Uh, no pres­sure, kid

Magic calls Ball face of Lak­ers and ex­pects big things

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ta­nia Gan­guli

Magic John­son had no qualms about the bold state­ment he was about to make.

He called Lonzo Ball “the new face of the Lak­ers.”

He said Ball will “lead us back to where we want to get to.”

He said he ex­pected a Ball jersey to be re­tired at the Lak­ers fa­cil­ity one day, along­side his own and those of other Hall of Famers.

He also made a tongue-in-check re­quest.

“Lonzo, leave me one or two records,” John­son, the Lak­ers pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions, said play­fully. “Don’t break all my records.”

The Lonzo Ball era be­gan Friday with sky-high ex­pec­ta­tions placed on a 19-yearold who the Lak­ers be­lieve can han­dle them. In turn, he is a 19-year-old who be­lieves

he can rise to meet those ex­pec­ta­tions.

“That’s been asked of me for my whole life,” Ball said. “I’m used to it. I’m com­ing here with a win­ning at­ti­tude.”

The Lak­ers selected Ball sec­ond over­all in Thursday night’s draft, us­ing a draft pick the fran­chise earned by los­ing 56 games last sea­son and win­ning 26. On Friday, John­son and gen­eral man­ager Rob Pelinka in­tro­duced Ball and pre­sented him his jersey — No. 2, just like he wore at Chino Hills High and at UCLA.

They did most of the talk­ing. Ball has never been one of many words.

“This day for us I think is a cul­mi­na­tion of a lot of in­cred­i­ble things,” Pelinka said. “I re­mem­ber being in the SUV with Earvin the day the lot­tery balls came out. Just think­ing we had a 15% chance to be up here in a day next to this un­be­liev­able per­son and player. It’s crazy to think of it com­ing true. We feel like Lonzo is a tran­scen­dent tal­ent.”

Af­ter fin­ish­ing with the third-worst record in the NBA, in part be­cause of a five-game win­ning streak in April, the Lak­ers had less than a 50% chance of even keep­ing their top pick. The Bos­ton Celtics had the best chance and the Phoenix Suns had the sec­ond-best chance. Had the Lak­ers’ pick dropped out of the top three, it would have been trans­ferred to the Philadel­phia 76ers.

The Lak­ers ex­ec­u­tives ex­haled when the lot­tery balls be­queathed them the sec­ond pick in the draft, and a strong chance at draft­ing Ball. They set to work get­ting to know Ball as a player, and liked what they saw.

“The way he passes the ball, you look at quar­ter­backs like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers that just have a gift,” Pelinka said. “There’s clearly a gift with what he’s been blessed with. We knew on a bas­ket­ball stand­point there were no ques­tions.”

To clear the way for Ball, the Lak­ers traded D’An­gelo Rus­sell, whom the Lak­ers drafted sec­ond over­all two years ago to be their point guard.

“D’An­gelo was an ex­cel­lent player; hey, he has the tal­ent to be an All-Star,” John­son said. “But what I needed was a leader. I needed some­body also that can make the other players better.”

John­son has first­hand knowl­edge of what it takes to be the kind of passer who makes team­mates better. He was drafted to do just that by the Lak­ers in 1979. He joined a tal­ented, veteran team and helped it win a cham­pi­onship in his rookie year.

Ball’s chal­lenge will be dif­fer­ent. The Lak­ers fully in­tend to fill their ros­ter with star-cal­iber veter­ans, but don’t ex­pect to be able to truly do that un­til the sum­mer of 2018 with its ro­bust free-agent class.

The trade that sent Rus­sell to the Brook­lyn Nets also dis­patched Ti­mofey Moz­gov and his con­tract worth more than $16 mil­lion per year for the next three years. In re­turn the Lak­ers re­ceived Brook Lopez, a good player who fits the team’s sys­tem, but also one whose ex­pir­ing con­tract will help the Lak­ers have room un­der the salary cap to fit two max con­tracts next sum­mer.

“We know that the goal here is to com­pete for cham­pi­onships. That’s what we wanted to do, and with the lead­ing teams in the league to­day, to be able to look them in the eye and chal­lenge them, we need two su­per­star players to come here and join this plat­form and join our core group of guys here,” Pelinka said. “And that’s our plan and we’re go­ing to put all of our en­ergy and all of our hand­i­work to­ward that.”

The Lak­ers are the fron­trun­ners to land Indiana’s Paul Ge­orge, a 27-year-old South­ern Cal­i­for­nia na­tive who has made clear he wants to play for the Lak­ers. That could still hap­pen via trade, or in free agency next sum­mer. LeBron James is also ex­pected to be­come a free agent next sum­mer.

But two su­per­stars alone aren’t enough to com­pete for cham­pi­onships. The NBA cham­pion Golden State War­riors have four stars — Stephen Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Dray­mond Green and Klay Thomp­son. The Cleve­land Cava­liers have three in James, Kyrie Irv­ing and Kevin Love.

That’s where this year’s draft comes in. In Ball, the Lak­ers are hop­ing they’ve drafted the third.

Wally Skalij Los Angeles Times

SOME OF THE LAK­ERS’ cham­pi­onship tro­phies are on dis­play in Jeanie Buss’ of­fice as Lonzo Ball waits to be in­tro­duced. Magic John­son clearly ex­pects Ball to add to the gleam­ing dis­play be­fore he is fin­ished.

Wally Skalij Los Angeles Times

LONZO BALL, right, shak­ing hands with new team­mate Larry Nance Jr. in El Segundo, said, “I’m com­ing here with a win­ning at­ti­tude.”

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