The Lakers are not yet past the point where president of basketball operations Magic Johnson’s mere presence is noteworthy.
He traveled with the Lakers to Oklahoma City and things changed.
We’ll start there in today’s five takeaways from Friday night’s 110-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
1) The first thing Johnson’s presence has done is inject a sense of urgency into the Lakers. D’Angelo Russell feels it, even though Johnson has repeatedly talked about keeping the Lakers’ “young talent” together and developing them. Russell said having Johnson and pending new General Manager Rob Pelinka around makes it feel like coming to a new team. Nick Young added that Johnson’s presence keeps everyone on their “toes.” That’s a good thing at this time of year when it becomes more difficult for teams out of the playoff chase to focus.
2) The Lakers only used 10 players in Friday’s game, using a very young lineup as their second unit that included a couple starters. That group: Russell, Ivica Zubac, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr.
3) Zubac was born in 1997, well after the peak of Magic Johnson’s playing career. But Zubac still found himself star-struck this summer when he met Johnson for the first time. In anticipation, he texted his mother. “She was like, ‘If you don’t take a picture with him, I’m going to kill you,’” Zubac said. “I had to take a picture with him.” Some wonder if Johnson means anything to young players. I’m sure there are players with whom Johnson’s greatness as a player might not resonate, but there will be plenty of others like Zubac. The Lakers rookie grew up a Lakers fan, and video of what Johnson did in his playing career was readily available. “I grew up watching their videos on YouTube,” Zubac said. “Their highlights and everything. I met him this summer … this summer I was like mind blown. I met Magic, I met Kareem, I met I don’t know, Elgin Baylor. Lot of Lakers legends.”
4) Lakers Coach Luke Walton uses the fourth quarter as an incentive for his players. When they play well, they get to close the game. Lou Williams often got hot enough that he earned that role, but with Williams gone now, Walton says we’ll see more of Russell and Clarkson in the fourth quarter. Last night, Clarkson played the entire fourth quarter, and Russell played 8 minutes and 17 seconds.
5) That the Lakers main goal is to develop their young players is an idea that was clear when the season started, but still floating just beneath the surface of the Lakers’ every day conversations. That’s no longer the case. Take Young, for example. “I understand the business side of letting the young guys grow,” Young said. “Still consider myself one of these guys right here. I’ll make shots for them when they need me.”