You don’t give up on Russell, but…

While watching the Lakers take apart Indiana on Friday night, an ESPN announcer did something completely unexpected: he said something possibly brilliant.

To be honest, I didn’t want to look up the announcer’s name. It was 1 a.m. in my time zone when he said it and frankly it’s going to be many months before an ESPN announcer doesn’t substitute tired pop culture references for analysis, so why bother? 

He lauded rookie small forward Brandon Ingram as so skilled and versatile, he could also serve as a point guard. The No. 2-overall pick in the 2016 draft has played guard for the Lakers earlier this year when the team was losing players to injury. Coach Luke Walton saw playing Ingram at the point as a way to get the rookie — who has a reputation for on-court acumen — some extra time.

Considering the Lakers have very little set in stone with its current roster, switching Ingram to guard is a distinct possibility.

Because point guard D’Angelo Russell, a No. 2-overall pick from the 2015 NBA Draft, isn’t performing at a level you would want. Russell, who was selected because Lakers officials were wowed by his on-court decision-making, currently ranks at No. 41 in the NBA assists rankings at an underwhelming 4.4 per game.

That’s behind former Lakers Jeremy Lin and Jordan Farmar. It’s one thing to be behind the Clippers Chris Paul. Russell is also behind Blake Griffin.

Oh, but Russell has cracked the top 20 in turnovers per game. He lets the other team have the ball 2.6 times per game, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but only 19 players in the entire league are worse. 

In what many armchair GMs consider a guard-oriented league, that simply isn’t any good.

You don’t want to root for people to get injured. Having said that, you almost have to wonder if Russell’s tumble in the first minute of last night’s game, during which he injured the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, actually helped the team. Without Russell, the Lakers struggled to get their footing, but pulled away in the second half with Ingram controlling the ball. The Lakers led by 20 at one point.

So I get it: You don’t trade Russell because he’s only in his second year and it goes against common sense to abandon ship on someone you invested the No. 2-overall draft pick on. You certainly don’t do it in one game where Ingram took over and excelled.

But at this point, the Lakers don’t have three budding young stars on their roster like their fans want to believe. They might have two — maybe — in Ingram and forward Julius Randle. Russell is the weak link, inconsistent, turnover-prone and pointlessly cocky. He needs to spend less time pointing at his antecubital when he makes a shot. You don’t have ice in your veins, player. Not when you average a very pedestrian 14.3 points per game.

It behooves Russell to humble down and focus on professionalism, because the Lakers franchise is popular, but the actual team is struggling to reach mediocrity. If he can’t figure out what he’s doing, he’ll be out of the league before he turns 25, watching Ingram run the offense on TV.

The Lakers: We all have a learning curve here

Random thoughts on the Brave Bryantless World after the Lakers season-opening 120-114 victory over Houston on Wednesday (and I say random because I have already written on what I think the Lakers will be, so why repeat myself?):

  • The starting lineup was curious until the second half. Nick Young not being staple-gunned to the bench? And chucking up misses in the process? What was that? I think we found out in the second half, maybe. 

The reason Young has an NBA career in the first place is because he stopped Kevin Durant in the NCAA Tournament when USC upset Texas. This Lakers team, as currently constructed, is defense deprived. LA allowed an alarming 71 points in the first half. The guess here is the coaching staff advised Young if he doesn’t do his job in the second half… And Houston scored a more palatable 43 in the second half.

By the way, don’t be too surprised if that means Metta World Peace starts soon in Young’s place. Not that he would play major minutes. The idea being a reminder to the rest of the team: stop the ball.

  • For defensive purposes and considering the development of Brandon Ingram, the lineup will continue to be in flux for at least another two months. They have no idea who they can consistently rely on yet, aside from Julius Randle.
  • I want to hold back on praising the offense. Scoring 120 points is impressive, unless it’s against Houston. Now that the Rockets are coached by Mark D’Antoni, we’re going to have to come up with a new phrase for matador defense.
  • As I’ve written before, the Lakers will at least be fun to watch. Having said that, when D’Angelo Russell followed up a basket by looking at the camera and screaming “This is my shit,” you might be a little ahead of yourself, playa. That was a lucky shot. You threw up some shit.
  • ESPN color analyst Mark Jackson made an excellent point about top draft selection Ingram being part of the reserves. Ingram, a forward, played the point with the second team in the first half. That was a purposeful idea, Jackson said, because it accelerates the learning process to run the offense. Ingram wouldn’t have that opportunity as a passive member of the first team.
  • I still believe the Lakers do not have the personnel to run the Golden State offense that fans were anticipating. Russell was the only Lakers player with more than two 3-pointers.
  • Will somebody — preferably Randle — please commandeer the low post? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Vlade Divac and Shaquille O’Neal are all rolling over in their graves.

The Lakers embark on a four-game road trip starting in Utah on Friday. Keep in mind, LA started out last season 0-4, so they’re already ahead of last season’s awful curve.

Squint really really hard and there’s hope for the Lakers

If you saw the Lakers depth chart for the upcoming season — and Google pushed ESPN’s chart straight to the top of its search engine — you would be as deeply startled and disappointed as if you had stayed up to watch Julian Assange online this morning.

Here’s ESPN’s cruel equivalent of a WikiLeaks bombshell, which I downloaded this morning:


Please take a moment to ask God if you’ve suffered through enough horrible basketball yet to be punished further by this graphic.

The fact that Roy Hibbert plays for the Charlotte Hornets not withstanding, there’s a lot on the actual roster that will make basketball fans feel equal parts optimism and loathing for the upcoming season. The preseason, by the way, begins tonight in Anaheim against the equally dreadful Sacramento Kings.

Ultimately, much like the graphic above, this team has far more questions than answers. Having questions alone is a reason for good cheer. With the team last year, we already knew the answer: They were going to stink.

Coach Luke Walton is every bit of an unknown as the roster. Sure, he took over to coach the Golden State Warriors for a spell last year in Steve Kerr’s absence, but how much does that mean? One, the Warriors have an elite roster that knows their game plan. Two, Walton coached with Kerr — who let the Warriors rain three-point shots — but he played under Phil Jackson, who ran the Triangle offense. That offense features free-flowing motion and can help post players.

So are the Lakers trying to reinvent themselves into the Warriors or rediscover the Shaq-Kobe era? We can guess. We don’t know.

In the graphic above, the only roster spot we know is locked up belongs to point guard D’Angelo Russell. How close he is to being an impact player is anyone’s guess. The Lakers like him, but if he were a sure-fire star, he wouldn’t have been playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas. There are also legitimate questions of his maturity level, and he’s supposed to be the conduit for the offense?

Jordan Clarkson is likely your starting shooting guard. The only reason he wouldn’t be is if the Lakers craft a three forward offense of some sort after ingesting copious amounts of hallucinogens. And the Lakers are surprisingly deep at forward.

It seems highly likely that Julius Randle is the starting power forward after a productive first full year, considering he averaged a double-double in points and rebounds per game. However, a team that won 17 games last year can’t etch too many sure things in its roster and the Lakers also like what they’ve seen in Larry Nance Jr. It’s also possible both play in the front court for small lineups.

The idea that Nick Young still draws a paycheck or is listed as a starter in the above graphic is beyond me. Young has been rightfully buried at small forward in the depth chart. No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram may not start in his rookie year, but the entire organization will tackle him if he ever steps to “Swaggy P” for advice. Your likely starter is Luol Dang, who is serviceable but not a game-changer.

L.A. hopes Timofey Mozgov is serviceable at center. He brings with him a championship from the Cavaliers and also the eternal emotional baggage from this. I sure hope the Buss family is paying for therapy after that. Should he falter, Yi Jianlian is listed as a power forward but he has seen time in practice as a backup center. He’s a defensive liability but can shoot.

So what to make of it? The gut feeling here is that the Lakers aren’t trying to be the Warriors as much as they are trying to be the Oklahoma City Thunder in the near future — deep, athletic and more importantly, versatile.   

For this season, the Lakers can’t be worse than they were the last two years. Aside from 17 wins, there was this sinking suspicion that they simply didn’t like each other or enjoy the way they were playing under Byron Scott. 

I think there’s reason for optimism. 

I think they’ve turned a corner.

I don’t think the results will be that much better, surely not a playoff team. 

If this team doubles its wins, it misses the playoffs by a mile. However, if the Lakers do win 34 games — which is conceivable — Randle makes a firm connection with Russell and Ingram cracks the starting lineup by the end of the year, then the clouds will finally lift for a franchise that is in desperate need of direction.

The week in L.A. sports (6/3/16-6/9/16)

I’m writing this a day early, because watching these commercials for the upcoming “Ghostbusters” bomb during the NBA Finals is making me bitter. I know people like NBA players, but you can’t trick me into making me think it’s “Space Jam” by adding Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony to the ads. If this hunk of cinematic phlegm is so great, and it likely isn’t, where are the stars of the movie in the ads?

I’ll take a deep breath now. On to the teams…

Dodgers: The team continues to tread the waters of Lake Inferior, but made a rather noteworthy player transaction this weekend by designating Carl Crawford for assignment. That’s a fancy-pants way of saying “you’re so bad, we will pay you not to be on the team.” Considering that he’s owed $35 million, that’s an intense level of bad.

What’s particularly striking about that decision is that nobody thought this golden parachute was a bad idea even though the Dodgers could only manage one base hit in Monday’s loss.

LA also cut Cuban defector Alex Guerrero, who hadn’t been seen in the majors since before Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy.

Lakers: Elite draft prospect Brandon Ingram is scheduled to showcase his wares in a private workout session for the team in El Segundo today. They have yet to schedule one with consensus top pick Ben Simmons. Make of that what you will.

There’s also a bit of a pissing match over whether the 1980s “Showtime” Lakers could beat the modern-day Golden State Warriors. Everybody said the obvious things and at the end of the day, Magic still has HIV for I believe 25 years now. That’s a silver anniversary, right?

Also, Brandon Bass has declined an option in his contract in order to become a free agent. Can you blame him?

Rams: This might not be as sexy a pick as the new quarterback, but if you’re looking for a player to love with the team returning, consider defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who was rated the No.3 overall best player in the NFL by CBS Sports beat writer Pete Prisco. Donald is behind only Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Houston’s multi-talented J.J. Watt.

“He was a dominant inside force for the Rams last season, breaking out into the star category of players. Donald is so quick and strong, even if he is undersized. He had 11 sacks last season and was outstanding against the run,” Prisco wrote. “The ability to get off the ball as quickly as he did sets him apart from the rest of the defensive tackles in the league.”

Clippers: Dude, are I hear about them are wild rumors and the only fantasies I deal with are about women I can’t have.

Galaxy: Major League Soccer is in this funky little pause/non-pause with the Copa America tournament. The Galaxy is missing some of its top players and it showed in that it couldn’t score in a tie against a rather lame Sporting Kansas City.

Kings: General manager Dean Lombardi talked about the team with ESPN “First Take” gasbag Stephen A. Smith. I’d tell you what happened, but I could sense my IQ plummet like a diabetic’s blood-sugar level.

The week in Los Angeles sports (5/20/16-5/26/16)

Before recapping a week that was weak from my old stomping grounds, I want to address the idea of the Oakland Raiders moving to either Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

If the Raiders can’t make it work in Oakland, the Rams should tell them to move to Vegas.

The cold truth is the Rams could lose the city they fought so hard to move to, because the Raiders are a damn entertaining football team right now and on the cusp of being a playoff threat.

The Rams? I’m not sure what the hell they are right now. I know they want to run the football, but they let a lot of their defensive depth go in order to make room for a quarterback. They’re likely a couple of years away.

The return of the LA Raiders could damage the LA Rams. Why would team owner Stan Kroenke allow that?

Now…

Dodgers: A national outlet’s power rankings asked if it was time to write off the Dodgers. Depending on what you’re writing them off for, it’s a fair question. Playoff berth? I wouldn’t write them off. World title? Grab your pen and start scribbling, because this team is currently very poorly designed and poorly led.

Consider they just finished a string of 10 consecutive games against last place teams and finished a painfully mediocre 5-5.

I have plenty of time to deconstruct the team, though. Instead, I want to take the analytics-enslaved management to task over how it treated Ross Stripling. You might remember how manager Dave Roberts ruined Stripling’s push for a no-hitter in his major league debut. Roberts, beholden to the spreadsheet the alleged “smartest front office in baseball” forced him to abide by instead of common sense, pulled Stripling, and the Dodgers lost.

Had Stripling — a journeyman minor-leaguer — finished the no-hitter, he would have had a better shot at landing a job with another team because he wasn’t in the Dodgers future plans. Or at least, he would have been known as “the guy who threw the no-hitter” everywhere he went afterward.

Stripling was demoted in the last week. It’s unlikely you’ll see him in Dodger blue again.

Good going, “smart guys.”

Lakers: Brian Shaw was hired as Luke Walton’s lead assistant coach, and sportswriters from sea to shining sea got the story totally wrong.

Shaw is not there to bring the Warriors “small ball” style to the Lakers. We don’t even know if Walton is going to try to replicate that.

Shaw was an assistant under Phil Jackson. Walton played for Jackson. And Jackson ran the triangle.

You’re jumping to a conclusion that the facts don’t support. Idiots. You don’t know what Walton will do yet.

By the way, if “small ball” is so great, why are the Warriors down 3-1 to Oklahoma City and its three seven-footers?

Galaxy: Rivarly Week for Major League Soccer ended with a thud when San Jose picked up a 1-1 tie with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. That sucked. It really did, especially since LA got its goal when a San Jose player accidentally kicked the ball into his own net.

Kings: The NHL draft is in late June. The Kings don’t have a first-round pick and even if they did, I couldn’t tell you if the dude could play.

Clippers: Just a gut feeling. Despite all the talk about blowing up the team, I think they simply focus on finding J.J, Reddick’s replacement at shooting guard. Dude is 31.

When was the last time an NBA franchise blew up, by the way? The last I can think of … the Chicago Bulls when Pippen and Jordan left?