After a brief stint in Lithuania, LaVar Ball, father of Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball, is back in Southern California and he’s picking up right where he left off. With LiAngelo, the second-eldest Ball brother, entering the 2018 NBA draft this summer, LaVar is back to promoting his children like the ring leader of a traveling circus show.
In his first interview since returning to the states, LaVar had a lot to say, as per usual, about Lonzo, his rookie season with the Lakers and, most importantly, the perennial NBA All-Stars Lonzo is better than.
Last year it was two-time MVP Steph Curry. This year it’s San Antonio Spurs superstar, and Lakers trade target, Kawhi Leonard.
“Stop it!” LaVar said when asked if he thought Leonard was a better play than Lonzo. “Hell no. Lonzo, I’m gonna tell you what he does, makes everyone on the team better. Who don’t want to start a team with that? You put Kawhi on there, he won’t make everyone better. He’s gonna do his thing. He’s a specialty guy.”
Is he wrong? Yes. Is he wrong for thinking and saying that? Absolutely not.
While LaVar might technically be a public figure, he’s a father three boys first and foremost and what kid doesn’t want a father that believes in them the way LaVar believes in his children? His methods might be unorthodox, but they’re harmless.
Except for when they aren’t.
Before the season started, there were concerns about how LaVar would handle Lonzo in the NBA. However, president of basketball operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson assured fans that LaVar wouldn’t be a problem after the two had a conversation (per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN):
“He just said it’s marketing,” Johnson says. “That’s what he had to do to market not only his son but the brand. Before I met him I had already thought that. I already knew what he was doing.”
But hearing it straight from LaVar’s mouth helped put Johnson and Pelinka at ease.
As Johnson recalls, “He said, ‘Earvin, look, I’m not following my son. I’m not going to be hanging out in L.A. I’m going to be training these young kids [his other sons].’”
And for a while that might have been true, but as soon as things started going bad for the Lakers, LaVar came back out from the shadows. At the end of a season-worst nine-game losing streak for the Lakers, LaVar told Jeff Goodman of ESPN that the problem wasn’t the players—the problem was head coach Luke Walton.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball said. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.
”That’s a good team. Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. ... He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player.”
Whether or not that’s true or was true at the time doesn’t matter. There was a line LaVar tip-toed around all season and he finally crossed it. To no surprise, the Lakers organization wasn’t thrilled, according to Shelburne:
According to team sources, the Lakers were angry and disappointed with LaVar Ball over those comments. They felt as though no other franchise would be as accommodating and supportive as they had been, only to be rewarded with a constant disrespect and drama. Or, as one official put it, “He reaches out with one hand and slaps us with the other.”
LaVar was unapologetic about the whole incident, saying the Lakers “can’t tell [him] what to do,” but as the season started cooling down so did he. However, with Lonzo heading into his second season with the Lakers and LiAngelo hoping to join him, there’s no reason to believe LaVar is going anywhere.
LaVar has gone on record saying his end game is to have all three of his boys play for the Lakers. While he’s one-for-one from the field right now, there’s a good chance LiAngelo goes undrafted this summer and the Lakers have no real reason to sign him beyond doing Lonzo a solid.
If (read: when) the Lakers pass on LiAngelo, LaVar has already threatened to take his circus to another city.
“I want all my three boys to play for the Lakers. But if that does not happen, I’m telling you the story what’s gonna happen first,” Lavar told Lithuanian basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas in February. “If they don’t take Gelo this year, I bring back Gelo here (Prienai in Lithuania) to play with Melo for two years. Lonzo will be on his third year and I want to let every NBA team know, that Lonzo is not going to re-sign with the Lakers but will go to any team that will take all of my three boys. That’s my plan.”
There are too many problems with the above statement to dissect at once so let’s just stick the biggest ones.
Lonzo won’t hit free agency until what will be his fifth year in the NBA and when he does he will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Lakers can match any offer a team makes for him. In other words, LaVar’s plan already has a few holes.
However, there is a small chance Lonzo turns down a potential big money, long-term extension to enter unrestricted free agency the following year in 2022, where he’ll have the opportunity to sign with any team willing to sign both of his brothers and LaVar. I’m no fortune teller, but unless Lonzo is the uncontested best player in the league, the list of teams willing to do that will likely be short.
LaVar Ball isn’t a bad guy. In fact, the thing he’s done for his sons, the Big Baller Brand and the Junior Basketball Association, coming this summer, are all admirable ventures. But if LaVar Ball isn’t a bad guy, he needs to stop acting like “the bad guy.”
You can follow Christian Rivas on Twitter @RadRivas.