Lonzo Ball is an uber-talented lead guard fresh off of spearheading one of the most exciting seasons in recent UCLA Basketball history. Theoretically, his game fits the modern NBA perfectly. He can shoot and distribute, he defends better than you’d think and has a basketball IQ off the charts.
His biggest question mark in the eyes of many has nothing to do with his game. The Lakers especially have to ask themselves some serious questions about his father, LaVar Ball.
Let’s go back a couple decades, when the Oakland Raiders saw a similar situation in the early 1990’s with a USC quarterback drafted even ahead of Brett Favre: Todd Marinovich.
His father, Marv Marinovich, was a failed NFL player turned Raiders trainer who took his own shortcomings out on his son. Todd was raised so sheltered at home that, by the time he gained any kind of freedom away from his father, he had no idea how to handle himself.
Long story short: Todd Marinovich was selected in the first round in 1991, developed serious substance abuse issues and was out of the NFL by 1994.
ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla seems to fear a similar path forward for Lonzo Ball, as his father LaVar (also a former NFL player, coincidentally) has played a similarly overbearing role in his life.
Sure, we don’t know if LaVar has disallowed McDonald’s from Lonzo’s diet as Marv famously did with Todd, but LaVar’s bombastic public tirades have gone pretty far in making fans second guess whether they actually want Lonzo on the team they root for.
With that as background, here’s Fraschilla on what he hopes for Lonzo as the lottery approaches, via the Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko.
"It's my own opinion that I hope for Lonzo's sake he's drafted by a team that's not the LA Lakers," said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. "I don't think teams will be particularly concerned about his father's involvement. Now, if everything's exactly even, like if you really love Lonzo Ball and you really love Josh Jackson, maybe your personnel staff says: We don't want the headaches of LaVar Ball.
"But I doubt that will happen. I really do. The kid seems to be a great kid, an absolute delight to deal with and he was a great teammate. So that's not going to be a big issue."
Franschilla doesn’t necessarily do us any favors by quickly going on another tangent after mentioning the Lakers, but if he meant to say that he doesn’t want the Lakers to draft Lonzo because of the continued proximity to LaVar, then he could be raising an interesting point.
The counter to that point in relation to the Lakers specifically is that LaVar doesn’t seem the type to allow a change of scenery to dictate how large a role he tries to play in his son’s career.
Fraschilla could also be alluding to the Lakers’ platform, which LaVar will absolutely try to continue to leverage as he already has his son’s collegiate and high school school success. Is there a connection between the size of the team’s brand and the distraction it would offer as LaVar tries to use it to launch his own?
Do the Lakers have the organizational stability to stand up to LaVar if he tries to pull the same stuff he did with the Ball brothers’ high school coach?
We don’t know if those are the questions Fraschilla is asking by mentioning the Lakers specifically, but they are worth pondering even if he isn’t.
Proximity could actually be an ally for Lonzo if LaVar’s presence grows to be too much. In Los Angeles, Lonzo would still have friends and family surrounding him whereas if another team was to draft him, chances are the only support he’d have would be the team and his immediate family.
If the size of the Lakers’ platform is a concern, well, look at the other teams at the top of the lottery. The Boston Celtics aren’t exactly a mom and pop shop and the Philadephia 76ers will have a ton of eyes on them next year as Ben Simmons will hopefully make his debut alongside whoever they land in June’s draft. LaVar is probably licking his chops with all those destinations.
Finally, in regards to organizational stability, it’s fair to have that concern with a second-year head coach and rookie front office. That said, Magic Johnson doesn’t seem the type to get easily influenced, especially by someone who has accomplished so little as LaVar has.
(Quick side note: I’ve been trying to figure out why LaVar rubs me the wrong way and, honestly, it’s not just because he hasn’t accomplished anything, but because he’ll never get the opportunity to personally live up to his own obnoxiously high self-esteem. Arrogance is one thing. Unearned arrogance is another. Unearned arrogance that will never be earned... That’s about as unlikeable as it gets.)
The types of teammates matter here, too.
D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and the rest of the Lakers’ young core are all trying to find their way in the insanely competitive ecosystem that the NBA is — a difficult enough task without LaVar Ball working behind the scenes to make sure his son is always placed in the absolute forefront.
This is where the organizational stability comes into play. Magic, Rob Pelinka and Luke Walton have to be able to put LaVar in his place should he try anything like he did while Lonzo was in high school or if any quotes like LaVar offered after UCLA’s season become public.
Again, it’s impossible to say what Fraschilla meant by singling out the Lakers but it did give us the opportunity to hold a larger-scale discussion on why the Lakers could be concerned about LaVar Ball’s presence.
As Fraschilla says, if all things are equal and a similarly talented prospect comes with less baggage (whatever form said baggage might take), then the Lakers would be remiss not to take that into consideration.
No matter how this plays out, it would be devastating to see a kid as talented as Lonzo is go the way of Todd Marinovich.