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Lonzo Ball: Lakers’ mentality is about defensive grit and making people ‘fear you’

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Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball makes the rounds with reporters during the Lakers’ media day at the team’s new training facility in El Segundo.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Lonzo Ball didn’t treat Tuesday like the watershed day in the Lakers’ future that it might have been, and neither did coach Luke Walton.

Ball treated it like every other day. He ate his waffles and over-easy eggs, got to the Lakers facility early and prepared for his workouts.

Walton treated it like every start of all two training camps he has run with the Lakers. He began the season-long process of hammering home the unglamorous properties of playing defense well.

“We actually met before media day, talked about the goals, got everything out there, fired everybody up. … Have a Lakers mentality. … Basically they said it starts with defense, defensive grit. Challenge one another and then go on the court and make people fear you,” Ball said.

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Though not known for his defense, Ball embraced the challenge in his first official Lakers practice.

“Lonzo was good,” Walton said. “He’s got length too. So a lot of what we’re trying to do, a huge part of defense is communicating, talking. He got louder as the day went on. He’s got length to where when he jumps up and contests a shot he can make people miss. By the end of practice he was doing that so it was good to see.”

Defense was Walton’s point of emphasis last season too. The message never quite translated to success on the court. The Lakers finished the season as the worst defensive team in the NBA. And that’s why they began again there.

Ball’s hallmark is the way he can run an offense. But he understands, as the Lakers coaches constantly preach, that a competent defense can help a dynamic offense. Personally, he knows what improvements will help him there.

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“I’m just trying to get stronger. … Playing defense out here versus grown men it’s physical, especially guarding Julius [Randle] when he comes down to the left; it’s a lot of work but just got to put it in and keep moving forward,” Ball said.

Big men limited

The Lakers didn’t have full use of their veteran centers to start camp.

Brook Lopez was kept out of contact drills because of back spasms. Lopez said Monday the spasms were not serious, but the Lakers planned to manage them so that they didn’t become serious. He added that he had no prior history with this injury. The Lakers acquired Lopez this summer as part of the trade that sent Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.

Andrew Bogut, an Australian center who signed with the Lakers last week, can’t practice yet because of issues with his visa.

Rob Pelinka contrite

General manager Rob Pelinka said he is ready to move on from the $500,000 tampering fine assessed to the Lakers earlier this month.

“When you make an error of judgment or a mistake in life, the first thing you have to do is you have to take accountability for that,” Pelinka said, in his first comments about the incident. “I have done that, and Magic’s done that. And then you have to learn from it and you have to get better. I think we’ve committed as an organization, and I have too, to learn from that. The NBA sent a clear message. We heard what it is. It’ll never happen here again because we’ve learned.”

The fine was the league’s largest ever for tampering. In its announcement, the league said the fine stemmed from Pelinka offering a banned expression of interest to agent Aaron Mintz about his client Paul George. George was under contract with the Indiana Pacers, who requested the investigation, and since has been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mintz previously told the Pacers that George had planned to depart in free agency next summer and wanted to sign with the Lakers.

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The Lakers have made no secret of their plans to sign multiple players to maximum contracts next summer in free agency. It is a summer during which LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and George all could declare as free agents.

Monday his language softened when discussing how the Lakers will use the two maximum contract slots they plan to have available next summer.

“That we have that could be for two guys, could be for multiple guys, could be used to re-sign some of our own players,” he said. “We have the flexibility to keep the young core intact and then to build with the cap flexibility.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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