Lakers’ Ivica Zubac says he’s ready to start next season

Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac (40) blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers guard Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot (20), during the 1st quarter, at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, March 12, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / LA Daily News/ SCNG )

EL SEGUNDO – Even as he nursed confidence in his game perhaps as big as his 7-foot-1, 240-pound frame, Lakers rookie center Ivica Zubac also entered his first season in the NBA trying to be realistic.

He had no clairvoyance he would dominate in summer league and quickly become a fan favorite. He had no sense he suddenly he would become the Lakers’ starting center. He could hardly predict he would work for his childhood idol, Magic Johnson.

In a season that ended in disappointment with the Lakers (26-56) heading to the NBA lottery instead of the NBA playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, Zubac gave the Lakers reason to feel optimistic about their future. After showing growth with a fundamentally sound post game, emerging jumper and quest to improve, Zubac sounded firm on whether he thinks he could become the Lakers’ starter for the 2017-18 season.

“Yeah. I know I can start. I already started a few games,” said Zubac, who averaged 10.6 points on 59.1 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds in 20.9 minutes through 11 starts. “I know what I can expect. I think going into training camp, I’m going to have to prove myself again and prove what can I do. Hopefully I’m going to work a lot. Hopefully I’m going to get a starting spot.”
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How Lakers helped Tyler Ennis feel comfortable in his role

The Lakers’ Tyler Ennis (11) takes the ball through the Spurs’ Kyle Anderson (1) and David Lee (10) during a NBA game at STAPLES Center Sunday, February 26, 2017, Los Angeles, CA. The Spurs won 119-98. Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs Photo by Steve McCrank, Daily News/SCNG

EL SEGUNDO — The routine became annoyingly familiar as Tyler Ennis joined his fourth team in only his fourth NBA season. Then something happened that Ennis said he had never experienced before ever since the Phoenix Suns selected him 18th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

He actually felt welcome.

The Lakers had acquired the 22-year-old Ennis from the Houston Rockets before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Ennis then soon discovered the team had higher aspirations than just unloading 32-year-old point guard Marcelo Huertas. The Lakers actually seemed intrigued on what Ennis could provide on the court.

Lakers coach Luke Walton became the first one to call Ennis upon his arrival. Walton later encouraged Ennis to shoot. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka had extensive conversations with Ennis, too. And Ennis had what he called a “good meeting” during his exit interview last week, as he heard Johnson and Pelinka provide positive feedback after Ennis averaged a career-high 7.7 points on 45.1 percent shooting and 2.4 assists in 17.8 minutes through 22 games.

“This is honestly the first time I was able to come onto a team and get a fair shot and a fair opportunity,” Ennis said. “Outside of all the politics and everything else that goes on in the NBA, this is the one stop where I can say they gave me a chance. They believed in me. That’s something I want to continue and hopefully I’m here to continue that next year.”
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Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell told in exit interview to improve leadership, consistency & his body

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) talks with Laker Head Coach Luke Walton , during a time out against the Portland Trail Blazers , during the 1st quarter, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, March 26, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

EL SEGUNDO — As the presumed face of the Lakers’ young roster, D’Angelo Russell sat at his exit meeting and heard some honest words on what would it take to become that person. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Luke Walton outlined three qualities Russell needs to improve before becoming the face of the Lakers.

“Leadership, consistency and changing my body as much as possible,” Russell said following his exit meeting on Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo.

Russell spokes those words in a matter-of-fact tone. The Lakers’ second-year guard also sounded humbled as he talked. The Lakers’ front office had harped to every player about improving their body-fat percentage and varying degrees of consistency. But with the Lakers selecting Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, they had hoped Russell would offer a dose of leadership along with his scoring and passing.

During his rookie season, Russell had often said he needed to earn the credibility from his teammates before becoming a leader. Russell also was mindful of Kobe Bryant’s commanding presence. But on Tuesday, he found the credibility issue as “kind of an excuse.”

“You need the credibility to a certain extent, but if your teammates see you doing it and what you’re trying to preach or they witness you trying to do the right thing at all times when no one is looking, it gives them a better perspective on you,” Russell said. “I feel like this year for me, it wasn’t consistent enough with my play, with my communication and everything. It wasn’t consistent enough for them to respect what I had to say.”
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Why Lakers’ Tarik Black is confident about remaining on team

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black #28 celebrates in the second half. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 108-96 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. 4/11/2017 Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — As he spent his childhood admiring Magic Johnson for delivering five NBA championships to the Showtime Lakers, it became “very special” for Lakers forward Tarik Black to have a face-to-face meeting with the team’s president of basketball operations. But instead of becoming either star struck or intimidated sitting in his idol’s presence, Black used his exit meeting last week to have “real conversations” both with Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and Lakers coach Luke Walton.

So, the inquisitive Black asked Johnson and Pelinka a series of detailed questions regarding himself. The most pointed one: “Where do you see me in five years as a player?” Because of how Johnson and Pelinka answered his questions, including that one, Black walked away the meeting expressing confidence he will remain on the Lakers for the 2017-18 season.

“I don’t know what kind of story will be created if I sat here and said no,” Black said. “That’s a given and the honest truth. I believe I will be. But once again the NBA is passion, basketball, business. You can’t avoid that.”
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Magic Johnson on Lakers’ offseason: “I wouldn’t say a lot of changes, but there’s going to be some changes”

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson appeared AM570’s “Roggin and Rodney” on Monday to discuss the state of the team. Johnson on whether there will be offseason changes: “I wouldn’t say a lot of changes, but there’s going to be some changes. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

Whenever their season ended without a champagne bath in the locker room and a parade through downtown Los Angeles, the Lakers typically asked themselves a simple question. Why did they not win the NBA championship?

The Lakers hardly just fell short of reaching that goal. They missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season after finishing with a 26-56 record, the third-worst mark in the NBA. That partly explains why Lakers governor Jeanie Buss hired a former Hall-of-Fame Lakers (Magic Johnson) and a respected sports agent (Rob Pelinka) to oversee the front office. Nearly two months into that job, they have tried to seek clarity on a significant question.

Do the Lakers show patience in their young roster, or do they break it up in pursuit of more veteran players?

“There are going to be some changes,” Johnson said Monday on AM570’s “Lunchtime with Roggin and Rodney.” “I wouldn’t say a lot of changes, but there’s going to be some changes. We still haven’t sat down and set a plan in place on who we’re going to change on. What we’re waiting on is to see if we’re going to keep our pick or not.”
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How Lakers’ Corey Brewer helped young players with encouragement & honest feedback

The Lakers appreciated veteran Corey Brewer for his role in helping his younger teammates. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — The smile on Corey Brewer’s face helped the Lakers feel more at ease. The endless hustle Brewer showed on the court compelled his teammates to do the same thing.

Brewer’s interaction with the Lakers’ young core did not just involve wrapping his arms around them and offering them encouraging words. Lakers coach Luke Walton also noticed the 31-year-old Brewer often calling out his younger teammates for their ‘BS.”

“I feel like I’m normal. I’m so positive. So when I do say something, I think people listen,” Brewer said with a smile following his exit meeting with the Lakers’ last week. “I don’t really say anything negative. So if I tell you something, it’s probably right. I’m never going to be yelling for no reason.”

Brewer had plenty to yell about to his teammates, though. With the Lakers (26-56) finishing with the NBA’s third-worst recorded, Brewer frequently pointed out his teammates’ mistakes.

“Young guys, a lot of times it’s more their focus and missing up assignments, which you can’t do,” Brewer said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you can’t be messing up assignments. If you watch the Spurs play, they do everything right all the time. It feels like that because they actually hold each other accountable.”
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Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson preparing for any role given to him

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) reacts after forward Corey Brewer (3) intercepted an inbound pass with seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter during their game against the Sacramento Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, April 7, 2017. The Lakers beat the Kings 98-94. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — The deal sent a clear signal the Lakers viewed Jordan Clarkson as part of their long-term future. The Lakers signed Clarkson last summer to a four-year, $50 million deal, an offer that signified Clarkson’s growth through two NBA seasons and their optimism about his long-term growth.

But after completing his third NBA season with the Lakers, the 24-year-old Clarkson faces a series of questions regarding his future. Will he play more as a point guard, shooting guard or mix of both? Will Clarkson start or come off the bench?

“I don’t know,” Clarkson said following his exit meeting on Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility. “I guess we’ll have to see.”

Clarkson already has first-hand experience on handling those fluctuating roles. After rarely playing his rookie season, Lakers’ 46th pick in the 2014 NBA draft suddenly became the definitive starting point guard to close out the second half of the season amid persisting losses and a season-ending injury to Kobe Bryant. After starting during his entire season season, Clarkson lost that spot this season partly because Lakers coach Luke Walton though he and D’Angelo Russell struggled co-existing.

Clarkson then faced adjustments sharing ball-handling duties with Lou Williams, who became more efficient with his scoring. Clarkson flourished once the Lakers traded Williams to Houston before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Clarkson then started as a point guard both with and without Russell in the lineup amid Walton’s quest to evaluate various combinations.

“I was kind of prepared for whatever, not knowing and coming into the season and what it was,” Clarkson said. “Just having an open mind to anything with a new coaching staff and everything.”
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How Lakers’ Julius Randle is striving to become more consistent

Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle #30 gets fouled by New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca #42. The Los Angeles Lakers played the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. 4/11/2017 Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — When he bulldozed his way into the lane, it did not appear anything could stop Julius Randle. The Lakers’ third-year forward has a chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame that can overpower nearly anyone in his way. Randle can veer defenders off by relying on his predominately left hand. He has started to give his opponents fits with an emerging jumpshot. There is one main thing that can stop Randle from dominating, though.

Himself.

Though Randle finished his third year averaging 13.2 points on 48.7 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds through 72 games, he logged single-digit performances in 22 of those appearances. He became frustrated when whistles were called against him as he averaged 3.4 fouls per contest. For better and for worse, Lakers coach Luke Walton often observed Randle’s level of engagement determined his effectiveness level.

Randle nodded his head in agreement with that assessment as he attributed his “mindset” and “preparation” fueling both his good and bad performances during the 2016-17 season.

“A lot of times I noticed practices carried over into the games. So how hard you’re going in practice or how hard you’re working will have a carryover as far as intensity,” Randle said. “It’s not going to guarantee you that you make every shot. But as far as intensity level and how hard you’re playing, it carries over. Usually when I’m into it and my intensity up and is playing hard, I’ll have a good game. But I have to be more consistent in bringing that energy and that effort and consistently having that motor going and powering my team.”
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Lakers’ Rob Pelinka think it’s possible to keep young core while making roster changes

Los Angeles Lakers new General Manager Rob Pelinka. El Segundo, CA 3/10/2017. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — With all the unanswered questions and countless scenarios surrounding the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka likened the process toward assembling a Rubik’s cube.

“There’s a thousand different ways to turn the cube to get it and it all lines up,” Pelinka said. “You’ll eventually do it.”

The Lakers eventually want to reach championship prominence again, obviously. But as Pelinka and Lakers president basketball operations Magic Johnson determine which ways to turn the cube, Pelinka sounded certain on one thing. He does not believe he will have to choose between keeping the Lakers’ young core or making roster moves.

“I think it’s both. You never want to just make a trade to say we need to go make a splash,” Pelinka said.”Everything we want to do is be really really thoughtful, deliberate and intelligent.”

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Lakers’ Thomas Robinson not given assurances about future as free agent

Thomas Robinson at LA Lakers Media Day at their El Segundo training facility. Photos by Brad Graverson/SCNG/The Daily Breeze/09-26-16

EL SEGUNDO –The unsettling feeling emerged once again for Thomas Robinson, who has viewed the end of an NBA season as a moment in which his future becomes murky.

But once Robinson met on Thursday with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Luke Walton, the anxiety went away. The reason? The Lakers complimented Robinson for offering endless energy off the bench while averaging 5.0 points on 53.6 percent shooting and 4.6 rebounds in 11.7 minutes off the bench in 48 appearances.

“They were impressed with the way I handled myself this year,” Robinson said. “They’re happy with that part with who I am as a person and as a player. I take that as a good thing. Hopefully it turns into me coming back as a Laker.”

Still, Robinson faces yet another uncertain future as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“They didn’t say they did want me back,” Robinson said. “But they didn’t say I wasn’t going to come back, either.”
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