Magic Johnson says summer league showed Lakers ‘already better’

Magic Johnson says summer league showed Lakers ‘already better’

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Magic Johnson thinks Lonzo Ball’s triple-doubles in summer league were just a preview of more to come.

"You can see that. If he’s getting triple-doubles in the summer league, he is going to get triple-doubles in the regular season," Johnson said. "Just like me, when I got here, there was pressure. I was the No. 1 pick. I didn’t care about that. I am going to play my game. Lonzo is going to play his game. The great ones do."

Johnson made his remarks Tuesday after the Lakers introduced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at their team facility.

The Lakers legend says he sees some similarities with how he played and praised the way Ball impacts the game and his teammates at the point.

"Lonzo is special, no question about it, because he makes everyone better," Johnson said. "He does something you can’t teach. He gives you a scoring pass. Very few point guards in this league can do that. I am talking about giving you a pass that leads to the score, not just passing it to you. … I like him because he also is now a great teammate. He has a special effect on people.

"I think it is the same in terms of the basketball IQ," Johnson added of what he and Ball have in common. "What is lacking in our game is a guy that can create a shot for somebody else. That is why Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland are so good. They got multiple guys who can create a shot for somebody else. That is the one thing that he has that you cannot teach."

Ball was named MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League after averaging 16.3 points, a summer league-leading 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He recorded two triple-doubles and had four games with 10 assists or more. No other rookie in Las Vegas Summer League history has had more than one game with 10 assists, and no other rookie has ever had a triple-double there, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Since taking over as Lakers president of basketball operations and teaming up with new general manager Rob Pelinka, Johnson has tried to change not only the roster but the culture of the Lakers. Johnson says the Lakers have already improved since last season after trading D’Angelo Russell for Brook Lopez, drafting summer league sensations Ball and Kyle Kuzma and signing Caldwell-Pope.

"We are already better," Johnson said. "The roster is more balanced. We saw the ball movement in summer league. … We want to go up and down. … Also, our practices are going to be amazing, and that will lead to us getting better in games.

"I tell you what, I would not want to miss a Lakers game this season. It’s going to be exciting every single night."

Johnson said his first priority in altering the roster was to add more shooting, a pass-first point guard and players who could play multiple positions. Trading Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, allowed the team to begin transforming the roster while also dumping Timofey Mozgov’s contract.

"Like five teams called for D’Angelo, [so] we knew that we could move D’Angelo for one of the pieces that we were looking for," Johnson said. "So we decided on Brooklyn. They got a great player in D’Angelo, and we got what we wanted."

Johnson was asked if it was hard to part with Russell.

"I am not one of them dudes," Johnson said. "When I say bye, that’s it. I keep moving. I can’t get caught in emotions and all that. That is not who I am. We moved, and we kept moving. After that trade, we went on to the next thing. Both Rob and I, we put our heads down and kept moving."

The Lakers were giddy introducing Caldwell-Pope, a two-way guard whom they felt was almost like a gift that landed in their laps after the Pistons suddenly renounced the rights to him and made him a free agent.

Johnson says Caldwell-Pope’s ability to run, finish and defend multiple positions and the opponent’s top guard will help Ball tremendously.

"If we don’t defend, we can’t run," Johnson said of Caldwell-Pope, who signed a one-year, $18-million deal with the Lakers. "And we want to run, run, run, run, run. So we can’t do that unless we get stops.

"I would love to see him on one wing. [Brandon Ingram] on the other. Ball in the middle. Julius [Randle] trailing. Lopez trailing after that," Johnson added before letting out a whistle to emphasize how excited he is. "It is going to be awesome. Larry Nance. On and on and on."

The Magic comparisons have no doubt added pressure on Ball, but Johnson said he doesn’t have a problem with that.

"The great ones want pressure," Johnson said. "Hey, he’s been living in this city his whole life. In high school, won a state championship. Did you know when he went to UCLA, everybody says he better perform. He performed. Now he gets to play for his favorite team in his hometown. So there’s pressure that comes with that.

"But the great ones eat pressure for breakfast, right? He is a guy that just plays his game. Nothing is going to change."

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