From the moment the Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, his father, LaVar Ball, has made his presence felt within the organization.
Whether that be for better or worse is in the eye of the beholder — because, as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
There’s no doubt LaVar Ball’s arrival in Hollywood has brought a new buzz to Lakerland, which has been a shell of its former Showtime self in recent seasons — and even more so with the retirement of future hall of famer Kobe Bryant. (As of Friday night, the Lakers were 14-27, good for 13th place in the Western Conference.)
But the elder Ball’s outspoken and charismatic charm more often than not stokes controversy, so much so that his recent comments to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman — calling out Lakers head coach Luke Walton — have transcended far beyond the team’s locker room.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him,” Ball told ESPN last week.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
Head coaches around the league, including the Dallas Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle and Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr, quickly came to Walton’s defense.
But what’s strange is the lack of support Walton seems to receive from his own employer and players.
Where’s the support?
When asked about his relationship with Walton as his coach, Lonzo Ball simply replied, “I’ll play for anybody,” adding that his father “is going to say what he wants to say. I can’t [do] nothing about it.”
And as for the Lakers organization, there hasn’t been much public support for their head coach, as Yahoo Sports pointed out, besides a tweet from owner Jeanine Buss that contained the hashtag #InLukeWeTrust.
But Walton said he doesn’t feel like his job is on the line. He said he feels as though the team’s management is “100 percent behind and supporting what we’re doing,” ESPN reported.
Walton has been at the root of Ball’s criticisms since early in the season, when the outspoken father started questioning the coach’s decisions and the staff’s ability to properly instruct his son.
“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son,” Ball told Bleacher Report after a game in mid-November. “I know how to coach him. I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”
And, it didn’t take long for the organization to implement what many inside Staples Center have dubbed the “LaVar Ball rule,” keeping members of the media away from the seats where players’ family members and friends watch the games.
However, the organization said in a statement to ESPN that, “It’s not a new policy; it’s an existing policy,” citing that the increased media presence in that section had become “a privacy concern.”
But apparently Papa Ball is going to keep doing what he does best: speak his mind and generate publicity for his Big Baller Brand of sports apparel.
So, what does this mean for Walton’s relationship with the Lakers as the season nears the All-Star break?
Despite Walton’s confidence in his job status, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, his future with the team is not too bright.
“Whatever you want to say about LaVar Ball, he has smoked out the fact that the Lakers do not support Luke Walton. And that is now crystal clear,” Windhorst said Friday on “The Rich Eisen Show.” “And here are now guys out there wondering openly to me — executives, coaching agents — who the Lakers are going to hire as their next coach. Because that has been revealed here: That they do not have unconditional support for Luke.”
And who might replace Walton?
“I got executives in my ear, I got agents in my ear, saying, ‘Oh yeah, they’re probably going to hire David Fizdale,’” Windhorst said, referring to the former head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.
But, while sources told Windhorst the ousting of Walton is on the horizon, his colleague Ramona Shelbourne reported just last week that Walton’s job security was “not even a conversation,” noted Yahoo Sports.
So, whether LaVar Ball predicted the future, or just found a way to drive sports headlines, remains to be seen.
The Lakers were hoping the addition of Lonzo Ball — and the encouraging young talent of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma — would return the team to championship caliber. But, while the young core show flashes of a promising future, it’s the drama off the court that continues to take center stage.