As Lonzo Ball has enjoyed increasing amounts of success, an odd phenomenon has swept across both Los Angeles Lakers analysis and fan reaction. Apparently, anytime Ball is complimented, this is received as some kind of indictment of D’Angelo Russell.
Get used to it.
Thanks to the dichotomous nature of social media and the fact that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka banished Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in large part to free up space for Lonzo to operate a rivalry was born. This relationship between the two players already isn’t going anywhere, yet there seems to be a need felt to enhance it with jabs that aren’t necessarily there.
I could jump on a high horse and tell everyone to do better, but so long as the Lakers continue to bring this both on themselves and the players involved, it’s hard to expect fans to be better than the people they root for.
It’s probably too late, but if Magic would definitively explain why he thought Russell and Lonzo could not coexist and give actual examples to support his thinking, fans would have at least that to work off of and not the thinly veiled criticisms that, frankly, don’t hold up to even the simplest logic.
Ball’s passing has been extraordinary. There’s no denying that. That he’s somehow arguably lived up to the incredible hype that existed before he played a minute of summer league action is an accomplishment in and of itself. After that first disappointing game, he’s rebounded with a solid and then downright special.
None of this has anything at all to do with Russell, and yet it does.
Teammates waxing poetic about practice scrimmages turning into a hilarious form of dodgeball should be enough to both chuckle at and admire. Yet that next step to consider those compliments some kind of shade aimed at Russell is apparently too easy to not take for some.
All that said, it’s hard to fully blame Lakers fans for this reaction. They’re just following in the footsteps of their new leader and president of basketball operations.
As soon as Johnson made a point of crapping on Russell on his way out the door, he opened the floodgates for the fan base to do the same. Ambiguous references to Russell being a scorer or the Lakers’ desire for a leader do nothing but fan the flames that were already going to exist whether Russell was around for Lonzo’s tenure or not.
This relationship isn’t a one-way road, either, mind you. If Russell shows out in Brooklyn, his successes will inevitably be seen as a statement on Johnson’s own leadership ability and, by extension, only put more pressure on Lonzo.
Can you imagine if Russell is entrusted with the offense in Brooklyn as he never really was in L.A. and shows off the passing chops many know he has to the tune of legitimate assist production? And the worst (read: best) part: Magic can’t retroactively say he saw that ability all along.
None of this would really have anything to do with Ball yet, it would.
By the way, that’s perfectly fine. Of course their futures are intertwined. Rivalries (both between teams and individuals) are a huge part of what draws fans to competition. Where it gets a little ridiculous is when we try to exaggerate that relationship as some have since Ball started playing.
This now inherent competition is going to be fun enough to watch take place without manufacturing drama that doesn’t exist.
Their successes and failures will captivate Lakers fans and NBA fans alike. If they take this rivalry further, awesome! But let them take care of that their own.