Ex-Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar undergoes coronary bypass surgery

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks to students at Branciforte Middle School in Santa Cruz about his new book, 'Stealing the Game,' written for pre-teen kids. (Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel)

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks to students at Branciforte Middle School in Santa Cruz about his new book, ‘Stealing the Game,’ written for pre-teen kids. (Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Former Lakers and UCLA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar underwent quadruple bypass surgery on his 68th birthday on Thursday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after being admitted this week with a cardiovascular disease.

UCLA’s chief of cardiac surgery Dr. Richard Shemin said in a statement released by the university that he expects Abdul-Jabbar to make a full recovery. The statement also read that Abdul-Jabbar, his physician and spokesperson will not provide any interviews or additional information.

“At this time, Abdul-Jabbar would like to thank his surgical team and the medical staff at UCLA, his alma mater, for the excellent care he has received,” the statement read. “He is looking forward to getting back to his normal activities soon.”

Abdul-Jabbar was also diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia on Nov. 2009, but he has since said then that he has fully recovered from his illness. Lately, Abdul-Jabbar has remained busy co-authoring numerous books, the latest titled ‘Stealing the Game,’ a novel targeted to pre-teen kids that was released in Feb. 2015.

After winning two national championships with the Bruins under the late John Wooden, Abdul-Jabbar was drafted to the Milwaukee Bucks before they traded him in 1975 to the Lakers. He then won five of his six NBA titles with the Showtime Lakers and remained as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, an impact that both cemented himself as one of the game’s all-time great centers and resulted in a statue being built outside Staples Center in 2012.

Abdul-Jabbar has occasionally attended Lakers games and also appeared with former teammates Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes at Byron Scott’s introductory press conference last summer as the Lakers’ new head coach.

“He asks that you keep him in your thoughts and, most importantly, cherish and live each day to its fullest,” the UCLA statement read. “For those wanting to send well wishes, he thanks you in advance and asks that you support those in your own community who may be suffering from various health issues.”

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Lakers’ Byron Scott unsure if he will become team’s draft lottery representative

Mitch Kupchak says Lakers can ‘be in the hunt quickly’

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Byron Scott unsure if he will become team’s draft lottery representative

"Lakers Coach Byron Scott talks to the crowd before the tipoff. The Lakers played the Houston Rockets in the opening game of the 2014-2015 Season.  Los Angeles, CA. 10/28/2014 (Photo by John McCoy Daily News )"

“Lakers Coach Byron Scott talks to the crowd before the tipoff. The Lakers played the Houston Rockets in the opening game of the 2014-2015 Season. Los Angeles, CA. 10/28/2014 (Photo by John McCoy Daily News )”

The question made Lakers coach Byron Scott feel uncomfortable.

Surprisingly, the subject did not involve the Lakers’ 21-61 record in the 2014-15 season in what marked the worst mark in the franchise’s 67-year-old history or the uncertainty surrounding the team’s rebuilding. Instead, Scott remained unsure if he would accept the Lakers’ invitation to become the team’s draft lottery representative in New York City on May 19.

“They asked me to go,” Scott said, “so I don’t know if I want to go now.”

Scott then joked the Lakers should send team spokesman John Black on the trip. After his exit interview on Thursday, Scott clarified that he was serious he had not made up his mind. Yet, he maintained the uncertainty had nothing to do with any uncomfortable feeling he might have that national television will capture should the Lakers fall out of the top five. That scenario would force the Lakers to trade their pick as part of the Steve Nash deal.

“You guys know me,’ Scott said. “Glass is half full.”
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Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak says he doesn’t understand Sixers’ rebuilding plan

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said Thursday, April 16, 2015, team "can get better quickly." (Photo by Brad Graverson/Daily Breeze)

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said Thursday, April 16, 2015, team “can get better quickly.” (Photo by Brad Graverson/Daily Breeze)

The question and statement perhaps struck Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.

He spent nearly 15 minutes addressing how the Lakers will rebuild amid a disastrous 21-61 record in the 2014-15 season, the team’s worst mark in the franchise’s 67-year-old history. Yet, a reporter still did not find much clarity on how the Lakers will turn things around, while noting that the Philadelphia 76ers’ blueprint seems pretty clear.

“Can you explain it to me, if it’s so clear?” Kupchak asked, in a half-joking, half serious manner.

The reporter then alluded how the Sixers traded away assets to stockpile draft picks while also fielding a young team in hopes to collect more. The Sixers could own as many as four first-round picks and five second-round selections. Philadelphia even traded 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter Williams in a three-team deal with Milwaukee in exchange for the first-round pick the Lakers owe Phoenix.

“Okay,” Kupchak said, somewhat dismissively. “I still don’t understand what they’re doing.”
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Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak says “it’s possible” to return to Western Conference Finals in three years

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday that the team is prepared to "go all in" once free agency begins Monday night

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday that “it’s possible” the Lakers could reach the Western Conference Finals in three years

The Lakers’ historically sturdy foundation crumbled even further. Their 21-61 record cemented the worst finish in the franchise’s 67-year-old history and ensured a missed playoff appearance for the second consecutive season, providing an obvious conclusion the Lakers face a busy offseason rebuilding project.

But with the dust still clearing amid the rubble, the Lakers seem clouded by the most pressing question surrounding a franchise that won 16 NBA championships. How long will it take to return there?

Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, Jim Buss, has reportedly told her sister, Jeanie, the Lakers president, he would step down if the Lakers do not reach the Western Conference Finals within three years. Jeanie Buss said last month she would keep the team accountable to that timeline or else she would make changes.

“I didn’t see that quote. I never saw that quote,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo following exit meetings. “What’s my sense of being in the conference finals within three years? I think it’s possible. But what if you get to the conference semifinals, you lose in seven [games] and you have a great team that you know is going to get better and better? So I don’t think there is anything etched in stone that would determine any change in direction. Three years from now is forever.”

So how quickly can the Lakers improve at least next season?

“It can get better quick,” Kupchak said. “Every year, we have the same goal, which is to win a championship. We can get better quickly. We can be in the hunt quickly.”

Yet, Kupchak said that largely hinges on the Lakers fortunes in the NBA draft lottery on May 19th. Then, the Lakers will find out if their 82.8 percent chances of retaining their top-five pick happens. Otherwise, the Lakers will owe the selection to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash trade.

“We’d like to have something in our pocket for the way the year went,” Kupchak said.
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Lakers’ Ed Davis “not out here to chase money” by opting out of player option

"The Lakers’ Ed Davis #21 lays the ball up as the Grizzlies’  Jon Leuer #30 looks on during their NBA game at the Staples Center Friday, January 2, 2015.  The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 109-106. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)"

“The Lakers’ Ed Davis #21 lays the ball up as the Grizzlies’ Jon Leuer #30 looks on during their NBA game at the Staples Center Friday, January 2, 2015. The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 109-106. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)”

His plans have become transparent for the last two months. Lakers forward Ed Davis will opt out of his $1.2 million option of hopes of a more lucrative deal in both years and salary.

But Davis stressed that he’s “not really out here to chase money” and considers the Lakers his top choice in free agency.

“Hopefully I’ll be back next year,” Davis said on Wednesday after having an exit meeting with Lakers coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. “I think they want me back. With the draft and free agency, you never know how things go.”
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Lakers’ Carlos Boozer open to stay with Lakers “if they have a chance to compete”

Carlos Boozer received praise from Byron Scott for his professionalism, despite reduced role. (Photo by John McCoy / Los Angeles Daily News)

Carlos Boozer received praise from Byron Scott for his professionalism, despite reduced role. (Photo by John McCoy / Los Angeles Daily News)

Amid a demoted role and even occasional benchings, Lakers forward Carlos Boozer mostly stayed silent during his frustrating 2014-15 season.

Until now.

Boozer had plenty to say after his exit meetings on Thursday with Lakers coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak. But they went beyond any frustrations surrounding his season.

“I told Byron and Mitch if they have a team that could compete, I’d love to come back,” said Boozer, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “It’s tough to come back to a situation like this where we’re 21-61 at this part of my career. I still want to win one championship when I retire. If we have a chance to compete in the playoffs for a championship, I’d love to be a Laker.”

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Lakers’ Ronnie Price reiterates hope to stay even as third-string guard

New Orleans Pelicans' Jrue Holiday, left, and Los Angeles Lakers' Ronnie Price, right, reach for a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Pelicans won 104-87. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, left, and Los Angeles Lakers’ Ronnie Price, right, reach for a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Pelicans won 104-87. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

So much uncertainty surrounds the Lakers’ offseason.

But Lakers guard Ronnie Price reiterated his interest in staying with the Lakers even as a third-string point guard.

“I enjoyed being a voice in the locker room. I enjoyed being able to help younger guys. I helped great veterans that can help me. I’d be selfish not to extend that knowledge to players that are younger than me,” Price said. “Of course you want to play. That’s why we do what we do. You want to play. You never know what’s ahead. Whatever role is my role, I’ll embrace it whether it’s being here or the third guard.”

Price averaged only 5.5 points on 34.5 percent shooting and 3.7 assists in 22.8 minutes through 43 games. But Lakers coach Byron Scott granted Price the starting point guard spot over Jeremy Lin after 19 games both because of the persistent losing and because of Price’s defensive toughness.

That praise prompted Price to offer some self-deprecating humor about his reputation taking a beating because of a season-ending right elbow surgery that required surgery.

“Kobe [Bryant] doesn’t want any problems with me,” joked Price, who once played against Bryant with the Utah Jazz (2007-11). “Kobe is a tough guy and competitor and all that good stuff. We verbally go at each other day to day about old battles and upcoming battles, for sure. It’s mutual respect between me and No. 24. That’s about it. I appreciate people considering me tough. But I would’ve loved to have finished off this season without having to sit out. For me, apparently I wasn’t that tough. Something got me and that was the elbow.”

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Lakers’ Byron Scott reiterated to Nick Young not to take criticism personally

The LakersþÄô Nick Young #0 reacts during their NBA game against the Grizzlies at the Staples Center Friday, January 2, 2015. The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 109-106. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The LakersþÄô Nick Young #0 reacts during their NBA game against the Grizzlies at the Staples Center Friday, January 2, 2015. The Grizzlies beat the Lakers 109-106. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The message Lakers coach Byron Scott delivered to Nick Young during his exit interview on Tuesday may have sounded familiar.

Scott instructed to Young that he will need to improve on his career-low 36.3 percent mark from the field by learning how to move better without the ball, become a better catch-and-shoot scorer and become more aware as an off-ball defender. But the Lakers’ coach provided a personal message along with his X’s and O’s.

“It’s not about me or anything else but you getting better as a basketball player and to help you and help us as a basketball team,” Scott said after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “I have no agenda. I tell that to all my guys that ask me after the season and that don’t ask me. I say, ‘This is what you need to work on to get better as a basketball player coming into the next year.’ Nick is no exception.”

Yet, Young became an exception.

Two weeks ago, Young had scoffed at Scott’s critiques by telling Los Angeles News Group that he takes them “with a grain of salt” and that he considered them “a little unfair.” Young sang a different tune to reporters after his exit meetings on Tuesday. Young said “me and coach are cool” and that “we’re on the same page.” Young then added, “I take that as he wants me to get better.”

“What he called at that particular time criticism is coaching. I told him the same thing yesterday,” Scott said. “There are certain things you have to get better at on both ends of the floor. You do those things, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to do the things that you are accustomed to doing. If you don’t, it’ll be hard for you to get on the floor with me. That’s what I demand.”
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Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson, Wesley Johnson to miss season finale vs Kings

Lakers' Jordan Clarkson goes to the hoop against the Trail Blazers' Robin Lopez, Friday, April 3, 2015, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)

Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson goes to the hoop against the Trail Blazers’ Robin Lopez, Friday, April 3, 2015, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)

He may be on the brink of overseeing the worst Lakers’ team in franchise history. He also has fought a flu bug in recent days. But Lakers coach Byron Scott still managed to keep his sense of humor.

The Lakers (21-60) enter their season-finale on Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings (28-53) at Staples Center without starting rookie point guard Jordan Clarkson and starting small forward Wesley Johnson because of sprained left ankles. It marks a fitting to an ugly season ravaged by season-ending injuries to Kobe Bryant (right shoulder), Steve Nash (back), Julius Randle (right leg), Wayne Ellington (right shoulder), Nick Young (left knee), Jeremy Lin (left knee), Ronnie Price (right elbow), Xavier Henry (left Achilles tendon) and Dwight Buycks (fractured right hand).

“It’s kind of hilarious that the end of the season you look at it now,” Scott said. “I’m smiling and shaking my head and just going, wow. You can’t do anything but laugh about it.”

Here’s something that’s more laughable.

The Lakers’ starting backcourt will include Vander Blue (who signed with the Lakers two days ago) and Jabari Brown (who signed with the Lakers last month). The rest of the starting lineup will feature Ryan Kelly (small forward), Jordan Hill (power forward) and Tarick Black (center), while the lone reserves include a Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre frontcourt.

How do the Lakers play?

“A lot of zone and hope to God nobody gets hurt and nobody gets in foul trouble,” Scott said. “When I talk about nobody, I mean Jabari Brown and Vander Blue. Those are the only two guards I have. I can’t afford for any of them to get into foul trouble.”

The Lakers encountered a similar situation last year.

They have eight available players entering a game late February in Cleveland before Young and Jordan Farmar left the game with injuries. Chris Kaman then fouled out. Yet, Sacre stayed on the floor after collecting six fouls because the Lakers ran out of healthy bodies. The Lakers still somehow beat Cleveland, 119-108.

Scott said he hadn’t thought about that scenario, but believes that the Lakers will not encounter a similar scenario. But Scott still instructed Brown and Blue to avoid foul trouble by not reaching.

“Both are young,” Scott said. “So I don’t see why neither couldn’t play 48 minutes. It just a matter of staying out of foul trouble.”

But how will they play?

Vander’s first practice took place on Wednesday’s morning shootaround. Brown has shown promise as a scorer and defender, but this season marks the first time he held ball-handling duties. Scott remains optimistic both players’ background with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, will minimize any mistakes. But Scott could not resist cracking a one-liner on how the two will become the team’s point guard.

“Whoever gets the ball,” Scott said. “Whoever gets it on the rebound or on the outlet, they’re going to be point guard.”

Scott then turned serious, kind of.

“Jabari, because he’s been with us longer and he played the point guard,” Scott said. “He has a better feel than with Vander. He’s been with us two days.”

But in this injury-ravaged season, that has proven enough time to quickly climb into the Lakers’ rotation.

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Lakers’ Julius Randle credits Kobe Bryant for helping him stay strong during recovery


Lakers’ rookie Jordan Clarkson finds inspiration from his father – coach, friend, cancer survivor

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Wayne Ellington thankful for team support through family turmoil

FILE PHOTO: L.A. Lakers guard Wayne Ellington, left, likely to see increased starter's minutes as Byron Scott rotates Kobe Bryant in and out of the lineup. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE PHOTO: L.A. Lakers guard Wayne Ellington, left, likely to see increased starter’s minutes as Byron Scott rotates Kobe Bryant in and out of the lineup. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The pain might still linger in Wayne Ellington’s right shoulder, the grade 1 separation that he suffered on April 1, 2015 still keeping him a couple of weeks away from shooting with his right hand. The frustration over the Lakers’ unsuccessful 2014-15 season may still feel raw, too.

But nothing will prove more devastating for the 27-year-old Ellington than what he experienced on Nov. 7, 2015, the night that his 58-year-old father was murdered in his Philadelphia hometown. Yet, Ellington found joy in the 2014-15 season partly because of the Lakers’ unyielding support. They granted him an indefinite leave of absence that lasted 11 days. Ellington had said key Lakers figures, such as coach Byron Scott, general manager Mitch Kupchak, executive Jim Buss, trainer Gary Vitti and teammates Kobe Bryant and Ed Davis constantly checked in to keep his spirits up.

“Coaches and the organization, teammates, everybody was so great,” Ellington said on Tuesday after having an exit meeting with both Scott and Kupchak at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “Everybody was so welcoming back when I came back from things. It really helped me get away and focus on something I love to do and be here.”

Ellington soon treated his profession as a personal refuge. Amid his family tragedy, it became relatively easier for Ellington to handle other challenges that included adjusting as a backup shooting guard toward becoming the Lakers’ definitive starter once Kobe Bryant suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury in late January. Ellington averaged 10 points on 41.2 percent shooting in 25.8 minutes through 65 games. He also recorded his first career double double (15 points and 10 rebounds against Utah on Feb. 25) and set single-game career marks this season in points (28), field goals (12), rebounds (10) and assists (six).

Ellington also felt struck strong relationships with two key figures. One was Davis, who Ellington said was “probably closest” after playing together at North Carolina and winning the 2009 NCAA men’s basketball championships. Ellington also reconnected with Scott, who also coached Ellington with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2012-13) when he averaged career-highs in points (10.4), shooting percentage (43.9) and minutes played (25.9).

“Coach and I have a really good relationship,” Ellington said. “We’re more than just co-workers. At the same time, I think he trusts me on the floor and realizes I’m not going to make a lot of mistakes. I’m not going to hurt the team. I’m going to try to play the right way every time I’m out there. I think he respects that being from a player and I’m a guy who knows how to play the right way. It’s about winning first before himself.”

So as he sets to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Ellington could heavily factor in the Lakers’ support and his breakout season that would tilt into the purple and gold’s favor.

“I flat out told Coach and Mitch that I want to be back. I want to be back,” Ellington said. “At the same time, none of us are new to this and we know how the business goes. They both thought I helped myself this season and there’s going to be a market for me. But you never know how it might go.”

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