Andre Drummond’s Lakers debut cut short with contusion on right big toe

Andre Drummond touched the ball, spun it onto the court and dribbled out towards his new team – everyone in warmups and the Lakers’ newest player so excited that he had ditched the sweats and was already in his jersey.

It’s having a 6-foot-10 human wrapped in purple and gold blocking shots at the rim that you think twice. It’s having him park in the lane like a semi-truck in front of a bay window, impossible for the defense to ignore.

Even when he wasn’t on his own sartorially speaking, Drummond was easy to notice. The basketball folks call it a “presence.”

But like so much for the Lakers this season, it was temporary, taken from them in a blink.

Early in the second half, Drummond limped back to the locker room, his right Nike off his foot and in his hand. Team trainers and doctors followed. General manager Rob Pelinka did too.

Eventually, Drummond would be diagnosed with a contusion on his right big toe, with the X-rays coming back negative. Still, he didn’t return to the game.

Wrong steps, rotten luck or the cost of a shortened offseason, or in Drummond’s case, more than a month absent from the court, always leading to the same – the Lakers left a little weaker than when they started.

Like Drummond’s size, you couldn’t ignore that either.

Anthony Davis was courtside, a fire-truck red jacket and some black shorts. LeBron James was home, wondering why Spectrum SportsNet wasn’t showing the score. And the Lakers were left to fight against the Bucks, a team as credible of a contender as any other according to Frank Vogel, on Drummond’s first night in that jersey.

It went well for a little, the team knocking down shots and getting stops but even with Drummond on the floor, the Bucks were too good for a team doing its best to try and weather the storms it keeps finding itself in.

Drummond gave the Lakers just four points, one for each of his four fouls, to go with two assists and one rebound. But the plan with him, at least listening to people since Drummond signed on Sunday, was always more big picture.

The optimism is based a lot of projection, projection of course that relies on Drummond being available to play.

“I’m eager to get him a week, two weeks, three weeks, a month, a couple months into our system. I think the more he learns my defensive principles and angles and reads and all those types of things, I think he can be a monster defensively for us,” Frank Vogel said pregame. “…I just think that there’s a lot to work with there. But it’s just gonna take time to get him up to speed with what’s going on in our system, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Even Drummond has talked about how envisioned the future.

“I think our defense is gonna be really crazy when those guys come back and I’m looking forward to it,” Drummond said earlier this week.

If those are the long-term hopes, they have to be a factor for the Lakers in the short term, too. The Lakers don’t have the offensive talent to hang with the Bucks if Milwaukee is having a good night. So it’s on the Lakers defense to make sure they’re not.

A shootaround before the Lakers hosted Cleveland last week triggered a pair of strong defensive performances in wins, the team correcting two glaring areas of slippage.

“Execution and effort in all areas. We had three or four straight games with a poor defensive rating, and they were all losses,” Vogel said of his emphasis in that court time. “So, we had a spirited shootaround where we got to work, and just got into our drill work and built some of our habits back up and raised the accountability piece.”

In his first shift with the Lakers, his new team out-scored the Bucks by seven. He blocked Donte DiVincenzo after jumping to challenge another shot. His work on the post helped the Lakers get clean looks as they hit eight threes in the first quarter – their most in any quarter this season.

And while he struggled with plenty of rust in and around the rim, his physicality inside was a stark contrast to what the Lakers have gotten from their prior starting center Marc Gasol, who spent offensive possessions around the three-point line providing spacing and some occasional quarterbacking. You could see that in a big screen set on Jrue Holiday to get Dennis Schroder a wide open 10-foot jumper.

But as the third quarter began, trouble appeared.

Drummond wasn’t on the floor when the third quarter started, the team being called for a delay of game as Montrezl Harrell quickly tried to shed his warm-ups and take Drummond’s place.

Then after a few minutes of limping on the sideline and signaling to someone in the crowd while pointing down at his right foot, Drummond went back to the scorer’s table to check in. Less than two minutes later, he signaled to the bench before hopping off into the tunnel, another signal of hope lost into the darkness of Staples Center.