Magic Johnson to be NBA draft lottery representative

Magic Johnson will be the Lakers’ NBA draft representative on May 16. Photo by ED CRISOSTOMO, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG

After once guiding the Showtime Lakers with five NBA championships through clutch shots and passes, Magic Johnson will try to help restore the franchise back to contention in another way.

Johnson will serve as the Lakers’ representative on stage for the NBA draft lottery on May 16 in New York City. Meanwhile, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka will be represent the Lakers in the drawing room. Then, the Lakers (26-56) will find out if their season that ended with a missed postseason appearance for the fourth consecutive year in a consolation prize. The Lakers must land a top-three pick, or else they will owe it to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash trade with Phoenix five years ago.

The Lakers finished with the NBA’s third-worst record, giving them an 46.9 percent chance of their draft pick to stay within the top three. They also have an 15.6 percent chance at landing the No. 1 selection. Had the Lakers had the second-worst record, they would have had a 55.8 percent chance of keeping the pick and 19.9 percent odds of getting the No. 1 pick.
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Why Kobe Bryant doesn’t miss basketball

Almost from the day he was born, Kobe Bryant became addicted to an round and leather ball.

“I couldn’t put the basketball down,” Bryant recalled in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “When my parents brought me a brand new basketball, I found myself laying in bed and shooting with it. I was kind of laying there and shooting it. Then I’d fall asleep with it. Then I’d get up in the morning and play again. I just could not stop.”

After cementing a storied 20-year NBA career that spanned five NBA championships and a third-place ranking on the league’s all-time scoring list, Bryant has.

He is more than a year removed from his 60-point game in his career-finale. He has spearheaded his company, Kobe, Inc., which specializes in digital storytelling. He attended the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this weekend, which hosted the premiere of his short film, “Dear Basketball.”

So with Bryant devoting an animated short explaining his love for that orange ball, does he miss holding it and shooting it?

“No, I don’t,” Bryant said. “It’s crazy because I started playing when I was two. After playing for 20 years in the league, what I have now is everything that I’ve learned from the game, I carry with me to this day. So the game has never truly left me. Physically, yes. But emotionally and the things that are right, all stem from the game. It’s still a part of me.”
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Magic Johnson admitted conflicted feelings about Lakers’ late-season winning streak

The disappointed look on Magic Johnson’s face may have shown his true feelings. So did the moment when Johnson snapped his fingers in frustration.

As much as the Lakers are defined by winning, did he have conflicted feelings when they ended the season winning five of their last six games? After all, that gave the Lakers (26-56) the NBA’s third-worst record, a note that may hurt their NBA lottery chances on May 16.

“I was saying, ‘Oh it’s good, but damn we’re winning,'” Johnson said laughing on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live.’

The Lakers have a 46.9 percent chance of keeping their-top three protected pick otherwise owed to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash deal five years ago. The Lakers also have a 15.6 percent chance of jumping up to No. 1. Had the Lakers finished with the NBA’s second-worst record, though, they would have had a 55.8 percent chance of keeping the pick and 19.9 percent odds of going No. 1.

But Johnson then turned serious in between his chuckles.

“I wanted us to taste winning,” Johnson said. “We’ve been losing for four years. I wanted the guys to experience what it felt like to win. We’re going to carry that into next season. We have a young team. They were feeling good about winning.”

In order to win, the Lakers will also have to wrestle with another variable. To what extent do they retain their young core while pursuing to upgrade their roster? Johnson may have tipped his hand on Indiana forward Paul George. The Lakers will have to weigh the value between trading for him now at the expense of some young assets versus waiting to sign him next summer as a free agent without any assurances.

Johnson cannot speak about other players specifically because of NBA tampering rules. But he all but confirmed George is a target, revealing how he might interact with him should they run into each other incidentally.

“We’re going to say hi because we know each other. I just can’t say, ‘I want you to come to the Lakers’ even thought I’m be winking,” Johnson said, smiling.

RELATED:

Why Luol Deng hopes to play at 4 if he remains with Lakers

Lakers’ David Nwaba believes he’s “ahead of schedule” in landing on an NBA roster

Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. aspires to be defensive player of the year candidate

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” podcast on iTunes.

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Why Luol Deng hopes to play at 4 if he remains with Lakers

Lakers forward Luol Deng hopes to play at the “4” if he remains with the Lakers next season. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)

As he struggled excelling with a new role, a new system and teammates, Lakers forward Luol Deng understood the critical questions that it sparked.

In his 12th NBA season, why did Deng post career-lows in points (7.6) and shooting percentage (38.7) in his first year with the Lakers? In what has become one of the most criticized free-agency moves last summer, why did the Lakers sign Deng to a four-year, $72 million deal? In what will be one of the Lakers’ most pressing offseason questions, will they find a way to deal Deng’s contract or can he find a way to provide more value on his return?

Because of those issues, Deng sounded aware he faces an uncertain future. Deng basically received that message when he spoke with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka at his exit meeting.

“They’re going to do what’s best for the team,” Deng said. “I respect that a lot. If I’m the GM, I would say the same thing to the players.”

But since Deng is a player and not a GM, he offered his own message about his role should he remain with the Lakers.

“In terms of my future,” Deng said, “I would like to play at the 4 more.”
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Lakers’ David Nwaba believes he’s “ahead of schedule” in landing on an NBA roster

Los Angeles Lakers guard David Nwaba #10 dunks the ball while New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca #42 can only look on. 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 — The premise sounded absurd to Lakers guard David Nwaba, the idea that his life story through his first 24 years would provide enough interesting material for a movie.

Nwaba starred at University High of Los Angeles. But he received no scholarship offers. He transferred from Hawaii Pacific to Santa Monica College to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and led the Mustangs to their first ever NCAA tournament. But Nwaba went undrafted. He joined the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, wondering if he would ever fulfill his dream in playing in the NBA. But less than a season answer, Nwaba’s dream came true by playing for his hometown team after growing up idolizing Kobe Bryant.

Nwaba even had a crazed Lakers fan that sat behind the basket on the side of the Lakers’ bench and frequently called for him to play. The fan also shouted his name incorrectly as “Nwamamba.” An amused Nwaba heard him and wondered, “I wasn’t sure why he was chanting.”

Still, Nwaba contended “the story doesn’t seem too special” to warrant a script distributed in Hollywood. But he obviously considers the journey traveled special. After all, Nwaba believes he is “ahead of schedule” in his hope to crack an NBA roster.

“Initially just being in the D-League, the plan was just to make a summer league roster next year,” Nwaba said. “I’m just pacing myself toward making summer league roster. I didn’t know how likely it would be to get a call up.”

The Lakers called Nwaba up for a 10-day contract shortly after negotiating a buyout for veteran guard Jose Calderon following the Feb. 23 trade deadline. With the Lakers bound for a failed postseason stint for the fourth consecutive season, they wanted to evaluate a young, emerging player. With the Lakers eventually ranking nearly last in every defensive category, the Lakers wanted a player that could improve those numbers.

The Lakers saw enough to offer Nwaba a second 10-day contract. They also saw enough to sign Nwaba for the remainder of the 2016-17 season and a team option for next season. During that time, Nwaba averaged 6.0 points on 58 percent shooting and 3.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes through 20 appearances and two starts.

“I’m just happy they gave me the opportunity and having the NBA experience,” Nwaba said. “I know what to look forward to and what I need to do in order to play with the best of them. I’m excited about the offseason and ready to put in a lot of work.”
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Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. aspires to be defensive player of the year candidate

The Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. (7) dunks the ball during their game against the Bucks at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, March 17, 2017. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

EL SEGUNDO — As Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka outlined the “pursuit of excellence,” Lakers reserve Larry Nance Jr. spent his exit meeting coming up with a litany of items he wants to check off his bucket list.

That includes addressing an issue the Lakers have strongly lacked in recent seasons with either Mike D’Antoni (2012-14), Byron Scott (2014-16) or Luke Walton (present) patrolling the sideline.

“Whether it’s next year or the year after or the year after that, I want to be a guy that is in the defensive player of the year discussions,” Nance said. “I think I have the ability.”

The Lakers recently have not had the ability to excel defensively. Last season, the Lakers ranked 28th out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed (111.5), 30th in defensive field-goal percentage (48.3) and 30th in fast-break points allowed (16.2). According to NBA.com, Nance ranks 160th out of 482 players in defensive efficiency while allowing opponents to shoot 46.6 percent from the field.

Still, Nance said the Lakers’ front office considered his off-ball defense “an area of strength.” To improve his on-ball defense, Nance plans to do a few things. He will study tape of Golden State’s Draymond Green and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. Nance will also train this offseason with his father, Larry Nance, who had a 13-year NBA career with the Phoenix Suns (1981-88) and Cleveland Cavaliers (1988-1994).

“I kind of got the sense that if you’re not all in, this might not be the place for you,” Nance said of his exit meeting last week with the Lakers’ front office. “I’m super excited. I know I can’t wait to work.”

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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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