‘One of the guys,’ Lonzo Ball has Lakers teammates believing in him and a bright future

EL SEGUNDO — Julius Randle has seen most of this before. For four consecutive years he has arrived at training camp with a Lakers team boasting a bright future based around an exciting young core with great chemistry. Each season, he has watched those hopes disintegrate into losing and the inevitable roster change that follows

What Randle has not experienced before is a teammate like Lonzo Ball. On one hand, Ball is already an L.A. icon without playing a single game; on the other hand, he’s kind of boring.

“Everybody’s following his every move,” Randle said. “But honestly Zo is just Zo. Zo is relaxed, he’s chill. He doesn’t even say too much. He’s just one of the guys. For as much as he has going on around him you would never know.”

One day into Ball’s rookie season, that seems to be the point guard’s paradox. The only guy who doesn’t seem to be buying into the hysteria of the player who in a matter of months went from Chino Hills High to UCLA to the Lakers is Ball himself.

“You get used to it when you play like this the whole time,” he said. “High school’s the same thing; college is the same thing; now I’m here. It’s the same thing. So, obviously, the media gets picked up and the attention gets bigger, but at the end of the day it’s just basketball.”

There was plenty of unrestrained optimism to go around on Monday during the Lakers’ annual media day: for the extravagant new practice facility, for Brandon Ingram’s offseason work ethic and his defensive leadership. However, on the eve of the first practice of training camp, it was unsurprisingly Ball who continued to receive the most attention.

Notably at issue: The pressure that awaits him as the centerpiece of a global basketball brand.

“Everybody was waiting to see what was this dude going to do,” said Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. “Is he going to come in like a prima donna or come in wanting everything? Know what? He has been the opposite.”

In fact, the noise around Ball seems to merit more than a shrug these days.

“I think he is tired of all this,” Johnson said, adding that Ball “wants to play.”

No one has hyped up Ball more than his father, LaVar, the polarizing figure behind Big Baller Brand. Johnson said he and LaVar Ball have an open dialogue, but that he won’t “monitor” the outspoken patriarch.

“I got 15 dudes I have to monitor and that’s it and who I am going to monitor,” Johnson said. “LaVar is a grown man. He is a great father. … LaVar is having fun with all of this. Give him credit, he understands how to market the Big Baller Brand. But my job is not to monitor him.”

After finishing last season with 26 wins and shipping ill-fitting point guard D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn, the Lakers appear committed to building around Ball, whose style of pushing the ball has been billed the perfect fit to Coach Luke Walton’s share-the-ball offense.

“The way he plays, the unselfish brand is how we want to do it,” Walton said. “We’re changing up the style we’re going to play a little bit because we have a point guard who likes pushing the ball up the floor.”

Ingram set a preseason goal for leading the Lakers in scoring this season, a mission he believes is possible with Ball delivering assists.

“I know our point guard is going to help us score a lot of easy baskets this year,” he said, “so just to have a guy like him is going to help us out a lot.”

Ball will be leading a team heavily reliant on young players, with the front office casting a hopeful eye toward the summer of 2018 when LeBron James and Paul George lead a cast of All-NBA free agents.

Aside from veteran center Brook Lopez, acquired in the Russell trade, and fifth-year shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who signed as a free agent, players like 20-year-olds Ingram and Ivica Zubac and Julius Randle, a grizzled 22, are expected to make some of the biggest contributions with Ball at the forefront of it all.

“We needed a leader on this team and we have one now,” said Johnson, who likes to present himself as a comparison for the young point guard.

So, he understands the pressure Ball faces and where it comes from.

“He’s a cool, good-looking young man,” Johnson said. “With the game to match. Wow, that’s L.A.”

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