John­son’s pur­suit of high-oc­tane of­fense al­ready pay­ing div­i­dends

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

EL SEGUNDO, Cal­i­for­nia — The LA Lak­ers’ im­pres­sive run to a Las Ve­gas sum­mer league cham­pi­onship was still on Magic John­son’s mind when he re­turned home to in­tro­duce Ken­tavi­ous Cald­wellPope, his big­gest free-agent sign­ing to date.

When asked to ex­plain why he was ex­cited about ad­ding the tal­ented two-way guard to the young core that shone in Ve­gas, Magic couldn’t hide his ex­cite­ment.

“If we don’t de­fend, we can’t run,” John­son said on Tues­day, his voice ris­ing. “And we want to run, run, run, run, run. You can’t do that un­less you get stops.

“So I’m go­ing to love to see him on one wing, B.I. (Bran­don In­gram) on the other. (Lonzo) Ball is in the mid­dle. Julius (Ran­dle) trail­ing, (Brook) Lopez trail­ing after that — whoooooo! It’s go­ing to be awe­some.”

As pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions, John­son is re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing and ex­e­cut­ing a plan to re­turn the Lak­ers to cham­pi­onship con­tention after the worst four-year stretch in fran­chise his­tory. But he re­al­izes he’s equally re­spon­si­ble for sell­ing that plan to his play­ers, po­ten­tial free agents and the Lak­ers’ vast world­wide fan base.

Not many peo­ple can talk like the Lak­ers’ lo­qua­cious Hall of Famer, and Magic says he’s even bet­ter when he re­ally has some­thing to sell.

After John­son’s coup in land­ing Cald­well-Pope last week was fol­lowed by an eye­pop­ping per­for­mance in Las Ve­gas from sum­mer-league MVP Ball and his team­mates, this long-strug­gling fran­chise

I would not want to miss a Lak­ers game this sea­son, be­cause it’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing ev­ery sin­gle night.” Magic John­son, NBA leg­end

is show­ing signs of life.

Magic in­tends to make sure ev­ery­body knows it.

“We’re al­ready bet­ter,” John­son said.

“I would not want to miss a Lak­ers game this sea­son, be­cause it’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing ev­ery sin­gle night. Just like we saw in sum­mer league, it was ex­cit­ing ev­ery game, and it’s go­ing to hap­pen dur­ing the sea­son, too. It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing.”

The Lak­ers en­tered the off­sea­son at the low­est point in the 16-time NBA cham­pion fran­chise’s his­tory. Los An­ge­les won just 91 games in the past four sea­sons com­bined, and owner Jeanie Buss blew up her front of­fice last sea­son while the Lak­ers missed the play­offs in four straight years for the first time ever.

When John­son and GM Rob Pelinka took over in Fe­bru­ary, they mapped out a plan to fix the fran­chise. They made a list of ob­jec­tives, rang­ing from ad­ding a pass-first point guard to pre­serv­ing enough salarycap space for two max con­tracts in 2018 free agency.

They traded D’An­gelo Rus- sell to cre­ate that cap room last month, and they sub­se­quently drafted Ball and Ve­gas cham­pi­onship-game MVP Kyle Kuzma to flesh out a young core that promptly won the sum­mer league.

Their loyal fans packed Las Ve­gas for the past two weeks, pro­duc­ing the league’s first sold-out game against Bos­ton on July 8 and cheer­ing on the young­sters who rep­re­sent hope after the Lak­ers’ steady half-decade de­cline.

“I think what we saw in Ve­gas is that there is a new en­ergy around the Lak­ers,” said Pelinka, John­son’s con­stant com­pan­ion from their pre-work­out morn­ing phone calls to their en­tire work­days spent in each other’s of­fices.

“We have to find great­ness in the de­tails be­fore we can get an­other cham­pi­onship tro­phy, and that’s what ev­ery­one is com­mit­ted to here. I know each of our play­ers here to­day are com­mit­ted to that, and that’s what KCP is com­mit­ted to as well.”

The Lak­ers’ team bus from sum­mer-league play re­turned to El Segundo mo­ments be­fore Cald­well-Pope’s in­tro­duc­tory me­dia con­fer­ence, and the sum­mer stars stayed in the gym to wel­come their new team­mate. Ball sat in the front row next to In­gram, who stuck around in Ve­gas for the past two weeks to be with his team­mates, even though his sum­mer sea­son ended after one game due to in­jury pre­cau­tions.

Cald­well-Pope agreed to a one-year, $18 mil­lion deal to keep open his op­tions next sum­mer, but the mere fact that the long­time Detroit Pis­tons starter would agree to join the re­build­ing Lak­ers left John­son vis­i­bly grate­ful. Magic’s fa­ther back home in Michi­gan helped to sell him on Cald­well-Pope.

Cald­well-Pope was largely quiet while re­ceiv­ing his new gold No 1 jersey, but he al­ready sounded ex­cited about his fit in coach Luke Wal­ton’s plan for an up-tempo of­fense manned by ver­sa­tile play­ers fill­ing mul­ti­ple po­si­tions.

“I think that’s part of my game, just run­ning the wing, de­fend­ing,” Cald­well-Pope said.

“I’m good for run­ning. I run ev­ery day. That’s me. I like to run. We get the re­bound, I’m al­ready go­ing down the court. When we get a stop, I’m go­ing. I’m just ex­cited.”

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