0 of 10
Jason Miller/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — Over the summer, the Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest splash of free agency when they landed superstar LeBron James.
Now that the Lakers have secured arguably the best player in all of basketball, what other questions do they face before their September 30 preseason opener at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego against the Denver Nuggets?
1 of 10
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
As a rookie, Lonzo Ball averaged 10.2 points with 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds. He defended well and helped orchestrate the Lakers’ fast-paced offense.
He also shot the ball with his unique and somewhat unsightly form, hitting just 36.0 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range.
Visually, his shooting stands out as his biggest flaw.
“He put in the time,” president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said of Ball on Thursday. “His shot looks great. He’s going to be ready to have a breakout season and build upon what he did last season. There were only a couple of things he had to do better. That was driving to the basket and finish, and get the midrange in terms of—get his shot where he’s on balance. It’s not his shot; he has to be on balance.”
General manager Rob Pelinka agreed that Ball’s shooting form has improved over the offseason.
“He has worked to add more fluidity to his shot, you can see the spin and … the release,” he said.
That would be a boon for the Lakers, but it certainly remains to be seen if Ball can deliver a more accurate shot in games.
2 of 10
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
In addition to his odd-looking jumper, the bigger concern may be his durability after Ball missed 30 games through his rookie campaign.
A sprained knee lingered throughout the year, ultimately leading to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the offseason. It remains to be seen if this will become a recurring issue over the course of Ball’s career.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are optimistic.
“The news has been great,” Pelinka said. “He’s been 100 percent cleared by our medical staff to return to full basketball activity. Because he hasn’t played NBA five-on-five for four or five months, there is … a progression to come back.”
“He will participate in our training camp in everything other than five-on-five contact drills,” he continued. “The fact that he’s been 100 percent cleared and is feeling great is good news.”
Still, Pelinka wouldn’t guarantee that Ball will be ready for opening night.
“It’s impossible to predict the future,” he said. “We feel great about where he’s at, and we’ll just take it one day at a time.”
3 of 10
Jim Mone/Associated Press
Of the returning Lakers, Ingram may have the most significant adjustment to make to play with James.
Last year, Walton empowered Ingram as the team’s point guard while Ball was injured. The Lakers subsequently played some of their best basketball.
Will Ingram still get the ball at the top with the game on the line? Will Walton ask him to take the final shot or make the game-winning play?
Or does that just default to James?
In a way, James may stifle Ingram’s development. Equally, the third-year player has the opportunity to flourish with teams focused on James every time he’s on the floor. Ingram could thrive in a support role as a secondary or even tertiary playmaker, instead of operating more as a spot-up shooter.
Ingram has the length and agility to be a high-level defender. He may emerge as the second-best player on the team, or he may float without the same purpose he had a year ago.
The Lakers can be a very good team if Ingram makes a significant leap. If not, they may be a solid playoff entry but not a true contender.
4 of 10
John Locher/Associated Press
Outside of newcomer JaVale McGee, the Lakers are relatively inexperienced at center with just third-year player Ivica Zubac and rookie Moritz Wagner behind him.
McGee averaged 9.5 minutes a game the last two years for the Golden State Warriors, where he helped earn back-to-back titles. Can he be productive with a significant increase in workload?
Zubac only played in 43 games last year, averaging 9.5 minutes a night. Wagner could make an early impact, but that’s a lot to ask of a rookie. Or the Lakers may look to James as a small-ball center, especially to close out games.
Whatever the answer, Johnson isn’t worried.
“We’re very happy,” Johnson said. “You know the game has gone to—there’s not a true center playing backup.”
Johnson said he’ll defer to head coach Luke Walton, but he feels the team is two deep at every position.
One possibility may be Michael Beasley, an undersized option (6’9″) but an intriguing one as a floor-spacer.
“Michael will be able to play multiple positions,” Johnson said. “We’re not sitting here saying JaVale has got to play 30 minutes.”
“As the game has moved to be more positionless, we don’t even really talk about center or point guard or 2-guard,” Pelinka said. “It’s a positionless game, and we have a versatile, long roster with adequate size for sure.”
5 of 10
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
In terms of on-court contributions, Rajon Rondo should be an upgrade from the departed Tyler Ennis.
At 32 years old, Rondo may not be the same player he was when he helped the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, but he’s still a capable contributor.
But his impact on the Lakers may go beyond the basketball court.
“Rondo will help Lonzo go to another level,” Johnson said. “We got the right mentor because his basketball IQ is off the charts.”
Pelinka described a recent film session with Johnson, Rondo and Ball. They were watching a 2017-18 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and along with Johnson’s input, Rondo narrated his thought process with his former team. He also provided play-by-play, and Ball did the same in a generational learning session.
“It was amazing to be in that room and to hear these three point guards talking about the game and breaking it down,” Pelinka said.
Rondo was named an All-Star each season from 2009-10 to 2012-13. During that four-year stretch, he was unique in that he averaged 12.5 points a game and 10.8 assists. Learning behind Rondo, Ball could become a high-impact player as a pass-first point guard.
6 of 10
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
According to freelance journalist Mark Montieth, Lance Stephenson turned down a better offer to stay with the Indiana Pacers in order to leave for the Lakers, with a phone call from James sealing the deal.
Stephenson is a true wild card.
As Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard told reporters, “Sometimes he was the best player on our team, and sometimes he was the best player on the other team.”
The Lakers are optimistic he’ll make a positive impact.
“Lance Stephenson is amazing,” Johnson said. He’s been just being mean and physical out there, so no one gets an inch with him. It’s teaching our young guys how to play a physical style of basketball.”
A career 30.3 percent shooter from three-point range, Stephenson isn’t going to space the floor with his jumper, but he’s a willing playmaker and aggressive defender.
7 of 10
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Do the Lakers have enough shooting around James?
Probably not as much as they’d like, but one player who may be able to help is rookie Svi Mykhailiuk, the 47th pick in June’s NBA draft.
The 21-year-old Kansas alum was impressive through 10 summer league games in Las Vegas, averaging 15.0 points while shooting 38.8 percent from three-point range.
Given James’ gravitational field, Mykhailiuk should benefit from wide-open looks, provided Walton can find minutes for the guard/forward.
Perhaps Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Ingram or Ball will help space the floor well for the Lakers. Hart shot 39.6 percent from deep as a rookie while Caldwell-Pope shot 38.3 percent, Ingram 39 percent, Kuzma 36.6 percent and Ball 30.5 percent.
Obviously, Ball’s number is the one that needs significant improvement but the claim, “The Lakers have no shooters,” may not be fully supported by the numbers.
That said, there’s a difference between scorers who can shoot and shooters who can score. Mykhailiuk, with beautiful form and a quick release, just might be coming in as the team’s best true shooter.
8 of 10
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Last year, the Lakers’ top three scorers at 16.1 points a game were Julius Randle (since departed), Ingram and Kuzma.
The arrival of James, who averaged 27.5 last year, likely means the rest of the squad will be fighting for second on the list.
Kuzma seems the most likely to establish himself as the next-best scorer after James. That’s the second-year forward’s greatest strength.
Ingram should continue to improve and challenge Kuzma, but what about Beasley?
The 29-year old forward, originally drafted by the Miami Heat with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, gave the New York Knicks per-game averages of 13.2 points and 22.3 minutes, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
That’s Beasley playing on a bad Knicks squad that won 29 games last season. On the Lakers, with James drawing as much attention as he does? Beasley, a professional scorer, should have a field day.
9 of 10
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
How do the Lakers plan on managing their glut of backcourt players?
“I’m going to let [coach] Luke [Walton] do all that. He’s the decision maker,” said Johnson of the team’s rotation. “We feel we have two players at every position.”
They have more than two at guard with Ball, Rondo, Caldwell-Pope, Hart, Stephenson, Mykhailiuk, two-way player Alex Caruso and rookie Isaac Bonga. That doesn’t bode well for guard Joel Berry II, who is trying to make the team as a camp invite.
Also, Ingram played significant minutes last season in the backcourt, especially at the point when Ball was sidelined with an injury.
“Luke will use different combinations,” Johnson said. “We’ll let Luke decide minutes and who starts.”
Given the Lakers’ focus on positionless basketball, look for various three-guard lineups with players like Hart and Mykhailiuk guarding opposing small forwards.
10 of 10
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
James is a dominant player with a strong personality. The pressure he brings to win isn’t for everyone.
David Blatt didn’t last long with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tyronn Lue took some personal time to deal with job-related anxiety.
Walton is in just his third year, the first two spent with lower expectations as the team worked to develop its youthful core. The Lakers won 35 games last season, but James is likely expecting that number to increase by at least 20.
How seamlessly can he blend the team’s young talent with James and the many newcomers?
“We’re excited for Luke,” Johnson said. “Luke’s a winner. He’s been a winner as a player. He was a winner up at Golden State [as an assistant for the Warriors]. He’ll be a winner here too.”
“People think that it’s a problem when you have a lot of talent. No, you want a lot of talent,” Johnson continued. “He’ll know how to put them in a winning position.”
Pelinka agreed, “We think that our roster and its strengths line up perfectly with our coach and his strengths.”
Walton and the rest of the Lakers will meet with the media on Monday. Training camp begins Tuesday.