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The Boston Celtics own the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft. UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball is projected to be one of the top two or three picks.
The Celtics wanted to work out Ball before making a decision. In a bold and unusual power play, that isn’t going to happen.
Ball recently informed the team he would not work out for it prior to the draft, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge told Boston radio show Toucher & Rich on Wednesday.
“We tried to get him in for a workout and they politely declined,” Ainge said.
The Celtics can still select him No. 1 overall. “We’ve drafted guys who wouldn’t come in for workouts before,” Ainge said. “It’s not the end of the world.”
It’s just clear Ball is doing everything he can to discourage the idea. His hometown Los Angeles Lakers, the oft-stated preferred destination of his outspoken father, LaVar, picks No. 2.
LaVar has said repeatedly he wants Lonzo to be a Laker. He craves the media market, he seeks Magic Johnson to serve as a mentor and he is concerned about the logjam of guards in Boston. He also wants to keep Lonzo close to the family home in an effort to promote the family’s Big Baller Brand shoe and clothing line. Lonzo’s two younger brothers are set to follow him at UCLA.
LaVar wants to control the process, Southern California style.
“I hope [the Celtics] don’t take [Lonzo],” LaVar Ball said earlier this month on Fox Sports Radio. “Markelle Fultz is the perfect pick for them. He’s the best player. Take him.”
Fultz is a guard out of the University of Washington who’s also considered one the best prospects in the draft.
Other than claiming his son would sit out if he had to put on Celtics green, purposely tanking during the individual workout or going on a disparaging rant about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and clam chowder, there isn’t much else the Balls can do to dissuade Ainge from selecting Lonzo.
Is this risky? Absolutely. Is this heavy-handed? Of course.
Is this kind of audaciously awesome?
Yes. Yes, it is.
Make no mistake: This strategy is not guaranteed to work.
First off, there is no guarantee L.A. takes Lonzo second overall. Josh Jackson (Kansas), Malik Monk (Kentucky), De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky), Jayson Tatum (Duke) and others are all also in the mix. That could mean Lonzo drops to Philadelphia, Sacramento, Phoenix or some other struggling – and, in some cases, small-market – franchise that won’t help the Big Baller Brand.
Boston is a historic, high-exposure franchise currently in the Eastern Conference finals. It has lots of good talent and a masterful young coach. The No. 1 overall pick came via trade with Brooklyn. It’s a pretty sweet scenario for any player to join, especially when elite prospects usually go to terrible and dysfunctional teams.
The Balls apparently don’t care.
Playing tough with Boston might also turn off Lakers executives. Any team interested in Lonzo has to factor in the specter of LaVar, who is brash and capable of commanding a major media platform. Some see him as colorful and entertaining. Others seem him as a divisive stage parent.
That’s the risk he has taken in promoting his talented son. He has to live with it. This move suggests he isn’t backing down, action backing his words.
This isn’t a first for a father. Archie Manning is polite, soft-spoken and regarded as a gentleman across football. Yet when he didn’t want his youngest son Eli drafted by San Diego in 2004, he said Eli would refuse to sign and in turn got him to the New York Giants.
So it happens. Sometimes it even happens for the best – Eli owns two Super Bowl championships and has enjoyed significant endorsement opportunities that owe themselves, in part, from playing in the nation’s largest city.
Or there is the 1996 case of Kobe Bryant, whose people, including his father Joe, claimed he would sign to play in Italy to scare New Jersey away from drafting him. Then they helped orchestrate a trade to get him from Charlotte to the Lakers. He helped hang five NBA championship banners for the Lakers. His retired number will soon join them high above the Staples Center court.
In this case, LaVar is so intent on getting Lonzo to the Lakers he is willing to try to avoid being the No. 1 pick overall. While Ainge notes it isn’t uncommon for prospects to pick and choose which teams to work out for, this could be the first time it’s ever happened at the top of the draft.
It’s the Balls’ decision how to play this. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. No matter what, Lonzo will be fine as long as he turns out as good as his projections (and if he doesn’t, the franchise he winds up with probably doesn’t matter).
When ending up in, say, Philly as the third pick overall is a downside, then it’s sort of a low-risk gamble.
And if he goes to L.A., well, has there ever been a more endearing thing a Laker has done before joining the team than refusing to even attend a predraft workout for the archrival Celtics?
The Balls are and always have been Laker fans. Lonzo is an L.A. kid – Chino Hills High then a year in Westwood. He’s gone all in on remaining that way even if it means not securing the ultimate draft dream of being the top selection.
“Don’t even bother with me,” they are saying to the Celtics. “All Lonzo wants is to be a Laker,” they are saying to L.A.
Time will tell if it works.
It’s a big-baller play, though, if you will.
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