Lonzo Ball works out for Lakers, says 'I want to stay home'

Lonzo Ball works out for Lakers, says 'I want to stay home'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — With the ball in his hands on the Los Angeles Lakers' home court, Lonzo Ball was exactly where he always wanted to be.

Ball's new Lakers workout gear was soaked with sweat after he went through his individual pre-draft workout Wednesday for Magic Johnson and coach Luke Walton at their training complex. The tantalizing UCLA product left no doubt that he hopes his favorite team chooses him with the second overall pick.

"Of course," Ball said. "I want to stay home."

The Lakers have roughly two weeks to decide whether to hitch their franchise rebuilding effort to the 6-foot-6 point guard — and by extension to his outspoken father, LaVar, who didn't attend the workout.

After enduring the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, the Lakers hope to rebound next fall with their new draft choice alongside fellow No. 2 picks D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball is generally considered the front-runner to become the Lakers' new catalyst, with some analysts even believing he surpasses Markelle Fultz and the rest of the draft pool as the prospect with the greatest potential for superstardom.

Ball doesn't shy from the responsibility that would come with his selection, either: He plans to be a leader for his NBA team from his first day on the roster.

"They have a lot of good players," Ball said. "Obviously they need a leader, a point guard, and I feel like I can bring that to the team."

But every NBA team with a top draft pick is clearly weighing Ball's talent against the potential perils of choosing a somewhat unorthodox 19-year-old with a heavily involved parent currently trying to sell $495 basketball shoes online. Lonzo didn't wear Big Baller Brand's ZO2: Prime shoes for his Lakers workout.

Any potential concerns felt by the Lakers haven't filtered through to Ball, who was still excited about his getting-to-know-you dinner in Venice on Tuesday with the Lakers' top brass, including Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka.

"I got positive vibes," Ball said. "I had a lot of fun. It was great meeting everybody here, and they were very welcoming."

He was particularly thrilled to meet Johnson, the Hall of Famer now directing the Lakers' rebuild as their president of basketball operations. The 6-foot-9 former point guard provided the template for Ball's approach to hoops through LaVar, an ardent Magic fan.

"Magic Johnson is one of the greatest players ever to play," Ball said. "And I love the way Coach (Walton) wants to coach us, and then Rob is a great dude, too. So just meeting all them, it was a great blessing."

Ball didn't say whether he will work out for other teams, claiming he'll leave it up to his agent. But his visit with the Lakers was his first individual workout, and LaVar has openly voiced his desire for his son to end up with the hometown team for many months.

After growing up 50 miles away in Chino Hills, Ball spent the last year 20 minutes north of the Lakers' El Segundo training complex in Westwood, where he led the Bruins' transformation from a regular underachiever into a 31-win team.

Ball is an aggressive, creative playmaker who also had one of the most accurate shots in NCAA history last season, albeit with an unorthodox shooting motion that will never be found in a textbook. Ball said he did "a lot of shooting" in his workout with the Lakers, who undoubtedly wanted a look at that release.

Ball's detractors question his defensive acumen and his ability to adapt his unusual shot to the pro game, but few doubt his status as an elite facilitator who could thrive in Walton's up-tempo, Golden State-inspired offense.

Yet the Lakers already have the 6-foot-5 Russell, who has shown flashes of brilliance as the point guard on two bad teams. Walton and the Lakers clearly believe Ball and Russell could share the same backcourt profitably.

Although Ball must wait a bit longer to find out whether his childhood dream will come true, he seemed quietly optimistic about the opportunity after his chance to impress Johnson and Walton in person.

"They said they want me to come in — if I get picked — come in and be a leader and play with a lot of pace," Ball said. "So the stuff they were saying was very positive, and it kind of fits my game."

Sixers crush Grizzlies for 40th win of season

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Sixers crush Grizzlies for 40th win of season


The Sixers turned up the heat against the Grizzlies on a snowy Wednesday night to win, 119-105, and improve to 40-30. 

The Sixers built a 30-point lead by the end of the third quarter, allowing the starters to rest in the fourth. Brett Brown cleared the bench, including both two-way contract players: James Young and Demetrius Jackson. 

This extra time off comes at the perfect moment for the Sixers, who will travel to Orlando for a back-to-back Thursday. Brown has been trying to find ways to give the high-minute players, especially Joel Embiid, a break amid the packed game schedule. 

• Talk about a balanced effort. The Sixers got nearly identical offensive contributions from Robert Covington, Dario Saric, JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli (15 points each), Embiid (14 points) and Ben Simmons (13 points). 

• Inconsistently-utilized players like Richaun Holmes and Justin Anderson are hungry to play and exhibit that on the floor with high energy. Holmes threw down dunks, causing the bench to react like this: 

• The opponent’s starting center struggled for the second straight game. Like Dwight Howard of the Hornets, Marc Gasol scored well below his season average with just five points. Gasol is posting 17.7 points per game this season.

• A win over the subpar Grizzlies wasn’t a guarantee. The Grizzlies beat the Sixers, 105-101, back on Jan. 22 in Memphis. That night, Tyreke Evans scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as they staged their biggest comeback victory of the season. The Chester, Pennsylvania, native was inactive Wednesday.

• Amir Johnson did his best Simmons impression with a behind-the-back pass to, appropriately, Simmons. 

• The Sixers gave away two free hot dogs at halftime for all those who came to the game in the snow. Fans filed out of their seats with 30 seconds left in the first half to get ahead of the lines on the concourse. 

Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

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Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

Ben Simmons has been better than advertised. That's not easy to do when you were the No. 1 overall pick in your draft class, and when you consider he’s been on the national radar since he was in grade school in Australia. Not to mention being the subject of a documentary his lone year in college. So it’s pretty remarkable to be somewhat taken aback at just how good he’s been his rookie season.

He's the ultimate stat-sheet stuffer at the ripe old age of 21. Simmons is averaging 16.2 points — not bad for a guy with a range of about seven feet and in. He’s dishing out 7.9 assists per contests while corralling 7.8 rebounds. He’s been better defensively than many anticipated, picking up 1.7 steals per game. And he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the floor.

So let’s put Simmons' rookie season in historical perspective with other Sixers rookies of note to see how he measures up. Keep in mind, organizational greats like Julius Erving and Moses Malone began their careers elsewhere.

And Wilt Chamberlain's rookie and career stats are so far and away superior that he can only exist in his own stratosphere. He is the hands-down G.O.A.T. So excluding him, here are my rankings of the other Sixers rookies on the list. This is clearly subjective, but my order is based in part on immediate impact on the team, league, wins from the previous season, and the eye test, having watched all but Wilt play in their first seasons. This is not based on body of career. 

5. Michael Carter-Williams
His numbers were in large part a product of no one else on the team being able to do anything. Not special. 

4. Charles Barkley
Having two Hall of Famers and three others who were phenomenal NBA players hurts Charles a bit in this ranking. His role was somewhat limited that season. But you could see what was coming. 

3. Joel Embiid
The 31 games played impacts him. He very likely would rank first had he played more ... his production was that mind-blowing. Even more remarkable is the fact that he sat out essentially two and a half seasons prior to last year. 

2. Allen Iverson
Yes, he also played on a bad team his first season, but you could see from the jump that he was a game-changer. Despite his tiny frame, he was the guy opposing coaches game planned to stop. The NBA culture changed the moment he stepped on the floor. A dominant force. 

1. Ben Simmons
He's the choice for top rookie season from a Sixer because of the across the board impact. Scoring, rebounds, assists, defense. He plays every night. And the turn-around in his club from 28 wins last year to potentially 48 this year can't be overlooked.