The relationship between the Los Angeles Lakers and LaVar Ball has hit another road bump. Ball has been critical of head coach Luke Walton throughout the season, but fully took off the gloves as the Lakers struggle through a nine game losing streak.
LaVar is currently in Lithuania as his sons LiAngelo and LaMelo get accustomed to their new life playing overseas for Prienu Vytautas. That hasn’t taken his attention away from how his son Lonzo Ball’s team is doing, and LaVar once again stoked the flames of controversy.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
The Lakers, in their worst rut of the season, are easy to pick apart. Any team losing in such disparaging ways is going to look vulnerable and out of touch, and Ball was probed about his father’s comments during morning shootaround Sunday.
“I don’t think so,” Ball said when asked if he feels the Lakers have tuned Walton out. “He’s our head coach, we’re going to play for him.”
While Ball only gave a... lukewarm... response when asked if he enjoys playing for Walton by stating he’d play for anybody, Lonzo made sure to make it clear that perspective belonged to his father.
“That’s just his opinion. He’s coached me his whole life, so he’s definitely going to have a strong opinion about it. That’s just what it is,” Ball said.
Lonzo Ball on whether he is happy with Luke Walton as Lakers head coach: “I’ll play for anybody.” pic.twitter.com/9mSQFmReQo— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 7, 2018
Walton was also confronted with LaVar’s criticisms during shootaround, but the second-year head coach didn’t sound concerned about the outside noise impacting his job security.
“I know our front office and organization has my back, and they’ll have to go through whatever they have to do on their end of it. I’m not spending my time trying to figure out what they’re all doing about it, I just know they’ll take care of it,” Walton said.
Luke Walton responds to LaVar Ball’s allegation that he has lost the locker room. “I would disagree with that,” he said. pic.twitter.com/dimJr1NEqv— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 7, 2018
The front office already extended an olive branch, with LaVar confirming in another ESPN report that he sat down with members of the Lakers’ brass in an attempt to get on the same page. That, along with the implementation of what STAPLES Center employees called the “LaVar Ball rule” in the arena, haven’t silenced Ball from speaking his mind.
“My only concern with any of it is for Zo,” Walton said. “As long as Zo is fine with it, and Zo can come in and play, and it doesn’t affect mine and his relationship, then it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Ball acknowledged that he and Walton held a conversation about the situation in the past, but was clear that he’s focused on playing, not what his father is saying about the Lakers.
“Luke can come up to me and ask, whatever’s on his mind, but he knows I’m ready to play ... He came up to me one time, made sure I was cool, but I told him it doesn’t bother me at all,” Ball said.
There’s no denying these kinds of situations are a dangerous game. On one hand, what LaVar has to say is ultimately irrelevant, especially when the Lakers have their own basketball-related problems to deal with. On the other, it’s unnecessary noise for a team that needs to get its zen on.
Coach Luke didn’t dance around that reality.
“It’s not ideal obviously, but the group is always... we have each other, and that’s it. When we’re in there, and we’re trying to fight off this losing streak, and we’re winning games, or we’re losing games, or people are hurt, there’s always going to be outside stuff going on.
“It should not impact what we’re trying to do and the message we’re trying to get delivered in our locker room.”
The Lakers franchise, and roster, needs to be stronger than to allow comments like this from LaVar cause any friction. Ball has the freedom to speak his mind and clearly isn’t going to censor himself from doing so, but the team doesn’t need any additional static in the attic.
In the present there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer to this problem. LaVar speaks, reporters report it, and the Lakers are faced with an interrogation process once the quotes start circulating. In the future, what’s going to change for either side? Yes it’s a problem “now,” but what does this mean over the period of time that Lonzo is a Laker?
As simple as it may seem, it’s a complex situation that the Lakers are wading through.