Wal­ton skates on thin ice as Lak­ers seek their iden­tity

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Bruce Jenk­ins is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. Email: bjenk­ins@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter @Bruce_Jenk­ins1

Some­body get Magic John­son a mir­ror.

The Lak­ers pres­i­dent said all the right things in Septem­ber, in­di­cat­ing that the front of­fice and fans should “not worry if we get off to a bad start” be­cause a bit of pa­tience would be re­quired. So much for that; ESPN re­ported that John­son “ad­mon­ished” Luke Wal­ton dur­ing a Tues­day meet­ing, de­liv­er­ing a “cut­ting ap­praisal” of the coach’s per­for­mance.

Magic can’t be se­ri­ous — and that goes for gen­eral man­ager

Rob Pelinka as well. It takes at least three months for team­mates to ad­just to LeBron

James’ com­mand of the pro­ceed­ings, es­pe­cially a group of young play­ers. Mean­while, the Lak­ers in­ex­pli­ca­bly handed one-year con­tracts to vet­er­ans Ra­jon Rondo, Lance Stephen­son and Michael Beasley, none of whom planned to watch the Lak­ers’ progress from the bench.

“It’s an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion for Luke,” said TNT’s Charles

Barkley be­fore the sea­son be­gan. “He’s got LeBron, who is go­ing to do things his way. He’s got those young kids who are prob­a­bly in awe of LeBron. And he’s got those older guys who are go­ing to seek at­ten­tion.”

Sources say Magic chided Wal­ton for not es­tab­lish­ing an “iden­tity” or a clear-cut sys­tem. Good luck with that on a ros­ter painfully short on out­side shoot­ing and de­fen­sive prow­ess. Where’s the “sys­tem” when Rondo’s pres­ence com­pli­cates the de­vel­op­ment of Lonzo

Ball? How can Wal­ton find proper play­ing time for Josh

Hart, by all in­di­ca­tions a bud­ding star? Wal­ton would es­tab­lish a very clear iden­tity if he didn’t have those vet­er­ans clut­ter­ing up the scene.

(JaVale McGee is a no­table ex­cep­tion. Aver­ag­ing 27 min­utes a game at cen­ter, putting up the jumpers and fall-aways he never could take in Oak­land, McGee is hav­ing the time of his life. We’ll see if things change with the Lak­ers about to sign

Tyson Chan­dler, who was bought out by Phoenix.)

Mean­while, you have to won­der whether James, while pub­licly sup­port­ing Wal­ton, has been de­liv­er­ing un­fa­vor­able cri­tiques to John­son and Pelinka. And it’s sig­nif­i­cant to know that Wal­ton’s five-year con­tract (April 2016) was ex­e­cuted by de­posed ex­ec­u­tives

Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Wal­ton’s big­gest ally might be owner Jeanie Buss, a ma­jor sup­porter since Wal­ton’s play­ing days with the Lak­ers. Maybe she’ll tell John­son and Pelinka to re­lax and ac­knowl­edge the re­al­ity of an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion.

Side note: LeBron has re­ferred to those in­com­ing vet­er­ans as “M.U.D. That’s mis­un­der­stood, un­ap­pre­ci­ated and de­ter­mined.” The Dead­spin web­site of­fered a slightly dif­fer­ent ver­sion: “The Way­ward Bo­zos.”

Around the NBA  The War­riors miss Pa­trick

McCaw as a per­son, but they’re baf­fled by his hold­out, given that he holds no lever­age. Sadly, he just might van­ish with­out a trace. Al­fonzo McKin­nie, who played the en­tire fourth quar­ter Fri­day night against Min­nesota, looks to be far more valu­able as an all-around player.

 One day af­ter coach Steve

Kerr said there was no chance the War­riors could fit DeMar­cus Cousins into next year’s salary struc­ture (should he prove his worth upon re­turn­ing), gen­eral man­ager Bob

My­ers told NBC Sports Bay Area, “Op­tions are open, like any­thing. You just don’t know what’s go­ing to be on July 1, 2019. With a guy like DeMar­cus, who knows? If he wants to come back, let’s bring him back.” Said

Jim Bar­nett on the Wed­nes­day night tele­cast, “Maybe he’ll like it so much, he’ll come back for the min­i­mum.”

 Write it down: Dray­mond

Green, un­abashedly ob­sessed with be­ing named De­fen­sive Player of the Year, will win that award. With a lot of play­ers back­ing off their de­fen­sive fo­cus, fear­ing foul trou­ble un­der the new free­dom of move­ment rules, Green has stepped up his de­fen­sive game. It’s a stun­ning thing to be­hold. This will be a neon-lights story at play­off time.

 Ex­cel­lent point made by Jack

McCal­lum, among the finest NBA writ­ers, about Stephen

Curry to ESPN: “(Wilt) Cham­ber­lain, Ka­reem (Ab­dulJab­bar) and the great big men like (Bill) Rus­sell changed the game from the in­side. He’s changed the game from the out­side. He’s a walk­ing piece of his­tory.” Only one other player in league his­tory has done that: the Celtics’ Bob Cousy, who rev­o­lu­tion­ized fancy ball­han­dling and ex­cit­ing fast breaks in the late ’50s and early ’60s.  Don’t miss a chance to watch Ore­gon in Pac-12 play this sea­son. The Ducks have Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2 son of Manute Bol, and he is noth­ing short of a rev­e­la­tion. He han­dles the ball like a guard, shows text­book foot­work on in­side moves, blocks or changes shots on the de­fen­sive end, runs the floor with pas­sion and, get this, has a feath­ery three-point shot. A fresh­man who grew up in Kansas, Bol spent his ju­nior year of high school at Mater Dei (Or­ange County), then moved on to Find­lay Prep in Hen­der­son, Nev. He passed up an of­fer from Ken­tucky, among oth­ers, to play for the Ducks.  An­other lanky Ore­gon prod­uct, Chris Boucher, didn’t work out in his G League trial with the War­riors, but he signed a two-way con­tract with Toronto. There’s a Canada con­nec­tion — he grew up in Mon­treal — and the 6-foot-10 Boucher has al­ready ap­peared in a Rap­tors game, notch­ing six points and two re­bounds in 2:17 against Mil­wau­kee on Mon­day.

Eric Gay / As­so­ci­ated Press

Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton is try­ing to blend young­sters, ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers on one-year deals — and LeBron James.

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