude his joining them at some point. If he opts out of the final year of his contract, as he’s widely expected to do, George will become a free agent in the summer of 2018.
The designated player exception in the new collective bargaining agreement threatens to significantly restrict the movement of star players, the kind the Lakers hope to attract to supplement their young core. Under the new rules, players must be named to an All-NBA team in the previous season or in two of the last three seasons in order to qualify for the exception, which would then entitle the player to a maximum contract worth more than $200 million. But if George doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season or next season, he will not be eligible to earn the inflated contract that comes with the exception.
That could set up an interesting free agency period in 2018. DeMarcus Cousins will not qualify for the exception, either, as only players who are still with the team that drafted them, or were traded on their rookie deals, qualify. The Sacramento Kings traded Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.
As Thursday’s trade deadline elapsed, the Lakers made one more move with Houston, sending reserve point guard Marcelo Huertas to the Rockets for 22-year-old point guard Tyler Ennis. The Lakers also received the draft rights to Australian player Brad Newley, who is 29 and currently plays in Greece.
The move came two days after the Lakers acquired Corey Brewer and a 2017 first-round draft pick from the Rockets for guard Lou Williams.
“This trade allows us to continue on the path of building something special, while maintaining future flexibility within the organization,” Johnson said of the Williams move. “Additionally, Corey is a proven veteran that will make a positive impact on our team right away.”
Brewer arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and underwent his physical. He flew with the Lakers to Oklahoma City on Thursday morning and participated in his first practice with the team at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I think I bring experience and a lot of energy,” Brewer said. “The way I play, I play hard all the time. Try to teach the young guys how to play hard, try to bring some passion.”
Johnson watched from the sideline throughout practice. He offered tips to some players and spoke with Walton about what he saw.
Johnson has wanted to keep the lines of communication open with his head coach. Walton took part in meetings over the last two days with Johnson and other members of the front office.
“He wants to know what I think of players on other teams,” Walton said. “The style of play that I want to play. Then they can better make decisions on who they can target to try to get and whatnot. Just a lot of back and forth about whatever player we were talking about at the time. It was nice.”
Walton doesn’t expect Johnson on every trip, nor does he expect him at every practice. As he familiarizes himself with the team and the staff, though, Johnson is taking a hands-on approach.
AT OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
When: 5 p.m. PST, Friday.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena.
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 19-39, Thunder 32-25.
Record vs. Thunder: 1-1
Update: The goal isn’t to stop Russell Westbrook, who has 27 triple-doubles in the Thunder’s first 57 games. That would be nearly impossible. Rather Lakers Coach Luke Walton wants his players to make things as difficult as possible on Westbrook, and if he has a big statistical night anyway, they’ll live with that.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli