Jeanie Buss: Lakers are interested only in players who want to play with LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) high-fives Josh Hart (3) at the end of the first half o
Lakers star LeBron James, left, high-fives teammate Josh Hart during a game against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

When Kobe Bryant was the team’s marquee star, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss remembers hearing about how other stars didn’t want to play with him.

So when she heard the same comments emerging about LeBron James, it made her laugh just as it did with Bryant.

“If somebody doesn’t want to play with the best player playing in the NBA right now, then I don’t want them on the team,” Buss said during a podcast interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

The interview lasted for an hour and included Buss’ thoughts on a variety of topics. She reiterated her support for Luke Walton, but when asked whether he would definitely finish the season as coach, she said that was a question for Magic Johnson.

“Every single person in the organization is here to make Luke successful,” she said.

Without mentioning the Cleveland Cavaliers by name, Buss said it was difficult to see the Lakers lose at home to teams with sub-.500 records. She also noted the win over the Oklahoma City Thunder as one that pleased her.

“Given the injuries that we have, it’s a challenge,” Buss said about Walton’s task. “People forget, he’s had two of our starters taken away from him. They’ve won really important games on the road, proving what is possible even without LeBron. But it’s still difficult to lose the games you’re supposed to win.”

Rajon Rondo nears return

Barring a setback before Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Walton is expecting to have Rajon Rondo back in the lineup for that game.

His return is especially important now that the Lakers will be without Lonzo Ball, who suffered a severe ankle sprain, until after the All-Star game.

“They’re different,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Lonzo gets out on the break, gets ahead of everybody. Rondo is a half-court genius. They’re definitely different.”

Rondo tore a ligament in his right ring finger on Christmas and has been out for the last 14 games, as has James (groin injury). During that time, the Lakers are 5-9, most recently losing by 19 points to the Golden State Warriors.

James did a 5-on-0 drill Sunday, but did not participate in the Lakers’ shootaround Monday.

“I haven’t seen him do contact yet, so I don’t feel as confident,” Walton said about James’ availability for Thursday’s game. “But I know you know how serious he is about his rehab. So he’s doing everything possible and we’ve talked. I know he’s dying to get back on the basketball court but he also knows that getting healthy is the top priority. So whenever that day comes, he’ll be back out there but I would say right now I feel more confident about Rondo being ready for Thursday.”

Free-throw shooting

During the Lakers’ recent two-game trip, their free-throw shooting percentage was unusually high.

They made 84% of their free throws in Oklahoma City and Houston, making 90.5% in their win in Oklahoma City. In Houston, the Lakers made 24 of 30 free throws, including all 17 they attempted in the fourth quarter.

Ivica Zubac was particularly effective, making all nine of his attempts. He became the first Laker this season to attempt at least seven free throws in a game and make them all.

His method?

“I just clear my mind,” Zubac said. “I can’t hear anything around me. I don’t see anything but the rim. I do my routine. Everything I do as usual and just shoot it.”

As a team this season, the Lakers have made 68.7% of their free throws, the worst percentage in the NBA.

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Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli