Lakers’ front office & coaches tell D’Angelo Russell to be aggressive regardless of role

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) takes a shot over Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15), during the 1st quarter, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Tuesday, February ,28, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

EL SEGUNDO — Well after practice ended on Thursday, Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell sat for a talk with Lakers associate coach Brian Shaw. Russell later stood up to listen to Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.

Throughout those long discussions, one common message emerged on what they want to see from Russell for final 14 games of the 2016-17 season, including when the Lakers (20-48) host the Milwaukee Bucks (33-34) on Friday at Staples Center.

“Be aggressive no matter what my role is,” Russell said after Friday’s morning shootaround. “Just be aggressive.”

Russell’s role has usually entailed being the Lakers’ starting point guard, a position where he has shown mixed progress. He has averaged 15.2 points on 40.2 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 2.7 turnovers in 27.5 minutes. But in the first eight games after All-Star break, Russell posted 20.5 points on a 44.8 percent clip and 5.4 assists in eight games.

Russell’s role has since changed, though. He has come off the bench in the past two games out of Walton’s preference to evaluated third-year guard Jordan Clarkson at point guard with a traditional lineup. Walton said he also remains undecided if that will continue for Friday’s game against Milwaukee. Other candidates include veteran guard Nick Young and guard David Nwaba, who’s in the middle of his second 10-day contract.

“Do we want David’s defense out there?” Walton asked rhetorically. “Do we want Nick as a traditional shooting guard out there? Do we want D’Angelo so we can see him in a starting group with him and JC? Those are the three major [variables]?”

Walton has thus far resisted the last option. So far, the results haven’t been good. Russell has averaged 7.5 points on a 25 percent clip, 2.5 assists and 4.5 turnovers in his two games as a reserve thus far.

“I want him to respond better. I want him to be aggressive,” Walton said. “I want him to be really aggressive, even more so right now while he’s coming off the bench. That doesn’t mean he’s coming to shoot every time. But aggressive as far as pushing the ball, getting in the lane and every time he’s coming off of picks and playmaking as a way to get himself into the game quicker. It’s completely different when you start and naturally fall into the rhythm of the game. I want him to come out and be ultra aggressive in that role while he’s in it.”

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Lakers’ Ivica Zubac learning how to adjust to foul calls

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 — The Lakers have seen rookie center Ivica Zubac soar to new heights, giving him a high ceiling for where his 7-foot-1, 240-pound frame will take him.

He became the first teenager in Lakers’ franchise history to have a double-double with at least 25 points in Monday’s loss to Denver. He has posted four double doubles this season. And on a team that has experienced various lineup switches in recent days, he remains the definitive starter for when the Lakers (20-48) host the Milwaukee Bucks (33-34) on Friday at Staples Center.

A significant thing slowed him down, though, during Wednesday’s loss in Houston. He made less of an impact with his production (two points on 1-of-2 shooting, two rebounds) than drawing whistles (four fouls) in only 11 minutes.

“It was a challenge to stay out of foul trouble,” Zubac said. “Some of the calls, I don’t know if they were called. I didn’t have a chance to showcase my skill and help the team win.”

That marked one of the learning curves the Croatian center has faced during his rookie season. He has shown marked improvement when accounting for the number of fouls he has averaged with the D-Fenders (3.4 in 30.1 minutes through 14 games) and the Lakers (1.5 in 14.7 minutes through 31 appearances).

It’s hard sometimes when you’re a rookie,” Zubac said. “You get some calls. You have to play as hard as you can and try to help the team on defense. You cannot change what they’re going to call or not. You have to give 100 percent.”

For Zubac to give 100 percent, Lakers coach Luke Walton wants him to find a better balance.

“He has a great feel for the game. We want to give him a little freedom on his shot blocking,” Walton said. “But a lot of that stuff he has to go up vertical, [put] two hands in the air, and even if he doesn’t get that block, he’s a big body. Make the guards finish over him. But he loves to reach down and try to get those blocks. That’s where referees call fouls on him.”


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka talk with most of young core following Thursday’s practice

Magic Johnson, President of Basketball Operations walks into the press conference with The Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka. El Segundo, CA 3/10/2017. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — A recognizable person emerged back to the Lakers’ perch that oversees their practice facility. Magic Johnson watched the team’s practice on Thursday, likely with many thoughts and opinions surrounding the Lakers following their 39-point loss in Houston on Wednesday.

So once practice ended, Johnson went down to the court with general manager Rob Pelinka. Soon enough, both Johnson and Pelinka provided individual feedback sessions with plenty of the players.

First, Johnson chatted with Lakers forwards Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram. Then Johnson and Pelinka caught up with Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson. Once Lakers coach Luke Walton finished talking with reporters, he entered the conversation before asking undrafted guard David Nwaba to join too.

The routine continued with Lakers third-year forward, Tarik Black, veteran center Timofey Mozgov and rookie center Ivica Zubac. After having a prolonged conversation with Lakers associate coach Brian Shaw, Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell then spoke with Johnson and Pelinka.

Johnson and Pelinka had plenty to say with the Lakers (20-48) entering Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks (33-34) at Staples Center after losing 10 of their last 11 games.

“It’s really cool,” Clarkson said. “It’s good for us being able to talk to them and pick their brains as well and having that open door presence.”
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Why Luke Walton will start Nick Young over D’Angelo Russell against Houston

Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young #0 celebrates after making the game winning 3-pointer. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-109 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA 11/22/2016. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

HOUSTON — For as much stock Lakers coach Luke Walton has put in maximizing opportunities for his young players, he has his limitations.

Walton will start veteran Nick Young for when the Lakers (20-47) visit the Houston Rockets (46-21) on Wednesday at Toyota Center, putting second-year guard D’Angelo Russell off the bench for the second consecutive game. Walton had entertained pairing Russell and third-year guard Jordan Clarkson in the starting lineup together before deciding otherwise.

“I’m sure before the season is over, we’ll get to that lineup,” Walton said. “But D’Angelo is our point guard. If we’re trying to see what Jordan can do as the primary ball handler at point guard, let’s see what it looks like from a traditional lineup out there.”

Russell and Clarkson had recently supported the idea of the pair playing together with their roles reversed. While Russell would play off the ball, Clarkson would have ball-handling responsibilities. When the pair played together with Russell at point guard and Clarkson at shooting guard, Walton admitted the combination did not work well. In the 8.5 minutes per game Russell and Clarkson averaged together through 47 appearances, the Lakers averaged 17.8 points while shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from 3-point range, according to NBA.com.

Nonetheless, Walton said he will feature Russell at shooting guard spot with Clarkson at times against the Rockets in staggered minutes. At other times, Russell will handle point guard responsibilities with the Lakers’ reserves.

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Young has sat the past two games so Walton could grant more minutes to David Nwaba, who’s in the middle of his second 10-day contract. But with Young averaging 13.4 points on 43.4 percent shooting, Walton has not ruled shutting him down yet for the remainder of the season.

“We’re going to continue to try to get the young guys as much experience as possible. At the same time, we want to try to play and win games,” Walton said. “The way Nick played for us this year, we’re going to keep putting him in throughout the remainder of the season and then take him out for more experience for some young guys.”


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Lakers’ Luke Walton undecided who to start in backcourt with Jordan Clarkson vs Rockets

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) passes the ball around Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) and Philadelphia 76ers forward Shawn Long (36), during the 2nd quarter, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, March 12, 2017.
( Photo by Stephen Carr / LA Daily News/ SCNG )

HOUSTON — For the next few hours, Lakers coach Luke Walton will think long and hard about what to do with his lineup.

He already has determined that Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson will start at point guard for the second consecutive game when the Lakers (20-47) visit the Houston Rockets (46-21) on Wednesday at Toyota Sports Center. Walton has yet to decide who will start with Clarkson in the backcourt?

Will it be Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, whose bench role in Monday’s loss against Denver marked the first time this season playing as a reserve? Will it be guard David Nwaba, who has started for the past two games in the middle of his second 10-day contract? Will it be Lakers veteran guard Nick Young, who has sat out the past two games so Walton could allocate more minutes to his younger players?

“That’s a good question,” Walton said after morning shootaround. “We got a lot of different options.”

Walton has established clarity on his other options.

The rest of the starting lineup will feature rookie forward Brandon Ingram, third-year forward Julius Randle and rookie center Ivica Zubac. Walton will still play Young an unspecified amount of minutes. Walton will also pair Clarkson as a primary ball-handler at times with Russell as an off-ball guard, a combination Walton used at times in Monday’s game against Denver. Former Lakers coach Byron Scott had actually tried that combination in Russell’s rookie debut last year, but immediately scrapped it after all involved reporting feeling uncomfortable with it.

“I like continuing to see what kind of games [Clarkson] can having playing the point and we want to see D’Angelo can do scoring wise as an off-ball type of scorer,” Walton said. “That’s why we’re going to do it. We haven’t seen a ton of it this year. We want to see more of it.”


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Lou Williams collected bets from Nick Young, still waiting from Metta World Peace

HOUSTON — The smile on Lou Williams’ face traced from two recent events.

The Houston Rockets (46-21) enter tonight’s game against the Lakers (20-47) at Toyota Center already with a clinched playoff spot. Williams also collected his previously unpaid bets from Lakers forward Nick Young, dues that had piled up from countless card games during Williams’ 1 1/2 seasons with the Lakers.

After the Lakers traded Williams to Houston on Feb. 21, Williams dismissed Young’s contention on Twitter that all debts were cleared since he went to a new team.

“I was a running joke,” Williams said. “I know Nick wants to give me a hard time.”

Williams is also giving Lakers veteran forward Metta World Peace a hard time.

“I expected Metta to pay me first. But I haven’t seen Metta,” Williams said. “I know they threw him in the game the other day. He might’ve been tired. I have to find him pregame.”

World Peace played in five minutes near the end of the first half of the Lakers’ 129-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday at Staples Center. In a game that prompted Lakers coach Luke Walton to raise his voice about his players’ effort, World Peace provided a rare jolt of energy with three points, two rebounds and an assist.

“He’s got his bones moving again, so he was probably getting some sleep,” Williams joked.


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson to start over D’Angelo Russell against Denver

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) goes up for a shot around 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 )

DENVER — The revolving door toward the Lakers’ starting lineup took another turn. But this time, Lakers coach Luke Walton did not target the usual suspects in demoting a veteran for the sake of developing his younger players.

When the Lakers (20-46) play the Denver Nuggets (31-35) on Monday at Pepsi Center, third-year guard Jordan Clarkson will start at point guard while second-year guard D’Angelo Russell will come off the bench.

“It’s cool,” Russell said before the game. “It’s not a negative thing.”

That’s because Walton told both Russell and Clarkson had nothing to do with their play. While Russell has averaged 20.5 points on 44.8 percent shooting and 5.4 assists in eight games since the All-Star break, Clarkson has averaged 19.3 points on 46.4 percent shooting and 3.6 assists during the same stretch. Though Walton called Clarkson’s career-high 30 points and eight assists on Sunday against Philadelphia “pretty damn good,” Walton stressed other factors influenced his latest decision.

“Just to see what it looks like when he’s out there running the point guard position against starting groups and what not,” Walton said. “That type of experience and that type of film breakdown with us will be valuable.”

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How Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson eventually learned balance between scoring, passing

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) passes the ball around Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) and Philadelphia 76ers forward Shawn Long (36), during the 2nd quarter, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, March 12, 2017.
( Photo by Stephen Carr / LA Daily News/ SCNG )

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers had finally hit a point in the season where victories do not matter.

No, the Lakers insist they are not tanking so they can salvage their top-3 protected pick. They still consider wins important to establish productive habits. Yet as the losses have continued piling up, the Lakers have put higher and higher value in developing their younger players even to the extent it might cost them some victories.

For Jordan Clarkson’s rookie season, that meant he would go from a seldom-used bench player to a definitive starting point guard. For his second season, that meant Clarkson kept his starting spot while having more minutes.

As for his third season? Clarkson learned before the Lakers’ 118-116 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday at Staples Center that Luke Walton’s decision to sit veteran guard Nick Young did not mean he would start. That honor instead went to David Nwaba, who had just signed a second 10-day contract after the undrafted guard from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo spent the past year with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate.

“I agree with it,” Clarkson said, “and I’m ready to take it in stride.”

Clarkson agreed with it because of Walton’s thought process.

“I wanted to keep him on the ball and play a lot of those minutes as a primary ball handler,” Walton said. “That wouldn’t be the case in the starting group.”

And as a result, Clarkson matched a career-high in points (30) on 10-of-16 shooting and posted a season-high in assists (eight) in 34 minutes off the bench.

Clarkson attacked the basket as he usually does. But he also set up plays for others when he faced a suffocating Sixers defense. Walton also observed that Clarkson looked to the sideline and apologized over the few times he had still took contested shots.

“I’m trying to find that balance again,” Clarkson said. “I’ve been thrown into different roles each and every year. So coming off the bench, coach got me in a role wjhere I can have the ball and do somethings with it. I try to get my teammates shot and continue to make plays.”
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Lakers’ Nick Young to come off bench for sake of player development

Lakers guard Nick Young will come off bench.
Photo By Robert Casillas / Daily Breeze

LOS ANGELES — After having a resurgent season full of productivity and joy, Nick Young will return to a spot that had sparked frustration in past seasons.

Young will face reduced playing time off the bench.

But unlike the uneasiness he felt under former Lakers coach Byron Scott, Young will have a diminished role under Lakers coach Luke Walton so he can find more time for some of his younger players, including guards David Nwaba and Tyler Ennis. The Lakers (20-45) will feature guard Nwaba at the starting shooting guard spot for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers (23-42) on Staples Center after signing a second 10-day contract. Lakers rookie center Ivica Zubac will also start over third-year center Tarik Black.

“Nick’s great. It’s important the message is out there that Nick has been one of our best two players all year long,” Walton said after seeing Young average 13.4 points on 43.4 percent shooting in 25.9 minutes this season.” I don’t want anyone to look at this as if he’s getting benched. But he obviously wants to play, but understands where we’re at and what we need to do. So I would expect him to be the same joyful Nick that is supporting his teammates and having fun even if he won’t be on the floor like he has been for us for most of the season.”

Walton’s assumptions proved correct.

“It’s nothing. It’s that time of year you want to check out the young guys and evaluate them,” Young said. “I understand that. It’s nothing personal. It’s not like he’s doing some crazy stuff. It wasn’t like other years before.”

Then, Young faced a diminished role because of his productivity (10.4 points per game on 35 percent shooting over the previous two seasons) and personality clashes with Scott. That has become a distant memory, though, for Young.

“It was very important, especially with the year I had last year,” Young said. “One of my main goals was coming back and proving a lot of people wrong.”

As for Nwaba, his eyes lit up on the increased playing time. He had just signed his second 10-day contract on Saturday after averaging 2.6 points on 44.4 percent shooting in 11.2 minutes through five games. The undrafted guard spent his time earlier with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders.

“It means a lot I’m getting an opportunity,” Nwaba said. “Whatever minutes I do have, I’m happy with the opportunity and it’s up to me to make use of that time.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedin@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” podcast on iTunes.

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Why Lakers’ Luke Walton likes Rob Pelinka’s ideas of collaboration

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 — The results eventually led to Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka overseeing the Lakers’ front office. Those results also explain why Johnson and Pelinka plan to make additional changes both in personnel and in ideas.

Through the Lakers’ frustration amid their fourth consecutive season that will end in their missed playoff appearance, however, neither Johnson nor Pelinka found any issue with Lakers’ first-year coach Luke Walton. During his introductory press conference as the Lakers’ new general manager on Friday, Pelinka shared some findings based on informal conversations with his former clients at Landmark Sports Agency and others around the NBA.

“I don’t know how this is possible, but everyone loves you,” Pelinka said. “You have this genuine honesty and coolness about you that just makes every player in the league want you to be their coach. We’re going to capitalize on that and make sure you have the best talent in the world to coach this Lakers team. There could not be a better person to do that.”

Walton respectfully disagreed that he has won the NBA’s popularity contest.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Walton said after practice on Saturday at the Lakers’ practice facility. “I’m sure there are a couple of players you can ask on the team that don’t think very highly of me. But it’s nice of them to say.”

Walton also found it “obviously nice to have the upper management supporting what you’re doing.”

“It gives you the confidence to make the decisions you feel are best for the team,” Walton said. Everyone has been great since we’ve been here. So that hasn’t really been an issue. We know we have a lot of work to do. We have to get the team a lot better.”

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