The LaVar Ball-Lakers drama that we all knew was inevitable is kicking off. It didn’t even take half a season for LaVar, the father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, to spout off about his son’s coach.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” LaVar said. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
The Lakers have lost nine in a row, and 12 of their last 13. They’re currently the second-worst team in the NBA. LaVar thinks they have the talent to be better than that.
“That’s a good team,” he told ESPN. “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.
“Lonzo looked good, but he also looked disgusted,” LaVar said of his elder son’s performance in a 108-94 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night. Lonzo missed six of the nine consecutive losses with a shoulder injury. Thursday was his first game back.
“He was ready to play,” LaVar said, before criticizing Walton for interrupting Lonzo’s rhythm. “Four minutes left in the first quarter, he dunked it, getting in a flow and coach sits him down. Sat him down. Now game goes from four points to 10 to 15 to 20. I don’t know what they’re doing. If he’s ready to play, let him play. Don’t try and monitor no minutes, put on restrictions.”
For what it’s worth, LaVar isn’t the only source of Lakers drama. Rookie Kyle Kuzma, the lone bright spot at the moment, said that the team “gave up” in a recent 133-96 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But more importantly, LaVar’s hurling of blame at Walton is about as predictable as can be. After all, he spent most of his sons’ most recent high school season undermining and interfering with their coach at Chino Hills, and taking credit for the team’s success. He ripped the coach, Stephen Gilling, after a playoff loss because the coach chose to do things his way rather than LaVar’s way. Then he went further:
“Gilling can’t coach,” LaVar told NBC Los Angeles last year. “I thought he was on our team until he started doing things his way. When he started doing things his way, that’s when they started losing. And now I’m not gonna be under the covers. My boys don’t want to play for him.”
Now he’s tossing similar accusations – “they don’t want to play for him” – at Walton. He also criticized UCLA coach Steve Alford a few months ago. Notice a pattern here?
Remember when those who touted Lonzo in the buildup to the draft said LaVar’s outsize personality and inability to keep his mouth shut wouldn’t be a concern?
This was precisely the worry when the Lakers took Lonzo No. 2 overall. LaVar isn’t a problem when things are going well. When they start to go less well, he can’t help becoming one. In just a few months, he has, among other things, accused the Lakers of “babying” his son’s development, called them “soft,” and questioned Walton’s in-game decision-making.
The franchise has reportedly tried to institute a so-called “LaVar Ball rule” to curb his media access, and asked him to tone down his criticism of Walton and the team. Neither strategy appears to be working particularly well.
LaVar-instigated drama is the last thing the Lakers need right now. Players are already frustrated, and holding team meetings to air grievances. Walton has said he’s seen players “pouting” on the bench. Amid rumors about LeBron James and Paul George, nobody quite knows exactly what the Lakers’ plan for the future is.
It surely includes Lonzo and Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick the year before. But as far as learning environments for talented young players go, this seems to be about as toxic as they get. And LaVar isn’t helping.
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