Ingram's Wisdom: Appreciate the Next Opportunity

By Kevin Ding - Senior Writer

Brandon Ingram wrapped up his season Wednesday afternoon with a final interview. He lifted those calm eyes and rose slowly from his chair, moving on with that off-court tortoise pace that has become his custom. Then Ingram stopped and reached out with that slender right arm, placing it over the shoulders of Ta’Nisha Cooper, Lakers senior manager of media relations, so he could walk away with her.

This is the way Ingram has been connecting with everyone on and around the Lakers this season.

This is the way it was a breakthrough season for Ingram, even if he didn’t get the All-Star berth he sought, even if the team missed the playoffs. Ingram, 21, found some of his voice and whole lot of his smile in his third NBA season, graduating from that shy guy into the kind of warm presence who by all accounts was truly a pleasure to be around.

It was a stepping-out season for Ingram, who at this time last year was being ribbed by Kyle Kuzma for saying “10 words all year.” Ingram was also stepping out on the court in late February—proving he could stand out next to LeBron James—until Ingram’s season abruptly ended because of deep venous thrombosis in his right arm amid serious concerns about his wellness.

When I get back in this gym, it’s going to be exciting for me just to pick up a basketball.

Brandon Ingram

Hardly the sort to be overly dramatic, Ingram on Wednesday explained how much the uncommon ailment and subsequent surgery led him to reevaluate his mindset. It wasn’t so much worst-case fear over his health. It was all about appreciation for the best-case opportunity to stay devoted to what he loves.

“Without basketball,” Ingram said, shaking his head almost uncontrollably, “I have no idea what to do. So it just brings a little motivation, added motivation: Don’t take for granted things. When I get back in this gym, it’s going to be exciting for me just to pick up a basketball.”

As the Lakers move on from the disappointment of the season, Ingram’s lesson is the perfect takeaway. Struggles and letdowns can bring us down, but they can also blast silver-lining messages that we should seize our future opportunities.

That’s the mindset for the Lakers to carry into the coming summer of work and the next season of hope—to embrace the opportunity to play, especially on a team that should have a healthy James, and to treasure the possibilities.

Appreciation can arise from many sources. Sure, James better appreciates his health after missing a big chunk of his first Lakers season with a groin injury. Obviously, James better appreciates playoff runs upon being unable even to begin one now, snapping his string of eight consecutive NBA Finals trips.

But James went to Brooklyn on Wednesday night to be on hand for close friend Dwyane Wade’s final NBA game. James was asked during an in-game Fox Sports Florida interview what he has enjoyed most about Wade’s farewell-tour season.

“Just the appreciation,” James answered. “Not only from his fans, not only from his coaches and his teammates, but D-Wade’s appreciation to everybody else just showing him love.”

Alongside James in Brooklyn was friend Carmelo Anthony, who played only 10 games this season and was waived. Anthony, Wade and Chris Bosh—whose Miami Heat jersey retirement two weeks ago was another event James wanted to attend—were draft classmates of James. Unless Anthony resumes his career, no one selected in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft will remain in the league next season besides James.

Even though James said in February he has “a lot, a ton, more years to play this game and suit up and be in a Lakers uniform,” it’s only natural for him to have greater appreciation for the game when his contemporaries are leaving as he’s staying.

Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball

Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball

In that regard, getting a full offseason to rest and train is something else James can appreciate, even if it wasn’t his preference. In his recent interview with Spectrum SportsNet’s Allie Clifton, James fully acknowledged the facts of “my first major injury I’ve ever had in my life” and now having “like 5 1/2 months without basketball as far as competitive basketball.”

James stated time after time the precise duration of his injury absence: 5 1/2 weeks. He recounted the pain of sitting out for so long and “watching games I know if I was on the floor I could’ve made an impact on that play or watching games we were just losing against teams I felt we could’ve competed against more.”

It was all about sheer excitement for James first to don that Lakers uniform this season, but the next time it happens come October, the nuance of appreciation will be folded into everyone’s thoughts.

The Denver Nuggets this season consistently used the disappointment of last season—losing the final regular-season game in overtime, squandering what would’ve been their first playoff berth since 2013—as a reference point to seize every day this time around. This time, Denver wound up as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

James understands fully how adversity can set the table for success. When asked in Brooklyn for a singular memory of his time alongside Wade with the Heat, James summoned one that might be surprising.

“When we lost in ’11,” James said. “Because without ’11, there’s no ’13, there’s no ’12 banners hanging up in the Triple-A [Miami’s American Airlines Arena]. Because that’s what made us. That’s what made our team.”

For fans who kept watching down the stretch when James, Ingram and other headliners weren’t playing, the reward was the competitive zeal put forth by the less heralded Lakers. The final three games offered two victories and one last-second defeat against playoff-bound Western Conference teams.

Lakers head coach Luke Walton thanked the players for their effort after the final loss. He appreciated the pure energy. He called it “beautiful.” He even said: “Just means the world to me as a coach.”

Walton’s appreciation was meant to reciprocate the appreciation some of the guys getting late-season playing time showed. Who knows where their careers will go from here, but Alex Caruso, Johnathan Williams and Jemerrio Jones were downright inspiring as Lakers in maximizing the NBA moments they were given.

After each game he got to play since his March 31 debut, Jones approached Walton to thank him for the opportunity. Caruso sat in his exit interview with Walton and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka on Wednesday and thanked them in just the same vein.

Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Josh Hart

Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Josh Hart

It was back in 2017 that South Bay Lakers president Joey Buss gave Caruso the club’s first two-way contract to toggle between the G-League and the NBA, and Caruso’s points back to that as his springboard.

“Might not be here now,” Caruso said. “It’s all butterfly effect getting to this point.”

Of course it’s much rarer for proven veterans or hyped youngsters to bring the same fresh appreciation to the NBA floor. And that’s exactly why it’s significant if the Lakers can use the adversity of this season as their springboard toward greater appreciation next season.

For example, Lonzo Ball again had to swallow missing significant court time because of injury. Does he wallow in the disappointment, or does it lead him toward gratitude that next season he gets to pick up at the level he reached prior to his season-ending ankle injury?

Ball said his appreciation for his opportunities, both on and off the court, are now framed differently by having a daughter. He said looking out for her has helped him begin to look for the best for himself.

“Those two weeks before I got hurt,” Ball said, “I kind of figured it out.”

Ball’s third year, commonly a major growth season for promising NBA players, is coming up. Ingram just finished that third year, and it’s interesting that Ingram doesn’t just point to his individual success before suffering that blood clot. Ingram points to how much of his third year he spent searching for that success.

What he didn’t have early on caused him to appreciate what he eventually did get.

“The thing that helped me is just the adversity over the entire year,” Ingram said.

Ingram after the All-Star break applied a policy of less over-analysis and more free-flow. He averaged 27.8 points across stellar percentages (57.0 field-goal, 52.9 three-point, 75.0 free-throw)—all in higher volume than before the break and with impressive rebounding totals also.

Ingram’s vow is not to waste time next season.

I have to lead by example where when I come in, a lot of guys follow—and we’re going to go hard at whatever we do; we’re going to get better. We’re going to get the best out of each other. It’s encouraging. It’s motivation.

Brandon Ingram

“I can’t come in with the same thing that I came in with the last year,” he said. “I have to be prepared. I have to be ready. I have to lead by example where when I come in, a lot of guys follow—and we’re going to go hard at whatever we do; we’re going to get better. We’re going to get the best out of each other. It’s encouraging. It’s motivation. Like I said, I’m excited when I get back on the floor.”

All of the determination Ingram is preaching applies just as much toward a collective good, too.

“Because of what went on through this year, which was crazy, I think that ultimately it helps us out,” Ingram said. “It brings us even closer for next year.

“I’m not sure who’s going to return; I’m not sure who’s going to be here. But for the guys who are, I know they’re going to know that feeling of feeling like we could’ve won games, feeling like we could’ve done better, knowing exactly what we could’ve done in games and not doing it. We’re just going to be a better team and better organization next year.”

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Kevin Ding is an independent sports writer and the statements and views expressed by him do not necessarily represent the views of the Los Angeles Lakers.

To catch up on all of Kevin Ding's in-depth Lakers stories, visit The Point home page.

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