Well, that’s a relief! We almost got halfway through February before LaVar Ball made an eye-opening comment that put his son Lonzo in a presumably unwelcome spot.
On Monday, Ball declared that if the Lakers don’t sign his two younger sons, beginning this year with the second-oldest, LiAngelo, then Lonzo will leave the team in two years’ time. It remains unclear if the outspoken patriarch consulted with Lonzo Ball, a rookie point guard who Los Angeles made the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, before issuing the ultimatum.
It is also unclear why LaVar Ball thinks any of the scenario he painted Monday is realistic, at least in the time frame he was suggesting. However, he has frequently stated in the past that he wants to see his three sons play for his beloved, hometown Lakers, a desire he reiterated as he began his comments to Lithuanian basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas.
LiAngelo, 19, and his 16-year-old brother, LaMelo, have been playing for a professional team in Lithuania this year, after Ball pulled them out of UCLA and high school, respectively. The results have been mixed, especially as Ball has arranged for them to get most of their playing time in exhibitions against lightly regarded opponents, while the two brothers, particularly LaMelo, have generally struggled against better competition.
“I want all three boys to play for the Lakers,” Ball told Urbonas. “But if that does not happen, I’m telling you the story [of] what’s going to happen first.
“If they don’t take Gelo this year, I bring back Gelo here [to Lithuania], to play with Melo for two years. Lonzo will be on his third year, and I [will] let every NBA team know that Lonzo is not going to re-sign with the Lakers, but will go to any team that will take all of my three boys. That’s my plan.”
Just a couple of issues there, one being that Lonzo Ball will have to wait until after his fourth NBA season just to become a restricted free agent, and he is not set to fully hit the open market until after his fifth season. By that point, LaMelo Ball, who was regarded as a top college recruit before decamping to Europe, will presumably have been drafted, and not necessarily by the Lakers — assuming NBA teams still think that he is good enough to play in the league.
Which brings us to LiAngelo Ball, who was not projected to be one of UCLA’s better players this year, let alone any kind of legitimate NBA prospect. It’s not unheard-of for an NBA team to use a precious roster spot on a fringe player just to keep a star happy, but Lonzo Ball still has some ways to go to earn that kind of clout.
The Lakers rookie has shown the court vision and all-around skill-set that made him a coveted draft commodity, but he hasn’t exactly set the league on fire and his wayward shooting has been a major problem. It hasn’t completely escaped notice that since Ball has been out with a knee injury, the Lakers have gone 8-5, and the team recently added a prominent veteran guard in Isaiah Thomas, who is expected to back up Ball upon his return.
All of which would be more than enough to give Ball some tough questions to field from reporters, but he now will be asked to provide his take on his father’s ultimatum, as well. Already this season, Ball has had to offer comments on his father’s repeated criticisms of Lakers Coach Luke Walton, while LaVar Ball has also seen fit to deride Warriors Coach Steve Kerr as “the Milli Vanilli of coaching.”
On Monday, LaVar Ball insisted that “Lonzo plays best when he is with his brother,” referring to LaMelo. He said an NBA team would be “smart” to “complete the Royal Flush” by adding LiAngelo.
Sounding an uncharacteristically realistic note, Ball said that teams would not “have to give Gelo $15 million,” because a much smaller contract would suffice. “We’ll take it,” he said, “because they make so much money off the court, they lose spare change.”
The Ball family has certainly made money for its previously scuffling, small-town team in Lithuania, Vytautas Prienai. According to Urbonas, after just one month the club has “paid its old debts, guaranteed a consistency in paying on time for present roster [and] got money for new players.”
The Lakers are in a slightly different position, though, and the NBA’s most glamorous franchise may be wishing that it never brought the Balls on board to begin with. A possible solution could arrive in the offseason, if, as many have predicted — including LaVar Ball — LeBron James opts out of his Cavaliers contract and signs with the team.
James has already quarreled with Ball and could make his Lakers arrival conditional on Lonzo getting banished. Even without the father as a consideration, the Lakers may come to their own realization that a ball-dominant, poor-shooting young player isn’t the ideal teammate for James.
Meanwhile, Ball is dreaming of “championship after championship” once his sons, who went undefeated and won a California state high school title in 2016, are reunited on an NBA team, preferably the Lakers. “What’s better than three Ball boys together?” he said. “[It’s] the Big Three. The original Big Three.”
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