Lakers forward Julius Randle recently has walked without crutches after fracturing his right leg a little less than two months ago in a season-ending injury. (Micah Escamilla/Staff Photographer)
It will not take long for the comparisons between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor to morph from NBA mock drafts to the actual court.
The Lakers will play their first summer league game on July 10 against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 5:30 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the setting where Towns and Okafor might first square off. Minnesota is expected to select Towns at No. 1, while Okafor appears a strong possibility for the Lakers to choose at the No. 2 slot. How this matchup turns out will not just stay in Vegas. It seems likely this will mark the first of many snapshots on how the two best big men in this year’s draft will fare against each other.
The Lakers will also play on July 11 against the Philadelphia 76ers and on July 13 against the New York Knicks, both at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lakers’ first three opponents all share the top four picks in the draft, with Philadephia slated at No. 3 and New York at No. 4. The Lakers will then play in a tournament from July 15 to 20, with dates and opponents to be determined later.
Normally, the Lakers put little stock in their summer league play. But this year’s team will offer a clear glimpse into their future. The roster will include the Lakers’ No. 2, No. 27 and No. 34 picks of this year’s draft. Lakers forward Julius Randle could make his return there after suffering a season-ending right leg injury after playing only 14 minutes of his rookie season. Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson will play in his second summer league after making the NBA’s All-Rookie First team. Lakers forward Tarik Black will also appear after he was acquired midway through the 2014-15 season following Houston waiving him to make room for Josh Smith.
The ball sank into the net, another Robert Horry clutch shot securing a Lakers victory that pushed them closer and closer to another championship parade. Those shots also inspired other players, such as Iowa senior forward Aaron White.
“Big fan of Robert Horry,” White said on Tuesday after working out at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “Obviously everyone knows him for his clutch shooting. But at the same time, he was 6’9, 6’10, played small forward and power forward and could also shoot the 3. I liked players like that and I can see myself eventually building myself in a position for an NBA team.” Continue reading →
Lakers legend Magic Johnson spoke at Cal State Long Beach Monday, May 05, 2014, Long Beach, CA. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze
The giddiness surrounding a Lakers pre-draft workout usually involves the prospect doing two things. They reflect on the team’s 16 NBA championships. They recall how they grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant.
The process became different from Michigan State’s Travis Trice and Branden Dawnson, both of whom already have interacted with Lakers legend Magic Johnson. He has often visited the Spartans’ campus, practice facility and games after leading them to a national championship his sophomore season in 1979.
“He always told us to play relentless,” Dawson said Tuesday after working out with the Lakers at their practice facility in El Segundo. “Just keep having that underdog attitude. He’s been great and has been pushing us throughout the tournament and Final Four. He’s a great guy. To see him come back and want to talk to us, that’s great.”
The Spartans heard that message so often that Trice lost count on how many times Johnson visited.
“His main thing was playing hard and playing smart and playing for your guy besides you,” Trice said. “You saw there were times in the game when the other team was arguing and we knew that’s when we had them. It stuck together.”
The enthusiasm seemed infectious as Duke center Jahlil Okafor flashed a wide smile and gushed endless about possibly wearing a Lakers uniform.
But the platitudes went beyond Okafor paying his respects to a storied franchise or expressing gratitude for working out for a NBA lottery team. Duke senior guard Quinn Cook saw Okafors’ affection for the Lakers up close after rooming together last season with the Blue Devils. Then, Cook said he “forced” Okafor to watch plenty of games on television featuring the purple and gold.
“He’s a Laker and knows a lot about the Lakers,” Quinn said of Okafor after working out with the Lakers on Monday at their practice facility in El Segundo. “He’s ready to go. Hopefully he falls to No. 2.”
Cook argued, “If I had the No. 1 pick, I would take Jahlil,” before praising his role in helping Duke win a national championship because of his post presence, passing and jump shooting. But Cook has no influence on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office. Instead, Cook jokingly praised his influence Okafor falling in love with the Lakers and deciding to train in Santa Barbara between draft workouts.
“I take all the credit for that,” Cook said. “Him, his father and his aunt, I’m right there for his love for the Lakers. He’s ready.”
Cook said he is ready as well, hopeful that the Lakers select him with the 27th and 34th pick after averaging 11 points on 43.2 percent shooting, 37.5 percent from 3-point range and 3.6 assists through four seasons at Duke. Cook called the Lakers “the best organization,” for both their 16 NBA championships and featuring his favorite NBA player, Kobe Bryant.
“I just remember him struggling at first,” Cook said of Bryant when he entered the NBA straight out of high school in 1996. “He came into the league and it was his show and he had to work playing with Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. Then he took over with Shaq, winning three, going through a rough patch and then winning two more. It’s a winning tradition.”
Cook knew Bryant’s career trajectory fairly well partly because Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the Lakers star with the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams in Beijing (2008) and London (2012).
“He knew how much I loved Kobe and how much I really loved the Lakers. I always joked with him that he should have taken the job back then,” Cook said of Krzyzewski, whom the Lakers pursued following Phil Jackson’s first departure in 2004. “But me and him have a great relationship. He has always shown me messages between him and Kobe.”
Krzyzewski also introduced Cook to Bryant last year when the Lakers visited Miami, though Cook said he had already met Bryant on earlier occasions.
“He remembered me. I was excited about that,” Cook said. “Everybody was sending me pictures of him at our game because everyone knows how much I love the Lakers.”
Hence, Cook said he’s “in heaven” after working out with the Lakers and constantly sending his mother photos wearing his favorite team’s jersey. The same could be said about Okafor should the Lakers use their coveted No. 2 pick to select him in the NBA Draft on June 25.
If he ran the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office, Cook argued he would.
The two men sounded fully aware that their draft stock has not become fully cemented.
Virginia junior small forward Darion Atkins has learned he needs to prove he can become a more productive scorer. Delaware State power forward Kendall Gray described himself as a “raw talent offensively.” Yet, both players believe they can carve out an NBA future for one simple reason.
They play defense really well.
Atkins earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-ACC Defensive Team honors, his 6-foot-8, 241-pound frame disrupting opposing players at the forward and the center positions.
“I can affect the game in many different ways than just scoring,” said Atkins, who credited his own perimeter and pick-and-roll defense. “My specialty is defense. I’m a big talker, especially on the defensive end. I orchestate what’s going on out there and I let everyone else know what’s happening.”
Gray led the country with 290 defensive rebounds and finished second with 401 total rebounds. His 11.8 rebounds per game average also ranked second behind UCSB’s Alan Williams for most rebounds in a game in the 2014-15 season.
“Just tenaciousness and going after it,” Gray said. “If you go after it nine times out of 10, you’re going to get the rebound or you’re going to tip to one of your teammates to get the rebound. It’s a win-win situation.” Continue reading →
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will undergo surgery Wednesday for the torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, but a timetable for his return will not be revealed until after the surgery. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press)
The big shots he made cemented Robert Horry’s value as he endlessly collected NBA championships.
As he marched toward winning seven league titles, Horry played alongside elite big men (Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan). He played for some of the NBA’s top coaches (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Rudy Tomjanovich). And Horry wound up on many winning franchises (the Lakers, Spurs and Rockets).
But as he experienced all of this in a storied 17-year NBA career as a dependable role player, something else stuck with Horry. It involved Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whom Horry said in a Players Tribune article “was the hardest player I ever worked with.” It did not take long for Horry to pick up that impression, his arrival in 1997 via a trade from Houston coinciding with Bryant’s rookie season.
Then, Horry recalled Bryant struggling making 3-pointers in practice against him, Brian Shaw, Mitch Richmond and Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis.
“Kobe would lose every time. We would get to practice the next day and sure enough, Kobe would already be there shooting nothing but threes,” Horry wrote. “Like clockwork, at the end of practice he’d say, “Let’s play the game! I’m ready for you.” And we would beat his [butt] again. He would never stop. It was incredible. He practiced until one day, a couple months later, he finally won.”
That determination obviously helped Bryant, who eventually won five NBA championships and climbed to third place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
“If you literally said, ‘Kobe, I bet you can’t make five in a row by dropping the ball and kicking it in from half court,’ that [guy] would go out there and practice it until he could do it,” Horry wrote. “And that’s what people don’t understand when they talk about champions — when they talk about a winner’s mentality. Kobe’s dedication to the game is unreal. And I mean that in the truest sense … it was literally unbelievable.
A hefty challenge soon awaits Olivier Hanlan, who will soon find out whether three successful seasons as Boston College’s point guard will carry over into an NBA dominated by them.
But as Hanlan discovers whether he can translate his experience running an offense, he will have a trusted mentor who appears more than happy to provide an assist.
Former Lakers guard Steve Nash already has a relationship with Hanlan through the Canadian’s men’s basketball team. Hanlan has played on the U-19 and U-17 national teams in recent years, while Nash has served as the organization’s general manager.
“I’ll definitely be in touch with him this summer,” Hanlan said of Nash this week after working out with the Lakers at their practice facility in El Segundo. “Whenever he sees me, he just talks to me about my game and gives me pointers.” Continue reading →
Their storied championship history suggests the Lakers should use their No. 2 draft pick on a big man. But the Lakers are currently wrestling with that idea, aware that the NBA has become something that Emmanuel Mudiay pointed out.
“If you look at every team, they have a pretty good point guard,” Mudiay said on Thursday after working out at an athletic club in Reseda. “I feel like it’s a point guard’s league.”
Mudiay admitted he would “love to get drafted high.” But Mudiay, who played professionally last season in China, stressed he is not arguing he should be selected ahead of Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke center Jahlil Okafor. It is expected Minnesota will select Towns with its No. 1 pick, while the Lakers will pick Okafor, who worked out with the team on Tuesday.
“It’s not my decision. It’s the team’s decision. Whatever they want to go with, that’s on them on if they want a guard or if they want a big. Wherever I go, that’s where I’ll go,” Mudiay said. “There’s nothing I can say about that. I’m not going to go to a GM’s office. Whatever the team wants to go with, they’ll go with where they are most comfortable.” Continue reading →
Kobe Bryant, right, drives to the basket against Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore during the Lakers’ 108-101 loss in Sacramento, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
There rarely marks a time that Kobe Bryant has not shot a basketball. His high-volume scoring captures both his greatness and division to what degree that skill disrupts team play.
But after spending nearly the past five months away from the court because of a surgically repaired right shoulder, Bryant believes he could begin shooting as early as July.
“It’s going very well,” Bryant said on Tuesday about his rehab when he appeared as a guest analyst for Sina during the Chinese online company’s pre-game and post-game coverage for Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals on Tuesday between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. “The strength in my shoulder is getting better and better by the day. Hopefully, I’ll be shooting the ball in a month and month and a half. Then I’ll feel like a fish being put back in water.”
The Lakers’ rebuilding process may appear uncertain. But clarity emerged on another front.
The Lakers and KSPN-710AM reached an agreement that will extend their radio play-by-play partnership for two additional seasons up through 2021-22. John Ireland will continue as the Lakers’ radio play-by-play announced, while Mychal Thompson will remain as the color analyst.
Lakers president and part owner Jeanie Buss made the announcement on Tuesday as a guest on KSPN-710AM.
“ESPN and the ESPN brand are synonymous with excellence, and we’re proud to be affiliated with them,” Lakers Senior Vice President of Business Operations/COO Tim Harris said in a statement. “The management and employees are consummate professionals and people we enjoy working with, and we’re very pleased to extend our partnership with them.”
KSPN-710AM has served as the Lakers’ flagship station since 2009.
“We at ESPNLA have enjoyed a terrific and mutually-beneficial relationship with the Los Angeles Lakers since 2009, and could not be more excited to extend our agreement through mid-2022,” ESPN LA Vice President and General Manager Scott McCarthy said in a statement. “We are very proud to be associated with one of the premier franchises in all of sports.”