By Frank McLean
When an NBA team, and for that matter any team in pro sports, is preparing for their respective drafts, a lot of work goes into who they are going to pick. Will they be able to fit in the way their team plays? Will they be able to fit in the locker room with their teammates? Even how much of a pain in the butt their agent could be?
In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers when they drafted Lonzo Ball they knew a unique problem came with the pick and that’s his father LaVar who is shall we say is outspoken!
This past weekend in Lithuania, where Ball has his two other sons playing pro ball in that country’s league, he ripped into Lakers head coach Luke Walton saying in an interview with ESPN.com that, “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.’’
This isn’t the first time that Ball has ran his mouth off, he has been a constant critic of the way the Lakers use his son.
When you listen to him he comes across like boxing promoter Don King without the bad hairdoo.
This has not just got the Lakers upset but other coaches current and past have come out and shown they have got Walton’s back like Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who also is the head of the NBA’s coaches association. He is upset that ESPN being a major television partner with the NBA should not be writing about comments that are not true.
“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust that we built with ESPN.”
“Our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that,” Carlisle added. “Two years ago, he took a veteran team (the Warriors) and led them to 24-wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that he earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”
Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy now went against his employers on giving a big mouth like Ball the time of day.
“You guys want the cheap shots,” Van Gundy said on Sirius XM NBA Radio. “You want the hits. You want these like you said, clicks, whatever that means. It is part of the business, and it’s also a reason why this does lack journalistic integrity. It is a reason for coaches to unite and say, ‘No no, forget it, if we have to take this, then why are we giving of our time?’ It’s not like they’re going to violate any rule if they don’t participate with ESPN.”
I’m sure Van Gundy will hear about this from his bosses.
Some teams in the league have said they are considering revoking credentials of ESPN reporters who interview Ball. And here lies the problem. Ball is a big mouth publicity hound who thinks he is smarter than everyone else and he is a control freak who thinks he should run everything. The current ESPN way of presenting sports news is they love controversy, it fuels their talk shows like First Take and Pardon the Interruption and this is what has gotten the coaches association upset.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka along with President Magic Johnson and owner Jeanne Buss did their due diligence before they drafted Lonzo Ball. They got assurances from his father that he would not cause trouble for the team if they drafted his son.
He did not keep his mouth shut.
The team asked him in late November to please tone it down. He said he would. But his actions this weekend show he did not listen.
The Lakers are a rebuilding team. After a good start they had dropped nine of their last 10 games and that was expected, no one saw them as a playoff team this year.
Luke Walton is an excellent young coach. Rick Carlisle was right, his work with the Warriors filling in for Steve Kerr during his illness a few years ago showed that he can coach in the NBA. The Lakers don’t need this distraction from a family member. It may come to a point if his father won’t shut up they will try to trade him, but what GM would want to take on the headache of the dysfunctional Ball’s father?
I do have a problem with the coaches association trying to tell ESPN how to do their job. To me it’s like Donald Trump calling CNN, MSNBC and others fake news because they don’t report on his administration the way he thinks they should. That’s an attack on freedom of the press.
My take is some people, and myself included, are just fed up of hearing from Ball. But our opinion doesn’t matter because people still watch and read whenever Ball has an opinion and as long as they do ESPN and others will give him a platform.
I’m sure if you managed to get Rob Pelinka alone having a beer he’d tell you, I should never have drafted Lonzo Ball. No team needs this.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.