Lonzo Ball has always stood in stark contrast to his outspoken father, LaVar Ball. The Lakers’ rookie point guard speaks in quiet, measured tones, trying not to cause any undue ripples, whereas his dad is bombast incarnate, an attention-seeking missile with an impressive ability to goad bigger names into high-profile feuds.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Lonzo Ball is the one whose ability to actually play basketball really well has doubled as the means for LaVar Ball to cash the checks, almost literally, that his mouth keeps writing.
That ability made Ball the No. 2 pick in June’s draft, and thus far, even if the 20-year-old hasn’t quite lived up to some of the hype — most notably from a certain family member — he has shown enough skill and talent to augur a bright future. However, some NBA executives think that in addition to improving his shooting, Ball would benefit greatly from taking a major step in his development: telling his Pop to zip his lips.
“If the kid is ever going to be a real player that is taken seriously, he will have to put his dad on ice,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher in a story published Monday.
In short, LaVar Ball has become a real problem for his son, never more so than over the past week, after ESPN quoted Ball as ripping Lakers Coach Luke Walton for “not connecting” with his struggling team. When asked about those comments, Lonzo Ball adopted his usual, mild-mannered approach, but his claim that he was willing to “play for anybody” didn’t exactly constitute a strong endorsement of his coach.
When asked at the time whether there might come a point at which he would tell his father to “tone it down,” Ball replied, “He’s a grown man. Like I said, he’s going to say what he’s going to say. I can’t do nothing about it.”
Since then, the Lakers have won four straight heading into a game Monday at Memphis, but the league figures with whom Bucher spoke were of the opinion that Ball needs to strongly assert his independence from his father. One source said that while Lakers players, coaches and management “really like” Ball, they “are frustrated that he can’t stand up to his dad.”
“The kid could stop all of it,” an Eastern Conference vice president told Bucher. “All he has to say to the media is, ‘He doesn’t speak for me. If you want to talk about the Lakers, speak to me, don’t speak to my dad.’ ”
As Ball has progressed from a freshman star at UCLA to a young building block for the Lakers, his father has become something of a larger-than-life figure. Not for the first time, LaVar Ball’s penchant for outlandish commentary was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live,” as was his questionable decision to pull his two younger sons out of college and high school, respectively, to play professionally in Lithuania.
Some in the NBA are wondering whether Lonzo Ball has simply become conditioned to deferring to his domineering father, and whether that has engendered a passivity that is keeping him from realizing his full potential on the basketball court.
“The dad has verbally fought all his fights for him,” the general manager said. “The kid is in the habit of retreating and saying, ‘Okay, I guess he’s got this.’ The parent is trying to outdo the kid. You could argue that LaVar is a bigger name than Lonzo. There’s a tragedy in that, and we’re watching it unfold.”
“Whatever Lonzo’s ceiling is as a player, he’s going to have to divorce himself from his father if he’s going to reach it,” the GM added. “That act is going to wear out. His teammates are going to get tired of it. This isn’t AAU basketball.
“Lonzo is going to have to cut him loose.”
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