El Segundo, CA-A remake of the front office. Excitement of over a first-round draft pick. A good kind of buzz has returned to Lakerland. That’s the way that Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, prefers it to be.
It is the way that Johnson, who guided the Lakers to nine NBA Finals and five championships, is used to. Winning and success kind of goes hand-in-hand with Johnson throughout his basketball life.
He won a state title in high school. He took home the NCAA crown while a sophomore at Michigan State University. After his well-chronicled endeavors on the basketball court, Johnson is putting his hard hat back on as an executive for a team that has won 16 NBA championships.
He’s already shaking things up. Before the 2017 NBA Draft, the Lakers traded away De’Angelo Russell, the team’s No. 2 draft pick just two years ago. On Draft Day, Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka filled the vacancy left behind by Russell, by putting their stock in former UCLA stalwart Lonzo Ball to replace him.
Johnson, during an introductory press conference for Ball at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, California, was not shy about letting everyone know that this is a new day. As a 6-foot-9 point guard, Johnson was effusive in his praise of Ball, who stands at 6-foot-6 and is a selfless, passing wizard.
“I think, first of all, guys want to get out there on that break and run hard because they Lonzo will find them, not just give them a pass, but a scoring pass” Johnson said. “Some people can pass, but very few people can lead to a scoring pass, and that is what type of passer he is. He’s unbelievable. He has a great feel for the game. He understands angles, and that’s also difficult. That’s what we saw watching so much tape of him. You see yourself. You see Jason Kidd. You see guys who can see the floor and make the correct pass, and not just any type of pass, but the correct pass. I was blown away by that.”
At first glance, the numbers for the one season that Ball played at UCLA appear to be pedestrian. During his freshman campaign playing for the Bruins, Ball averaged just over 14 points and 7.6 assists a game. When you consider how Ball’s dominance in UCLA winning the Wooden Legacy Tournament hovered over the college basketball season and how he propelled the Bruins to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, those stat lines can be misleading.
Ball is the real deal. The accolades that Ball has received from a Hall of Fame point guard like Johnson is serious business. Fans might want to pay attention as well.
“I think our players are going to love playing with him,” Johnson said. “Also, they become better passers. They want to make the extra pass because of Lonzo. So this is a great day for them, not just the organization, but for our players. That’s why they’re all getting ready right now because they’re going to love playing with him.”
The reboot or rebuilding of the popular franchise is beginning to take shape. There is newness all-around the Lakers. The status quo has left the building. The Lakers have a young coach in Luke Walton.
Now by adding Ball to a young nucleus of players that include Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson, Johnson and the Lakers are looking to re-brand their way of basketball. After all, it was Johnson who orchestrated the “Showtime” era of “Laker Basketball.
“It’s a great day because you’re going to see highlight moments from this young man just by passing the basketball,” Johnson said. “The Lakers fans are used to that. We’re used to great leaders that’s why we win. Derek Fisher was a great leader, so it’s not just his passing…his leadership is what sold me, too.”
On the surface, the commonality between Johnson and Ball appear to be quite contrasting. Johnson and his mega-watt smile and infectious personality can light up any room he enters. Ball seems to be a different kind of cat.
Ball seems to be a bit measured in his actions and what he says off the basketball court. Johnson’s claim to fame was embracing the spotlight that shined on his every move.
Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, appears to be more comfortable leading a fastbreak than answering questions from reporters. That’s not to say that Ball isn’t charming. The one-and-done athlete can turn it on when he needs to. A quick burst of his bubbly smile suggest that Ball can be quite the charmer.
But that isn’t why the Lakers drafted him. Johnson and Pelinka went with Ball as their top choice of a loaded NBA Draft because they believe Ball is the best fit for the ballclub.
“Magic and I knew the moment we scouted his game, what type of player he was and how he was raised,” said Pelinka. “I think when this really came into focus for us was…we knew the talent was transcendent. The way he passes the ball…you look at quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers-they just have a gift. There’s clearly a gift with what he’s been blessed with. So we knew from a basketball standpoint, there were no questions. The process for us really became about the person. Character is so important to what we’re building here.”