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April 24, 2014

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NBA SUMMER LEAGUE:

Morrison transitions to NBA after Gonzaga stardom

Trade to Lakers offered a shot of confidence, Morrison says

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Justin M. Bowen

Adam Morrison of the Los Angeles Lakers (left) talks with Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw at the NBA Summer League in the Cox Pavilion.

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Los Angeles forward Adam Morrison during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Adam Morrison is supremely confident these days that he is quite tired of answering questions about his confidence.

The former Gonzaga star is attempting to show his many critics that, after major knee surgery, he can still produce and be a viable weapon in the NBA.

His confidence received a major boost, he said, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last season. The squad immediately embraced him and encouraged him in practice.

“Yeah, very much so,” said Morrison, when asked in the NBA Summer League if the constant inquiries about his confidence were getting stale. “Just wearing the purple and gold helps.

“When I got traded to the Lakers, my confidence shot up. Everyone was cool in Charlotte. They drafted me. But when you come to the Lakers organization, you do nothing but feel better for yourself. The guys made me feel right at home.”

Morrison has mostly been in a groove this summer. He’s averaging 20.8 points, which leads the Lakers, and shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

But he was bummed about only getting 17 on Tuesday night in a victory over Oklahoma City.

Kyle Weaver, who has done a stellar job on Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant in the past, shadowed Morrison’s every cut and pivot.

When Weaver walked by Morrison in a narrow tunnel outside the Thomas & Mack Center locker rooms after the game, Morrison said, “Good defense, man. Good job.”

As far as the C-word, Lakers brass has used it often in evaluating Morrison’s game.

“It is big,” said Lakers Assistant General Manager Ronnie Lester. “I think it’s half the battle. Adam’s game is scoring the ball, and you have to have your confidence to do that. I think he’s starting to get that back.”

Morrison knows others have always poked at the way he runs, with his lopey strides on the balls of his feet and his shoulders hunched up, as if someone just slammed a nearby door shut.

Combined with wild hair and a 1970s-era mustache, his critics have always had sufficient fodder. Now he’s slightly devilish, with that mustache framed by dark, arching eyebrows and a goatee.

He’s trimmed his mane but probably hasn’t lost any critics.

After a disappointing rookie season, in which he averaged 11.8 points for Charlotte after getting selected third in the 2006 draft, Morrison went to the Internet.

Terrible, he read about himself. Left for dead. One of the worst picks of all time.

“One Web site said I was the worst player in the NBA,” Morrison said. “I heard all of it. It was tough to swallow. Not getting a chance to prove myself that second year was terrible, the worst.

“But I think some of it was fans who never liked me anyway, which is fine. That’s part of the business. I understand that. What can you do?”

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a preseason game against the Lakers in 2007, and he sat out the entire 2007-08 season in rehabilitation.

In 44 games for the Bobcats in 2008-09, Morrison averaged 4.5 points. In eight with the Lakers, that dropped to 1.3 points.

But Los Angeles General Manager Mitch Kupchak was upfront with Morrison, telling him that he wouldn’t be playing much.

The goal, Kupchak told Morrison, was for him to regain full strength and mobility in his knee, to hone his mental approach and to get plenty of time in the Summer League.

Morrison has looked confident, mostly using a one- or two-dribble power move to create a window for a 3-pointer, a fade-away baseline jumper or a leaner.

“He got hurt, first of all,” Lester said. “That’s a big thing. Guys who get hurt, you feel like you’re not part of it. You miss a whole year. You lose some confidence when you’re not playing.

“Now he’s in a new situation, with a new team and a new coach and a new system, playing against some of the best players in the world. He has to establish himself as an NBA player, which he has yet to do.”

Morrison is signed through next season, and by the end of that campaign he will have made almost $20 million. So don’t weep too much for his plight.

He doesn’t want sympathy from anyone. In fact, he asks for nothing. He isn’t arrogant enough to think he can duplicate his Gonzaga stardom in the world’s best basketball league.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a go-to guy in the NBA,” Morrison said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be like it was in college, where I’m the best player on the team. My goal is just to find a role and play my role well.

“A lot of rookies have to make that adjustment, from being the best player on the team to just another guy.”

Wearing black-and-white checkered slip-on Vans, Morrison, who turns 25 on Sunday, said he’s just trying to find his niche on a Lakers roster that is in flux.

Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense might work in his favor. Slowly but surely, he’s grasping the terminology, spacing and timing.

“I think it is conducive to my game,” Morrison said. “It’s a lot of mid-range stuff, a lot of timing and reads. It’s great to get a feel for it.”

Lester sees Morrison, who led the nation in scoring at Gonzaga, getting his game together.

“You see it every day in practice,” Lester said. “He just has to get comfortable playing in our system, get out on the floor and get his rhythm back. And he will get that back.”

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