On Sunday night the Lakers avoided becoming the worst team in the league, and even did so convincingly after beating the Atlanta Hawks 132-113. Convincingly beating the Hawks isn't much though. If they'd lost last night they would have taken sole possession of the worst record in the league and solidified themselves as a flaming pile of trash. Their season started off rather well, winning against good teams and showing development throughout their young roster but hard times came quickly. Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball suffered injuries that had them sitting out a handful of games each, immediately resulting in a huge slide which shot them from where they hovered, at 9th or 10th in the conference, straight to the bottom.They're a team full of inexperience, nobody expected them to make the playoffs this year, nobody besides Lavar Ball that is. Here lies one of many problems the Lakers face.
On Sunday afternoon ESPN's Jeff Goodman published a story about Lavar Ball, the click factory himself. In an exclusive interview Lavar was quoted saying that Luke Walton has "lost the team" and that no one wants to play for him anymore, citing the lack of high fives and chumminess that he expects as players leave the court. Here's a thought: Maybe they're not excited about getting their asses handed to them for 9 straight games. Maybe turnovers, missed shots and defensive collapses aren't the sort of thing that make you jump out of your seat, hug it out and put flowers in each other's hair while singing Kumbaya. Nah man, it's definitely Luke, Lavar knows.
As you might have expected the story only blew up from there and it was only a matter of time before the media got a hold of Lonzo for comments regarding the situation. His response: "I'll play for anybody." Not exactly a vote of confidence for Walton but to me it sounds like a man caught in the middle. On one side you have the Lakers and coach Luke, you obviously want to keep them happy and show your professionalism, but on the other side you've got Dad. Lavar Ball seems like the kind of guy who might smack his kid upside the head if he contradicted him in public. Lonzo's answer neither indicated that Lavar was wrong nor threw Walton under the bus. Boring but smart answer once again from the ever stoic Lonzo Ball.
Obviously Lonzo wasn't too worried about it but the media didn't stop there. Digging and pressing was under way. Could it be that Walton is on his way out? The answer from Lakers' brass was "No" but not a loud "No". In fact the answer was a better version of "No". The Lakers' front office answered with a gathered silence that was meant to once again remind us that they do not intend to respond to criticism from family members or anyone who isn't associated with the team directly. Another good move. Allowing Lavar any more validity than he already has would be a mistake and any move in the direction of "Lavar who?" is a good one.
Not everyone turned the blame and annoyance at Mr. Ball though. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle turned also to ESPN and hit the nail on the head.
You tell 'em coach Rick! The Lavar Ball problem only exists as long as a microphone is put in front of his face or as long as an organization like ESPN continues to validate his often ridiculous point of view. Like Lonzo said, "He's going to say what he wants to say." The problem comes when a (non)story like this breaks, unleashing a storm of media on a young coach, speculating about job security and locker room turmoil simply because a player's father, who's NOT EVEN IN THE SAME COUNTRY, opens his mouth. But that's ESPN, Lavar's name gets attention and unfortunately that's what they're after.
Luckily Luke Walton has a sense of humour and after beating the Hawks he was able to have a little chuckle at Lavar's expense.
While they aren't winning much, I think the Lakers are lucky to have Luke at the helm. He's changed their style of play to fit the young speedy roster, and his calm, collected demeanor brings a sense of stability that is vital in these trying times. If he can handle the antics of Lavar Ball and maintain the trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, given more time I believe Luke can help this team develop into something much more bearable. Until then let's focus on what happens on the court and in the locker room, not in some man's imagination while he gets his weird feet rubbed in some small spa town in Lithuania.
Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe for regular NBA stories.