Ball’s in their court

Now it’s time for Lonzo’s play, not his dad, to do the talk­ing

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

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.

Mike Stobe Getty Images

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.

Mike Stobe Getty Images

LaVAR BALL, right, embraces son Lonzo af­ter the UCLA stand­out was cho­sen by the Lak­ers in the draft.

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