The Los Angeles Lakers are ready to turn the page with Lonzo Ball as their centerpiece. It’s been a week of clarity from the front office after months of speculation about where the franchise is headed, the new regime led by Magic Johnson making a bold statement.
The weight of the Lakers’ previous direction wasn’t going to drag their vision for the future down. Timofey Mozgov’s nightmare of a contract, the $64 million tree trunk that broke a front office that had little room left for mistakes, needed to go. The No. 2 pick that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak dreamed of being the kid to bring showtime back to the Lakers was someone else.
This was as close to a clean slate as the new Lakers leadership could get in one summer. Right, wrong or otherwise, the front office moved decisively. It was a stiff jab to a young core that’s still finding its way, but Lonzo is the player Magic envisions bringing it all together in STAPLES Center.
“[Lonzo] is the new face of the Lakers, the guy who I think will lead us back to where we want to get’ Magic said during Ball’s introductory press conference. “We want to start building a successful team, and you have to have a great leader and somebody that can make their teammates better.”
Johnson glows when he speaks of Lonzo, while Rob Pelinka’s favorite tagline is calling him a “transcendent talent.” There’s little doubt that Ball will have the responsibility of leading the Lakers on his shoulders from Day 1, and him rising to that opportunity is the best case scenario for Los Angeles. Ball did just that for UCLA, so why couldn’t he do the same for the purple and gold?
“That’s been asked from me my whole life,” Lonzo said when asked how he would handle leading a winning culture. “I’m coming here with a winning attitude and hopefully I can bring that to the team.”
The potential of Lonzo to become a superstar in the NBA is there, a ripe fruit Magic is taking a bite out of. The story is playing out like a script, with LaVar Ball proclaiming Zeus let him know his son was on his way to the Lakers hours before it happened. The basketball phenom out of the Inland Empire begins his journey to greatness in Los Angeles.
“Those leadership qualities are what’s going to take the Lakers to our ultimate destination, which is winning NBA championships,” Pelinka said of Ball.
Maybe this is exactly what the Lakers need. No matter who or what’s to blame, this team has been bad. The growth in Year 1 with head coach Luke Walton wasn’t enough, and what had started out as a great season ended up like every other 82-game struggle as of late.
The Lakers needed a leader, Johnson said during Ball’s introductory press conference, and that’s what they got in their new No. 2 pick. Lonzo is to be the beacon for a young core that’s lost 182 games in the last three seasons. That’s more than two full seasons of losing every single game, and feels adequately representative of what the product on the floor has been. The ship has been lost at sea for years, and the front office is brimming with faith in Lonzo being their North Star.
“We feel like Lonzo is a transcendent talent, and we knew the moment we scouted his game the type of player he was, and how he was raised,” Pelinka said.
That thundering belief in Ball has been the biggest takeaway in the media blitz that’s come since Thursday night. Magic and Pelinka have laid out lofty aspirations for their handpicked franchise cornerstone. As bold as it may seem to expect Ball to have his jersey in the rafters someday, that’s what makes a lottery talent like Lonzo so exciting.
This is the dream scenario for him, and calling the sky the limit is no hyperbole.
“Thank you to the organization for calling my name, making my dream come true. I’m happy to be home and I’m ready to get to work,” Lonzo said to begin his press conference.
Friday marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Lakers, a mulligan on the passage they cut short days before, christening a new knight in glistening purple and gold armor. Magic, Pelinka and Ball officially began a new era of basketball Friday.
The future of the Lakers is in the hands of the kid from Chino Hills living his dream.
That sort of power is intangible, and if the Lakers and Lonzo can grab that spark together while it’s burning hotter than the heat wave crushing the West coast, there’s a chance this is the beginning of something special in Los Angeles. It’s time to embrace that chance.
*Quotes transcribed directly from Lakers.com’s live stream