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Brandon Ingram on Zion, LeBron and the Lakers trade: ‘God’s plan is God’s plan’

The fourth-year forward has been a bright spot in New Orleans this season

TORONTO – With Zion Williamson’s NBA debut delayed due to injury, the spotlight on the New Orleans Pelicans has turned to another intriguing newcomer: Brandon Ingram.

Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, spent his first three years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he experienced an up-and-down start to his career. Last season got off to a rocky start when he was involved in an altercation with the Houston Rockets, which resulted in a four-game suspension, but Ingram averaged 27.8 points and 7.5 rebounds after the All-Star break before being shut down by a blood clot. His days playing alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles ended when he was traded to New Orleans on July 6 as part of the Anthony Davis blockbuster deal.

But life on and off the court for Ingram appears to be going smoother in “The Big Easy” so far this season. The Kinston, North Carolina, native is enjoying being back in the South.

“It has slowed down for me a little bit. It reminds me of North Carolina,” Ingram told The Undefeated. “It hasn’t been much of an adjustment. It is more my speed. Everybody has been pretty welcoming.

“I like it.”

The Pelicans like what they’re seeing, too. After four games, Ingram is averaging a team-high 27.3 points and 9.5 rebounds this season. The fourth-year forward talked to The Undefeated recently about playing with James and Williamson, his pending free agency and the blood clot in the following Q&A.

You didn’t come to terms with New Orleans before this season on a contract extension, making you a restricted free agent next offseason. How are you taking that situation?

I grew up playing basketball. I never thought about how much money I was going to get in the league. I always just said, ‘I just want to play basketball.’ I think everything is going to handle itself out. Me and Griff [David Griffin, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations] have had conversations and I just came off a major injury that could have taken me out for the rest of my life, which was a blood clot.

It’s a decision for him. ‘Are we going to do this at the right number? Are we going to just throw some extra money and say be here? Or are we going to do it the right way, and say let the thing linger around or take over a year or whatever time it seems to get fully healthy?’

The New Orleans Pelicans high-five during a game against the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 22 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

If the contract offer is fair, do you see yourself being in New Orleans long term?

We will see how the season goes. We have a really, really good group. So, I don’t know. At the end of the season I can make a decision. But I really like this group.

How scary was your blood clot?

It was not scary at all. I really knew what was behind it. It was the structure of my body and how I sit and how I train in the weight room. I have to train a different way with my muscles and how strong I can be pertaining to different muscles. I wasn’t scared at all after it was explained to me. I just went through the process and got here.

What did you see from Zion in the preseason before he got hurt?

He is a once-in-a-lifetime type of player. That athleticism. The body he has. He can go through guys in the air. Then the defensive side, he can get in the passing lane and start the break. You just have to have awareness. You always have to know where he is on the basketball floor. He can open up so much for other players.

Was the attention that the Pelicans got with Zion around in the preseason similar to what you saw with LeBron and the Lakers on the road last season?

[Zion] gets the attention, but he knows how to handle it, too. He is not too soaked up in it. There is a little attention with our group with how young we are and how good we can be. Just the hype.

L.A. is a different type of attention.

Was Los Angeles too fast of a city for you?

People get caught up about thinking outside of basketball and what comes with it. L.A. wasn’t too fast for me. But we, the team, got caught up with all the extras that come with outside of basketball.

Did you get caught up in the “outside of basketball” with the Lakers?

I actually didn’t, and I don’t know how I didn’t. I had good people around me. I had a coach, [former Lakers assistant coach] Brian Keefe, who stayed on me all the time. I had a weight room trainer who stayed on me all the time. I just had good people around me. They would tell me to keep going. No matter what is going on, keep going.

How did all the trade rumors affect you last season?

I just take stuff differently. Trade rumors, whatever, I always know it is a business. To be in trade rumors, that means someone wants me in this league. I just continue to play hard. I have a routine that I meet every day. I know it was a process and I was going to get there. The process helped get me to where I wanted to be before the injury. I was on the up-and-up, I got hurt. But now I am in a good situation. Everything happens for a reason.

Did you need that trade from the Lakers to the Pelicans?

I don’t know. I feel like God’s plan is God’s plan. I would be wrong to say I didn’t need it, because it happened for a reason. I wasn’t mad about it at all. … I just looked at it as another opportunity.

What did you learn from playing with LeBron James?

Just learning what it takes to be great. Just taking advantage of different situations on how can I be effective off the basketball. Off the ball. On the ball. Playing different positions.

What did you learn from your play from the second half of last season that you can take to New Orleans?

One game by one game by one game. Be aggressive. Try not to skip any steps. As long as I’m staying healthy and continue to be aggressive, I can continue to be who I am. That will take care of itself.

What kind of freedom do you have in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo offense?

Everybody has freedom. Maybe I got a little longer leash, but everyone pretty much has the freedom to do what they want on the basketball floor to create for others and create for themselves. In this offense, pretty much everyone has leeway.

What do you like about New Orleans as a city so far?

It’s a really good spot. Good food. Good genuine people. Everyone is pretty straightforward and has good attitudes about themselves. It’s a loving city. They love their Saints. And I think there are going to be a lot of fans for the Pelicans.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.