Michigan’s Moritz Wagner might have short stay in L.A.

By Mark Whicker
Los Angeles Daily News
Moritz Wagner takes the stage after being drafted 25th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night.

El Segundo, Calif. — A quick check of phone records shows no evidence of a call from Cleveland to El Segundo and the following mumble: “Take Moe Wagner.”

And there were no texts from any south Texas wine cellars, or from the 512 area code, that might have commanded the Lakers to do the same.

With the 25th pick in the first round of the NBA draft, the Lakers did take Wagner. There’s every possibility that he will stay here, that he will become yet another brick in their wall.

But as the Lakers finally begin to end their wilderness years, they also enter their Mystery Summer. It’s possible the Lakers will need to trade some of their nest egg to get LeBron James, and Wagner could be a part of that.

It’s also possible that San Antonio will go against its instincts and get the maximum return for the alienated Kawhi Leonard, who is reportedly ready to sign with the Lakers in the summer of 2019.

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Lakers fans are frothing over the possibility that the team will get James, Leonard, Paul George, Bruno Mars and Chadwick Boseman this offseason.

They will be traumatized if nothing happens and the Lakers re-tee it up with the Left Behind: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball, etc.

If so, they might warm up to Wagner.

He grew up in Berlin and played three years at Michigan. He will make a handsome living wherever he plays. He also is the deferred payback for all the nights the Lakers have been tortured by Dirk Nowitzki.

For Wagner, Nowitzki was an inspiration, the kind Nowitzki never had. Wagner is 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, very much the modern big man, who can prosper behind the 3-point line, drive the lane, and do it all with a joyful verve that captivated Michigan fans.

Wagner shot 10-for-16 in December when the Wolverines stormed back to beat UCLA. He shot 9-for-13 at North Carolina. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds for a Michigan team that lost the NCAA championship game to Villanova.

And as Michigan fans staged a home invasion of Staples Center during the West Regional, Wagner was sensational against Texas A&M, hitting 8-of-12 shots and all three of his 3-point attempts.

It is hoped that the joyless NBA does not drain the joy from Wagner. He never suppresses emotion. Occasionally he would irritate Coach John Beilein, who once wished he could learn to tell Wagner in German that “fouling is stupid.”  But Wagner did not recede from big shots. From deep space he shot 39.4 percent last season.

“There’s no uncertainty for me anymore, nothing to be unsure at night when I fall asleep,” Wagner said as the pre-draft process wound down. “Just enjoy and have a smile on your face and be yourself. I try to have quite a lot of fun.”

Victor Moritz Wagner began with a soccer ball, of course. But his parents, Axel and Beate, gradually wearied of standing outside in the rain watching him play. Basketball was played indoors.

As Wagner improved, he joined the Alba Berlin club. The coach was Henrik Rodl, who played on the North Carolina team that beat Michigan for the 1993 NCAA championship, a victory abetted by a timeout Chris Webber called but Michigan did not have.

Wagner was playing on Alba Berlin’s top team. One of his teammates was Niels Giffey, who had played at Connecticut. By then Wagner had become a fan of the U.S. college game. The time was coming for him to turn pro in Europe. But a middleman had sent Beilein a video of Wagner.

Beilein admits he doesn’t check his e-mail hourly or even daily. When he saw this one he immediately flew to Berlin. He said all he wanted was a big German dinner and a big beer, and the Wagners obliged. But it was Wagner’s unfettered personality that convinced Beilein. The coach offered the scholarship before he flew home.

If you’re having trouble placing Wagner, scroll back to Michigan’s last-tick win over Houston in the second round of the NCAAs. As Corey Davis bent over from the weight of the agony of defeat, Wagner approached him and patted him on the back, and radiated such sincerity that Davis did not take it as a taunt.

“It was a respect move,” Davis said. “I appreciate him doing that.”

“We were three seconds away from being in the same situation,” Wagner said. “He is a senior, right? Seeing the guys like that, at the end of the day sports is all love.”

As Wagner might learn soon, the NBA doesn’t love you like that.