Lakers calling on Jordan Clarkson again to become an elite defender

The Lakers still believe Jordan Clarkson can become an elite defender. Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY — The job description seemed nearly impossible to fulfill. Find a way to stop Russell Westbrook. Slow him down. Contest his shots. Do anything and everything to prevent Westbrook from achieving the inevitable.

So with the Lakers suffering a 110-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday at Chesapeake Energy with Westbrook posting his 28th triple double of the season, on paper it appeared the Lakers failed to live up to the task. Westbrook posted 17 points, 17 assists and 18 rebounds. Magic Johnson, the new president of the Lakers’ basketball operations, watched Westbrook accomplish something only Johnson and Rajon Rondo did in the last 40 years. All of those had a game in which they logged at least 17 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists.

Yet, Lakers coach Luke Walton found satisfaction that the Lakers forced Westbrook to be more productive at the foul line (8-of-9) after disrupting his efficiency from the field (4-of-18). Walton said that Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson “really battled” in ensuring Westbrook did not always score as quickly as it takes for him to run across the court.

“We did a good job on him,” Walton said. “Honestly that’s what you do to superstars. You make it hard on him.”

And as the Lakers strive to fix a problem that has plagued them all season, both Walton and Johnson have called on Clarkson to carry the defensive load. Johnson reiterated Walton’s proclamation in training camp that Clarkson could “become an elite defender.”

“I feel like I have the ability to do that,” Clarkson said. “I’m quick and able to guard in the post.”
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Magic Johnson shares more ideas with Lakers’ coaching staff over dinner

Magic Johnson had dinner with the Lakers coaching staff in Oklahoma City. Photo by ED CRISOSTOMO, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG

OKLAHOMA CITY — Even with the trade deadline passing and practice ending, Magic Johnson found another way to ingratiate himself with the Lakers.

Johnson had dinner with the Lakers’ coaching staff here on Thursday night, and the session turned more into a group of people breaking bread.

“Just talking about the ideas, visions and what he sees and what I see,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said before Friday’s game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “It’s been a lot of healthy dialogue going on.”
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Former GM Mitch Kupchak wished he could help Luke Walton, players ‘win in the Laker tradition’

The Lakers did not retain longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak. PHOTO BY KEVIN SULLIVAN, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG

The frustration seemed understandable for Mitch Kupchak, who had spent a combined 30 years as a Lakers executive, 17 of those as a general manager and six others wearing the Lakers uniform. But Lakers president Jeanie Buss decided on Tuesday to name Magic Johnson the president of basketball operations while demoting her brother Jim Buss and firing Kupchak. Although the Lakers have seen promise in first-year head coach Luke Walton and their young players, Jeanie Buss also became frustrated with the team’s 19-39 record and missed playoff appearances in the previous three years.

“I am most disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to continue to work with Luke and watch this young and talented team grow and eventually win in the Laker tradition,” Kupchak said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
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Lakers’ Luke Walton handling closeout time differently for Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell

Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) drives to the basket against Sacramento Kings guard Arron Afflalo (40), during the 2nd quarter, at the Staples Center Los Angeles Calif., Tuesday, February ,14, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

The Lakers have seen him both grow and shrink. But lately, Lakers rookie forward Brandon Ingram has mostly stayed on the court in crunch time so he can fully blossom.

The Lakers have seen him show both flashes of greatness and inconsistency. But lately, Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell has mostly sat on the bench without an opportunity to provide a happy ending.

While Ingram and Russell might represent two key pieces of the Lakers’ young core, they also represent contrasting views on how Lakers coach Luke Walton wants to develop them.

In the Lakers’ 97-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday at Staples Center, Russell sat out the entire fourth quarter after logging only eight points on 3-of-9 shooting and committing more turnovers (five) than assists (one). In the past four games, Russell has not cracked the 30-minute threshold. And though Russell has felt more empowered with Walton’s free-flowing offense and a starting position that has never been yanked other than injuries, Russell has logged less playing time under Walton (26.4 minutes per game) than during his rookie season under former Lakers coach Byron Scott (28.2).

Russell said afterwards he has not talked with Walton about this reality.

“He pretty much goes with who’s really playing well at the time,” Russell said. “And that’s the best way you can go about it.”

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Lakers’ Luke Walton plans to keep same starting lineup at least before All-Star break

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton likes what he sees in t he 4th quarter. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 120-116 at Staples Center in. Los Angeles, CA 1/31/2017. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

Lately, Brandon Ingram has not had to worry exactly at what point he would enter the game. Lakers coach Luke Walton has started him for the past three games with a clear eye on accelerating Ingram’s development at a time when that has taken bigger priority than results.

But Ingram has had to worry about his own well-being. Walton said Ingram recently nursed a “big-time sickness” that affected his energy level in recent games. Walton said he first noticed on the morning of the Lakers’ loss last week in Detroit.

“He had to run off the court in shootaround,” Walton said. “Whatever was going on, was going on.”

Walton insisted that Ingram “feels much better.” But that captures why Walton has hesitated to make too many big picture evaluations on any positive and negative developments with his recent starting lineup switch. Walton plans to still start Ingram at small forward and Tarik Black at center when the Lakers (19-37) host the Sacramento Kings (23-32) on Tuesday at Staples Center and on Wednesday in Phoenix. The Lakers will then take off during NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans before playing on Oct. 24 in Oklahoma City.

“Getting back from All-Star, we’ll stick with it and have a better idea of what we’re looking like,” Walton said. “Then we might need to try some different groups. But we’re taking it as it comes with that.”

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Magic Johnson wants Kobe Bryant involved with Lakers

The question seems as difficult to answer as it did in trying to stop of one of Magic Johnson’s no-look passes.

Will Johnson ultimately remain a Lakers advisor in matters pertaining to the franchise’s business and basketball operations? Or will the man that led the Lakers to five NBA championships on the court also be in charge of leading them from above?

Time will tell. But there does not seem to be any uncertainty on who Johnson would want along with him

“First call I make if I’m in charge? Kobe Bryant,” Johnson said on Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take.” “Because Kobe understands winning. He understands, also, these players. So I would call, ‘What role you want? f you’ve got a day, just give me that day. I’ll take that. Whatever time he has, I want him to come and be a part of it.”
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Luke Walton, Magic Johnson meeting not yet finalized

Lakers legend Magic Johnson plans to meet with Lakers coach Luke Walton soon. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

The circumstances have not allowed a certain development to happen as fast as Magic Johnson ran the fast break.

Though the Lakers named Magic Johnson last week as an advisor for both the team’s business and basketball operations, Lakers coach Luke Walton has yet to meet with him about his role for a few practical reasons. The Lakers had completed a five-game trip last week. The Lakers (19-37) have games this week against Sacramento (23-32) on Tuesday and on Wednesday in Phoenix before the team takes off during NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

“When I get some free time, I would love and looking forward toward sitting down with Magic,” Walton said. “It’s going to happen. There’s just no time right now.”
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Magic Johnson estimates it will take “three to five years” for Lakers to rebuild

The Lakers’ legend self-admittedly lacked patience as he saw his beloved franchise shuffle through coaching changes and unproven rosters amid debilitating losses.

With Magic Johnson holding an advisory role for the Lakers in the past week, however, he predicted that more growing pains await.

“It’s going to take three to five years to get them back rolling again,” Johnson said in an interview on CBS This Morning that aired on Monday morning. “If we’re patient and we develop our own players, in today’s NBA it’s different than when I played. you have to develop your own players because free agent movement is not like it used to be. You have to make sure you hit a home run with the players you do draft and keep the players you have on your roster.”
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Lakers’ Luol Deng critiques President Trump’s executive order on refugees

Lakers forward Luol Deng critiqued President Trump's refugee ban from seven predominately Muslim countries. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

Lakers forward Luol Deng critiqued President Trump’s refugee ban from seven predominately Muslim countries. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

Though he has remained open for most of his NBA career surrounding his journey as a South Sudanese refugee, Lakers forward Luol Deng initially stayed silent on U.S. President Donald Trump issuing a temporary ban. That order began last weekend on non-American citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, with Trump citing security concerns related to terrorism. But after further studying the issue, Deng critiqued the new policy in a Twitter post released on Monday afternoon.

“It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others,” Deng wrote on Twitter. “Refugees overcome the immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them.”

Though the temporary ban includes those from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, Deng is not expected to be affected for a few reasons. Deng was born in Wau, Sudan, which became part of an independent South Sudan in 2011. In addition to having dual citizenship with South Sudan and Great Britain, Deng also has a green card issued in the United States. The Lakers made their lone visit out of the country this season early December in Toronto.
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Lakers’ Luke Walton plans to start Ivica Zubac, but when?

vica Zubac of the Lakers, right, is guarded by JaVale McGee of the Golden State Warriors during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 15, 2016. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

vica Zubac of the Lakers, right, is guarded by JaVale McGee of the Golden State Warriors during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 15, 2016. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

EL SEGUNDO — The future flashed before the Lakers’ eyes as their young roster performed simple pick-and-roll drills.

Point guard D’Angelo Russell handled the ball, while giving the Lakers more confidence both with his health and ability to fit back seamlessly into the lineup. Center Ivica Zubac set screens, rolled and finished so gracefully that Russell remarked that his presence “makes it easy.”

“When he gets his opportunity,” Russell said, “it’s going to be special.”

How soon will those images during Sunday’s practice translate into actual games? Although Russell technically is listed as questionable after missing the past three games with a right knee and calf injury, he is expected to return when the Lakers (16-34) host the Denver Nuggets (21-25) on Tuesday at Staples Center. Although Zubac has made his way into the rotation in the past month, veteran center Timofey Mozgov will start once again.

“That’s definitely a possibility that at some point he starts,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Zubac. “Same with a lot of our young guys. The further we get of actually having a chance to make the playoffs, the more you have to start put some thought and focus on developing the young guys even more. Right now it’s obviously a huge part of what this season is about. As it goes, there’s a chance you’ll see the minutes from those young guys go up even more.”
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