Under Byron Scott, many of the younger Los Angeles Lakers felt that communication was lacking. With Magic Johnson at the helm as the team president and face of the organization moving forward, that certainly can’t be a complaint any longer.
Johnson went on ESPN Los Angeles to answer several questions, including those obligatory ones about LaVar Ball and Kobe Bryant because of course, but really dropped some interesting information regarding what he’s expecting from various parts of the Lakers’ young core.
This kind of specificity is hugely helpful for a group that, frankly, wasn’t drafted by Johnson or Rob Pelinka.
If they figure things out and fulfill their new front office’s expectations, great. Everyone moves on.
If they don’t put the work in — with Paul George’s camp keeping a close eye on the situation, by the way -- then they get moved for players who Johnson and Pelinka trust to do so.
He started with D’Angelo Russell.
"D'Angelo, I just want him to make better decisions and also be a better leader, or come into the leadership role, because we know he can score the basketball. Now you have to be a better defender, you have to be a guy who can lead his teammates and do a better job of that. We want him to also, just like all the other players, we want all of them to come back in great shape, world-class physical condition. They've all been working out really hard over the summer for next season."
This is the one instance where some ambiguity came into play. Not because of what Magic is asking for, that much is very clear, but because it’s kind of tough to just go out and improve as a leader, especially in a group of one’s peers.
The other stuff, though (defense, decision-making, etc.), are all aspects of the game he can work on.
"Brandon Ingram, we want him to get a little stronger. It's not about being bigger, it's just being stronger, so I want him to lift weights more to be strong than to be big. I was a skinny guy myself, but at the same time I got stronger so I could take the contact when I was driving to the basket... Right now when he takes the hit, he's going out of bounds, or he's going to floor and he's not getting a lot of And-1s, so we want this year for him to finish at the rim and get those And-1s."
It’s worth noting the difference between just getting bigger and getting stronger. The latter will happen naturally somewhat, as Ingram gets older. The specifics that Magic mentions show that he’s done his homework. They’re all great points.
"Jordan Clarkson, his ballhandling. Just work on his ballhandling skills so he can get away from guys, because he can score, but we want him to look to do some other things. We think Jordan can be a great defender."
As Clarkson will probably start getting settled into a sixth man role, ball-handling and creating for others in that second unit will actually be pretty important. In terms of defense, the physical tools are there, but he’s nearing that age where he is who he is.
Hopefully he proves those who believe that wrong.
"Julius, we want him to go work on his right hand because he's dominant left-handed. So you go work on your right hand, because he's cat quick and he's very athletic. So if he can get it where he can come back to his right and finish at that basket, or just a little baby hook, or finger roll, whatever that is then Julius has a chance to be a really, really good player in our league and we feel the same thing for D'Angelo. We feel like those two guys have the talent to be an All-Star one day, but they've just got to improve. Every season they have to improve."
Randle’s right hand is what just about everyone points to first, but at this stage, it’s just about getting it decent enough to force defenses to at least kind of pay attention to it.
Magic really seems to have a lot of confidence in his continued growth, so hopefully, Randle will meet him halfway. Those insanely gritty workouts sure can’t hurt.
"Larry Nance, Jr. Hit the jump shot. It's all about his jumper, because we already know he can jump out the gym, but he's got to knock down that 12-15 footer."
Finally, Nance hitting jumpers would certainly be great, but he really needs to work on not hesitating when the shot presents itself. That, quite honestly, is the biggest thing holding him back from becoming the player he possibly can.
All the things Magic pointed out in the interview sound great and certainly make a ton of sense. The larger point here, though, is the continued conversation he’s having publicly. It’s probably safe to assume the same is taking place behind closed doors.