The Los Angeles Lakers traded former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell just two years into his career because team president Magic Johnson wasn’t confident that he could be the leader the team needed at the time.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Johnson told Baxter Holmes of ESPN. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
And so the Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball, a point guard out of UCLA with elite court vision and an innate ability to make his teammates better, with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Ball wasn’t known for being a vocal leader leading up to the draft, but the hope was that it was something he’d grow into.
Now almost two years into his career, Ball has struggled to step up and be the leader the Lakers during a time they desperately needed him to.
With LeBron James and Rajon Rondo sidelined for the last 10 games, the Lakers have lacked vocal leadership on the court. While it’s not the only reason they’ve lost seven of their last 10 games, it’s a big one.
After practice on Monday, Ball acknowledged that he has struggled with being a vocal leader with James and Rondo out. (via Lakers.com)
“It’s just a big void to fill. ‘Bron and Rondo are arguably two of the best leaders ever so having both of them out, that’s two of our main guys that do most of the talking on the court. It’s new for me, I know it’s new for B.I. Kuz probably talks to the most out of all us.”
Throughout his career, Ball has been “a lead by example” type of player, but he understands that he’s going to have to step up and be a vocal leader eventually, whether he likes it or not.
“I think you can definitely lead by example, but there’s going to have to be a time where you have to speak up. That’s just how it is when you play in a league full of grown men. You’ve got to talk.”
However, Ball said that, in a perfect world, he would lead the Lakers the same way that Kawhi Leonard leads the Toronto Raptors. He’s not going to be fined for that, is he?
Ball also talked about how he’s led throughout his career and how it differs from his current situation with the Lakers.
“High school, it was easy. It was pretty much my whole family. I played with my brothers and my cousins. It was easy to talk to them. UCLA was pretty cool. Alford kind of gave me the keys and told me to take the team as far as I could.
“Guys look to me to make the plays, pretty much. I had the ball in my hands pretty much the whole game. Now we have a lot of talent on this team and a lot of guys get the ball. We’ve just to learn how to click and translate that into wins.”
When James and Rondo are on the floor, perhaps Ball can settle back into that role, but until then, he has to lead the Lakers out of this slump they’re in.
Is it a lot to ask of a player that has played just under 100 games in his career? Sure, but it’s what the Lakers drafted him to do and it’s about time he did it.