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Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson takes Magic Johnson’s praise to heart

Jordan Clarkson, Doug McDermott
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson shoots over Thunder forward Doug McDermott during the first quarter their game on Feb. 24, 2017.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

More than once since he first became part of the Lakers organization again, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has made one thing very clear.

He believes Jordan Clarkson has the potential to be a great defender.

Lakers Coach Luke Walton agrees.

“Coming into training camp [Walton] said I could be one of the best defenders in the league,” Clarkson said. “I’m taking that to heart. It’s going to take some time but we’re all still young and growing. I feel I can do it.”

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Clarkson has a scorer’s mentality and it shows in his play. On Friday night part of his responsibility was to guard Russell Westbrook. Walton liked what he did there.

As Clarkson grows, Walton is hopeful about his future as a defender.

“His defensive numbers are not very good,” Walton said. “[But] he’s got the quickness, I think he’s going to continue to get stronger. We ask him to guard multiple positions and sometimes the guy he’s guarding is bigger. As far as his explosiveness and his aggression and competitive level, I think he’ll be a good defender the older he gets and the stronger he gets.”

Magic meal

Johnson took another step in acquainting himself with his team on Thursday.

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After flying on the team plane to Oklahoma City, he took the coaching staff out to dinner.

“We went to dinner last night just talking about the ideas, visions and what he sees and what I see,” Walton said. “It’s been a lot of healthy dialogue going on. … With the trade deadline when it was and when this change took place, he felt it was important that he got around and met everyone. He met sitting down to a dinner last night with the coaches and let the other coaches get to know him and feel comfortable with him was important to him.”

Traded on a plane

Word spread around the Lakers charter flight to Oklahoma City on Thursday that someone had been traded to the Houston Rockets.

Nick Young had an idea of who it might be.

“Everybody was looking at me,” Young said. “I thought I was gone. Turned out to be Celo.”

The trade that happened within the final hour before the NBA trade deadline sent reserve point guard Marcelo Huertas to Houston in exchange for another reserve point guard Tyler Ennis and the draft rights to Brad Newley, an Australian who is currently playing in Greece. Ennis will join the team in Los Angeles.

When the trade happened, Huertas was called to the back of the plane to hear the news. Once the Lakers landed in Oklahoma City, Huertas left them.

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“It was tough,” starting point guard D’Angelo Russell said. “That’s one of my best friends off the court and on the court I learned so much from him. This is a business. Whatever happens there’s some things that you can’t control. But that’s my brother.”

For Young, the news closed another uncertain chapter. He knew the Lakers tried to trade him over the summer. He also knew they shopped him just before this deadline. He couldn’t help but pay attention to rumors swirling as the deadline approached.

“I learned you can’t believe everything you see,” Young said. “I’m still here.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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