(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Lakers Expect Ball to Elevate New Teammates
Magic Johnson has a plan, and it all begins with the 19-year-old who sat to his left on Friday.
At the introductory press conference for second-overall draft pick Lonzo Ball, Johnson placed high expectations for the UCLA point guard, even asking Ball to refrain from breaking at least a couple of the many records that Johnson owns from his Showtime playing days.
Johnson even went as far as saying that he wants to have Ball’s jersey retired in the rafters some day. Johnson, the Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, is convinced that Ball — who has owned a giant spotlight even since his high school days — is one who will thrive under such expectations.
“We knew he could handle the pressure of being a Laker and Los Angeles and Hollywood all at the same time,” Johnson said.
In particular, Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka foresee Ball making an immediate impact by unlocking his teammates’ potential through his passing.
Ball, who led the NCAA in assists during his lone year at UCLA, has been hailed as one of the best passers in recent draft history.
“Watch out,” Johnson said. “Larry Nance on that lob — wow! Julius Randle coming down the middle with that left hand — (whistles)! Big Zu (Ivica Zubac) back there trailing — wham!”
Pelinka said that Ball’s play will be “infectious” and make his teammates more willing passers as well. Meanwhile, Johnson highlighted Ball’s ability to make the “scoring pass,” like he did himself back in the 1980s.
“It’s just like James Worthy, Byron [Scott] and Coop (Michael Cooper) used to fight to get on the fast-break and into the lanes,” Johnson said. “They knew I was going to get it to them.”
Johnson sees much of himself in Ball, but not just in both players’ ability to thread the ball through intensely cramped windows.
Johnson — who even went and spoke to Ball’s principal and teachers at Chino Hills High — sees this teenager as a leader of men.
“We know those leadership qualities are what’s going to take the Lakers to our ultimate destination,” Pelinka said, “which is winning an NBA championship.”
With so much similarity between the two, Johnson plans to take a mentorship role in Ball’s life, much like what Dr. Jerry Buss, Jerry West, Bill Sharman and Chick Hearn did for him during the infancy of his career.
Meanwhile, Ball may have been a baby during the final years of the Lakers’ time at the Forum, but he knows exactly the type of player that Johnson wants to mold him into.
“I was born in ’97, so I didn’t really get to see him,” Ball said. “But my dad definitely had some tape of him. The Hardwood Classics came on, he’d call me in his room and we’d watch.”
And while everyone from Johnson to Ball’s father, LaVar, continues to talk of expectations for Lonzo, he himself is a man who’d rather speak through his on-court performance.
“I’m happy to be home,” Ball said. “And I’m ready to get to work.”
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