EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Entering what Magic Johnson told him will be “the biggest summer” of his life, Lonzo Ball will work on but not alter his shot and he wasn’t too concerned about what he showed LeBron James, Paul George and other potential free agents in his rookie season.
“No, the way I play is to help my team win, I am not really worried about who is not here, I am worried about the guys that are here and I tried to do what I could and help my team out,” Ball said when asked if he felt pressure to show star free agents what he could do this season. “So, whether it be LeBron, Paul George or whoever, if they liked it, they liked it. If they didn’t, they didn’t, I can’t do anything about it now.”
During the Los Angeles Lakers‘ exit interviews Thursday, Ball said Johnson, the team president, and GM Rob Pelinka’s message to him was that this would be the most crucial summer of his life. The 20-year-old must get stronger physically after missing 30 games this season to shoulder and knee injuries. As for his shooting technique, Ball said he would not alter it in any way and that he just planned on working on it through repetition this summer.
Johnson had said earlier in the season that management would see how the 6-foot-6 Ball shot the ball this season and then decide whether the team needed to tinker with his unique shooting form. Ball averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 36 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“Shoot it with confidence for one and just keep putting the work in,” Ball said when asked what Lakers brass told him about how to improve his shooting and if any changes would be made to his technique. “Don’t change your form or nothing. I have been shooting like that my whole life, they said they are fine with it.
“Just make sure I am getting the reps up. Just perfect it pretty much. If you want to be a good shooter, you got to shoot and start making them and that will translate to the game.”
Ball missed the final eight games of the season because of a left knee contusion but said the injury was feeling better. Ball, who also missed 15 games earlier in the season because of a sprained left MCL, finished with 13 double-doubles and two triple-doubles as a rookie.
The Lakers are excited about Ball’s passing, rebounding, defense and ability to push the pace. But Ball had stretches where his shot was hot and then ice cold, and he has to develop more offense off pick-and-rolls, drives and in the midrange game — all things he said he would work on this summer.
The No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft also had to deal with constant attention surrounding his outspoken father LaVar, and even smaller things like getting a haircut that went viral.
Ball said his father was not a distraction this season. LaVar criticized Lakers coach Luke Walton earlier in the season and said that the coach had lost the team during a nine-game losing streak in early January.
But he didn’t make much noise regarding the Lakers after that, as he spent most of his time in Lithuania with Ball’s brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who were playing professionally there. Lonzo Ball was asked if he asked his father to tone things down.
“Nope,” Ball said. “Never tell him any of that. He pretty much does what he does and I do what I do.”
Asked if his father was ever a distraction, Ball added: “Nope. First year was all me and it is done now and on to the next one.”
It is a massive summer for Ball and the Lakers. Johnson and Pelinka plan to pursue two max free agents this summer with James and George the biggest targets if they opt to consider the Lakers. Lakers management has positioned the franchise to be able to potentially clear as much as $70 million in cap space if restricted free agent Julius Randle does not return and the Lakers find a solution, probably the stretch provision, to the $37 million owed to Luol Deng, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The Lakers not only will try to sell free agents on playing in L.A. but also on their young core of Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart that helped them finish 35-47 — a nine-game improvement from the season before despite a rash of injuries.
Kuzma, who averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie, said that no matter who the Lakers get in free agency this summer, Ball knows he has to be “bring it” next season.
“I think he’s going to attack his mentality,” Kuzma said when asked how his best friend on the team will go into the offseason. “There’s one thing he needs to do — for us to be great, no matter who comes here, everything is going to fall on his head no matter if it’s a superstar that comes or not. That’s just the reality we live in.
“For him and us, we all know he has to bring it next year and he will for sure.”