After the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, everyone was frustrated, but the most interesting tidbit to come from the losing locker room might have been the way Lakers head coach Luke Walton issued his most pointed criticism of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball yet.
Walton was totally calm when he was saying this, and for context I’ve included the actual question he was asked, but the bolded parts of the response were... interesting (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
Without some of your typical leaders, what have you seen from Brandon and Lonzo and that starting lineup over these last couple of games?
Walton: “You know, they’re trying. They’re young, but at some point we just need more passion, we need more fight. And that’s not scoring more. That’s more diving for loose balls, communicating loudly... Brandon had some really nice crack-back rebounds that we can get out and run (off of). We need that all the time from him.
“It’s not just them, but until we get healthy again, you’ve got to play in this league with some passion and fire to win. It’s hard to win in this league when you’re healthy, so you’ve got to give double that effort when guys are down.”
That’s certainly the most directly Walton has called out the effort of his two young cornerstones, and he isn’t wrong to have done so. The whole starting unit looked lifeless in the first quarter against the Wolves while helping allow a 26-5 run by Minnesota to start the game, and part of that is on Ball and Ingram as the Lakers ask them to step up.
Walton has almost exclusively taken the path of deflecting blame from Ingram and Ball this year, but with the way they’ve played in the last two games, it’s absolutely fair for Walton to change his approach.
It’s obvious from the hedging in all of his criticism over the past week that Walton understands that Ingram and Ball are being put in a somewhat unfair position, but it seems as though if they’re not even going to try, then Walton is going to take the kid’s gloves off with them.
That’s a fair approach, because while Walton and the team seem to get that it’s going to be hard for the Lakers to win right now with these injuries, they also know that they have no shot if they aren’t getting maximum effort. Ball and Ingram can at least bring that, even if production doesn’t come with it, and they haven’t over the team’s last two games.
For his part, Ball says he and the team understand what Walton is asking for and want to give it to him.
“Everybody in here wants to win. We know we’re losing a lot of games,” Ball said on Sunday. “But we’ve got to turn it around. Tomorrow’s a back-to-back, so we’ll flush this one and get back at it tomorrow.”
It’s not clear if the Lakers can win games while missing James, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, but they can definitely display more effort than they did on Sunday, and if the trend of not trying continues, it’s fair to ask about what it means that this team is repeatedly flatlining for Walton to start games.
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