Shootaround (June 24) -- Los Angeles Lakers find their new leader in Ball
Plus, a look at how Michael Jordan motivated Dwight Howard and other news from around the NBA
This morning’s headlines:
- Lakers needed ‘a leader’ at the point
- Call from the boss energized Howard
- Life after trade rumors for Knicks, Porzingis
Lakers needed ‘a leader’ at the point: Anyone who knows anything about Magic Johnson’s approach to the point guard position — not just his vantage point as a 6-foot-9 playmaker but his attitude as the consummate floor general — knew exactly what he was talking about. What the team’s most recent player at that spot, D’Angelo Russell, lacks, their new prize draft selection has in mass quantities. Lonzo Ball is the leader the Lakers have needed, per ESPN.com’s report on the franchise’s POBO in the aftermath of Thursday’s Draft:
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Johnson said Friday, when the team introduced its top draft pick Lonzo Ball at its practice facility. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
The Lakers traded Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Nets in exchange for Brooklyn center Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick in Thursday’s draft.
For the Lakers, the move was essentially a salary dump, as it allowed them to shed Mozgov’s hefty salary — he’s entering the second year of a four-year, $64 million deal — and take on Lopez’s expiring contract.
Still, it marked a sharp and surprising end to Russell’s tenure with the Lakers.
Johnson, however, kept praising the leadership qualities of Ball, whom the Lakers selected No. 2 overall out of UCLA.
“I went to the high school,” Johnson said. “I talked to the principal. I talked to, I think, four teachers, they all said at different times, this guy, everybody attracts to this guy. And I said, OK, that’s all I needed to hear. He’s a leader. He treats people the right way. I said, OK, we’ve got our man now.”
2. Call from the boss energizes Howard: We all should be in position to have these particular personal jumper cables similarly attached. Imagine how motivated you’d be for the rest of the day if the great Michael Jordan was your boss and called you at your desk or on the factory floor to get you going one morning. Pretty darn motivated, right? The key for Dwight Howard in moving to a fifth team in seven seasons, the Charlotte Hornets, is to stay pumped up and not require repeated phone calls from Jordan. So far, so good, as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, but it is early:
Charlotte Hornets owner and basketball icon Michael Jordan phoned his new center, Dwight Howard, Thursday. By the end of that chat, Howard – who sometimes calls himself Superman – was soaring.
“I’d just done a 2 ½-hour workout. After I was done talking to him, I wanted to jump back into the gym,” Howard said Friday, in his first interview with a Charlotte media outlet since learning Tuesday night he’d been traded from the Atlanta Hawks to the Hornets.
“That’s how he motivated me.”
That’s promising for a 31-year-old with abundant mileage. He has played more than 33,000 NBA minutes since then-high school grad Howard was chosen first overall in the 2004 draft by the Orlando Magic.
Howard can be counted on to average double figures in points and rebounds and to get his team to the playoffs. Ten times his teams have made postseason appearances.
But except for an NBA Finals appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 – the Magic lost that series 4-1 – his teams have been good, not great.
Jordan, who won six NBA titles as a Chicago Bulls guard, certainly got Howard revved with whatever he said Thursday
“You’re talking about the greatest basketball player to ever play,” Howard said of Jordan. “For him to call you on the phone and say, ‘I believe in you!’ ”
The Hornets missed the playoffs last season, finishing a disappointing 36-46. Much of that decline from 48 victories the previous season was about weak defense.
The Hornets had no rim-protector after center Roy Hibbert hurt his knee in a season-opening victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Howard, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, can provide that shot-blocking presence and rebounding, along with low-post scoring in the Hornets’ 1-in/4-out offensive sets.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford has a seven-season relationship with Howard from when Clifford was an assistant coach with the Magic and the Lakers. Clifford has said one of Howard’s major assets is his basketball intelligence, and that he will make the Hornets better organized and efficient, particularly at the defensive end.
“We do have a lot of history,” Howard said of Clifford, “and I’m excited about the opportunity for him to coach me again.”
3. ‘Life after trade rumors’ for Knicks, Porzingis: The worst thing, by consensus of most NBA insiders and experts, would have been for Knicks president Phil Jackson to actually trade young forward Kristaps Porzingis on Draft day. That’s how valuable most folks consider the 7-foot-3 Latvian “unicorn” to New York’s hopes of getting off the NBA mat one day soon. The second-worst thing, though, was to dangle Porzingis out there publicly for the whole basketball world to see and then not trade him. That means mending relations with the young man, at least — as Marc Berman of the New York Post writes — until the next round of trade speculation:
Jackson and Porzingis will both be free agents in the summer of 2019. Porzingis is a restricted free agent and the Knicks can match any offer. Jackson, or his potential successor, current general manager Steve Mills, would be reluctant to bring Porzingis back if he’s an unhappy Knick.
The worry is this: Porzingis blowing off his exit meeting, then publicizing it to the media 2 ½ months before free agency as a protest to the Knicks’ chaos, could lead to future acts of rebellion that would hurt the franchise’s image to other players
Judging from the amount of interest Porzingis attracted before Thursday’s NBA draft — The Vertical reported the other 29 teams all inquired about him — it may be better to explore trade options sooner rather than later if Jackson senses Porzingis is disgruntled with the rebuilding plan and movement toward the triangle offense.
Though Jackson was pounded by fans and in some media circles for listening to offers, he got a feel for Porzingis’ market value in case this relationship does not improve significantly. However, the downside of Jackson acknowledging a deal could be “what’s good for the club’’ was it widened the chasm between the two sides.
After being chosen by the 76ers with the No. 25 pick in Thursday’s draft, fellow Latvian Anzejs Pasecniks said of Porzingis: “I know he’s not happy. But he didn’t say anything about it. He’s just not happy. That’s all I know.”
Neither is Janis Porzingis, Porzingis’ brother and agent. His quote to ESPN after The Vertical report stated Jackson was indeed listening to offers served as disturbing to the organization.
“Despite how the Knicks are treating their players, Kris wants to stay in New York,’’ Janis Porzingis said. “He loves the city and he loves the fans and he wants to win with this team. If he’s going to be traded, he’s going to play out his contract and decide his future on his own.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Reflecting the stability of labor relations in the league, Chris Paul was re-elected as president of the players’ union and Sacramento’s Garrett Temple was chosen as one of the National Basketball Players Association’s vice presidents, replacing Kyle Korver. … New Hornets guard Malik Monk, 19, doesn’t lack for confidence. Or a sense of humor. … The fashion and fun of the NBA Draft are front-and-center in this photo essay. … New Knick Frank Ntilikina has to be a bit jet-lagged, but in a good way. … Former NBA big man Marcus Camby was named in a wrongful death suit filed over his nephew’s tragic drowning. … Another ex-NBA big man, Vin Baker, continues to help himself by helping others.