This stuff used to stay behind closed doors.
An NBA team full of young players would struggle. The parents of these promising prospects, still making that adjustment from supporting their little ones from AAU to high school to their short college careers, would all learn the hard way that their voices didn’t matter anymore when it came to the pros. No matter how frustrated they might be.
But not LaVar Ball, the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball who told ESPN on Saturday while in Lithuania that coach Luke Walton had lost his locker room. And now, with the Lakers having lost nine consecutive games and 17 of their last 20 while falling to 11-27 overall, this stuff is becoming the kind of distraction that might force the team’s brain trust to answer the question that just won’t go away: How long will they be willing to turn the other cheek?
THE INTERNAL DYNAMIC
There is a human element to this equation that shouldn’t be forgotten, with people like Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka in charge who have been extremely patient to this point. They heard all of LaVar’s early criticism about how Lonzo was being used, then asked him during a late November meeting to be mindful of how his nonstop candor might impact their group.
But that method clearly hasn’t worked, and it’s safe to assume that this whole lot of accomplished, proud folks – Buss, Johnson, Pelinka, and Walton himself – are tired of being questioned by the most outspoken parent in all of professional sports. Especially since Lonzo hasn’t been able to play up to the endless hype that LaVar played such a big part in creating.
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So what, if anything, might be the ripple effect of all of this? That part remains unclear, but the notion of all of LaVar’s noise about Walton leading to the coach’s demise is extremely unlikely. Not only is he in the second season of a five-year, $25 million deal, but the Lakers – who have changed coaches four times since May of 2011 – have learned the hard way in recent years that coaching changes aren’t the magic elixir to all that ails them. In lieu of that, all the Lakers are left with is a whole lot of unnecessary negativity that could do damage beyond this season.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Imagine being LeBron James right now, seeing all these headlines about discord in Lakers Land and second-guessing that notion you had about signing there in free agency this summer to be their hoops savior. Or Paul George, the Lakers’ other top target in free agency who raved about Lonzo’s potential when Oklahoma City came through town this week, but who has every reason to wonder how this Lonzo v. Luke dynamic might affect the organization’s process going forward.
It’s worth remembering why most of Lonzo’s family members are in Lithuania to begin with, as it was LaVar’s October decision to pull LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School and his December decision to pull LiAngelo out of UCLA after he was arrested for shoplifting in China that led them to signing with the Vytautas Prienai. In both cases, frustration with respective shot-callers at those institutions had everything to do with the latest Big Baller move. This is nothing more than a continuation of that trend, albeit on a much bigger stage.
THE CRISIS MANAGEMENT
Walton did his best to diffuse the latest LaVar situation at the team’s shootaround on Sunday, saying “I’m fine with it. It doesn’t bother me. My only concern with any of it is for ‘Zo. As long as ‘Zo is fine with it, and ‘Zo can come in and play and it doesn’t affect mine and his relationship, then it doesn’t bother me at all.”
But there was plenty to be gleaned from what he didn’t say, from those hesitations that came after the team’s beat writers lobbed all the relevant questions. There’s simply no way this isn’t affecting their relationship now, and Lonzo’s tepid responses on Sunday surely won’t do much to help on this front.
When asked if he liked playing for Walton, he simply said, “I’ll play for anybody.” When asked if he needed to ask his father to tone it down, he said, “He’s a grown man. Like I said, he’s going to say what he’s going to say. I can’t do nothing about it.” When asked if he would need to discuss the situation with Walton, Lonzo said, “Luke can come up to me, and ask whatever is on his mind. But he knows I’m ready to play. That’s all I do is play…He came up to me one time (in the past to discuss the LaVar situation), to make sure I was cool. I told him it didn’t bother me at all.”
Yet at some point, this will bother the Lakers enough to do something about it. What, exactly, remains to be seen.
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