It has been almost six weeks since Lonzo Ball played in a game. While sidelined with a sprained left MCL, the No. 2 overall pick watched Julius Randle play his most consistent basketball, Brandon Ingram flourish at point guard for seven games, Kyle Kuzma detonate from time to time, Josh Hart surprisingly rack up double-doubles as a starter and a young Los Angeles Lakers core growing and enjoying life together. "The guys learned how to play without me," Ball recently said. "... They know what works: pace and defense." But just as the Lakers were discovering their groove, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. were traded to Cleveland in a cap-clearing move that brought in Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a protected first-round pick. While the trade was a major win for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka -- who positioned the team to have up to $70 million to spend on two elite free agents either this summer or next -- the Lakers' surging chemistry and play took a hit. Many of the young Lakers had never experienced a trade deadline deal that cost them not only two of the key components to the marginal success they have had this season, but also two well-liked personalities in the locker room. That move leaves Ball returning to a Lakers team that has lost three straight and is playing some of its worst defense of the season, surrendering an average of 129.3 points since the trade. The Lakers return to the practice court Wednesday night, and Ball expects to return in the team's first game after the All-Star break on Friday against Dallas (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Lakers (23-34) are hoping their prized rookie point guard will turn things around for them once again. "It's gonna be really fun to have him out there pushing the basketball and putting guys in different spots and giving confidence to other guys," Ingram said. "It's just gonna make our offense even better." Ball's pass-first, push-the-pace game should be a boost for the Lakers. He gets the Lakers easier looks, and his chemistry with Kuzma could get the rookie scoring forward playing consistently again. However, coach Luke Walton still has some things to figure out as Ball returns.
With Lonzo set to return, Lakers look for growth in second half
ESPN | Feb 21