Ball’s in their court
Now it’s time for Lonzo’s play, not his dad, to do the talking
It took Lonzo Ball 19 years to make the storybook trip from Chino Hills to UCLA to the Lakers.
It took his father LaVar about two minutes to hijack the journey.
Almost immediately after Lonzo was smartly selected by the Lakers as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft Thursday, his infamously big-mouthed Pops popped off.
In an interview with ESPN, instead of simply singing his son’s praises, he widened the target that already sits on his son’s back.
“Lonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs his first year,” LaVar chortled. “Come see me when he does. I’ll have another hat on that says, ‘I told you so.’ ”
And so perhaps the Lakers welcomed their dazzling new point guard with just the tiniest cringe.
“I’m a very optimistic person, but I don’t look that far into the future,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton of LaVar’s prediction. “Right now, I’m hoping [Lonzo] leads us to a couple of summer league victories.”
It’s funny, but it’s not. It
was interesting, but it’s stale. It was harmless, but now it’s business.
Now that Lonzo Ball has fulfilled his father’s very loud dream that he play for the Lakers, his father needs to shut up.
The intentions were good. The parental devotion is admirable. The marketing strategy is genius. But now that LaVar has gotten everything he wants for the oldest of his three boys, it’s time for him to zip it and let his son join the Lakers without wearing those distractions and carrying that baggage.
“I think his dad is at a point now, he needs to forget about Lonzo and start pumping up his other two sons,” said former Laker Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion who attended the Lakers’ draft party in El Segundo. “He did exactly what he wanted to do, he got his son all this notoriety, shoes, all these things. How many times does the No. 2 pick get more TV time than the No. 1 pick? But now for his son, it’s about the Lakers, and it’s all different.”
Horry said he believes the Lakers will have a simple exit strategy when it comes to dealing with LaVar and his outlandish statements. “As an organization, they’re probably going to tell him, ‘Bye,’ ” said Horry. “It was all cool and good before it became a business. The Lakers are one of the biggest brands in sports and they don’t need all this other stuff going on.”
Some of the stuff was spewing from a future opponent Thursday almost as soon as Lonzo pulled down that Lakers cap and slipped on those Lakers sneakers.
Ben Simmons, the 76ers forward, tweeted, “Crazy pills” when Ball was selected.
Then Joel Embiid, the 76ers center, tweeted to Simmons: “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”
This is the maelstrom Lonzo is entering. This is the bull’s-eye he is wearing. This is what his father helped create.
“It will make it a little more challenging, a little bit,” Walton acknowledged when asked about the father’s statements. “But every top draft pick that comes in has a target on their back. When I was a young player, I had a target on my back with my own teammates because of stuff my dad [Bill] said.”
Rob Pelinka, Lakers general manager, said a recent visit to the Ball household in Chino Hills convinced officials that LaVar wouldn’t be an issue.
“There can be a sense of bravado in the media sense,” he said. “But we walked away from that time really impressed with the family. What the family stands for is work hard, be tough, get what you earn.”
He said he would not ask LaVar to chill out, noting, “LaVar is going to be LaVar. He’s his own person.”
It was written here earlier that the Lakers shouldn’t worry about the father when selecting the son, and they clearly didn’t. They decided it was all about the kid, and good for them. Lonzo is the perfect player at the perfect time in this franchise’s evolution. He has the sort of point-guard vision and unselfishness that will make his young teammates better. He will be a smart, empowering floor leader who could help convince big-time free agents — LeBron James? — to show up next summer.
Passing on him because of his father would have been a mistake.
But LaVar’s draft-day comments sent a warning sign that even with his son now making millions in the NBA, LaVar still wants the attention, and the Lakers should be mindful of his pointed bluster and its effect on their player.
As usual, Lonzo didn’t seem the least bit worried about any of it.
When told about Embiid’s tweet while on a conference call with Los Angeles reporters, Lonzo, speaking from the national draft show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., just laughed.
“Ha, that’s funny,” he said.
He said, as he always says, that he can handle the pressure, noting, “Everybody says I have a target on my back, so I’m used to it by now, all I do is go out there and play.”
He also said, as he always says, that he has no idea what his father will say next.
“He’s his own man, so I don’t know what he’s going to do,” he said. “It’s going to be a surprise for you guys and me.”
Rest assured, you won’t be hearing anything like this from the kid.
“The craziest thing I’ve ever said?” said Lonzo. “To be honest, I don’t think I really say anything too crazy. I don’t really have anything for you on that.”
If only his father would shut up and listen.
A LONG WAY FROM CHINO HILLS, Lonzo Ball gets a handshake and a congratulatory word from NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night in Brooklyn after being drafted by his favorite team.
LaVAR BALL, right, embraces son Lonzo after the UCLA standout was chosen by the Lakers in the draft.