clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Lakers are navigating the Lonzo Ball minefield beautifully

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka entered draft season in a tough spot. But they’ve retaken power and control from the Balls.

NBA Prospect Lonzo Ball Los Angeles Lakers Workout - Media Availability Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Lonzo Ball became the consensus No. 2 prospect in college basketball sometime around the New Year. That held all the way until UCLA was booted out of the NCAA tournament by Kentucky, with rival point guard De’Aaron Fox outplaying him.

Ball remains no worse than a plurality No. 2 prospect in the upcoming 2017 NBA draft behind Markelle Fultz. While Josh Jackson and Fox have made inroads, Ball is still No. 2 on most mock drafts.

Because Ball also happens to be a Los Angeles metro native, because he chose UCLA, and because his vocal father has insisted all along that Lonzo would rather be a Laker, it seemed like kismet when L.A. won the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft lottery.

As LaVar Ball became a minor celebrity, the pressure grew on the Lakers to commit to Lonzo. The Lakers’ front office is new to all this with Magic Johnson having taken over in February and Rob Pelinka — a brilliant talent evaluator but rookie general manager — coming aboard later. Team Ball almost appeared to be cornering the Lakers into taking Lonzo No. 2.

The Lakers didn’t bite.

The team appears to have begun leaking items in the press in the last couple weeks distancing themselves from Lonzo. There were reports that Ball was out of shape in his Lakers workout. There were reports of their renewed interest in Fox and Jackson. There were rumors of a promise to Jackson.

On the record, Magic has been careful to say the right things. But the Lakers otherwise leaked like a sieve after being rather closely held under Mitch Kupchak.

Now we learn that the Lakers will be granted an opportunity to observe Lonzo off-site for a full day of workouts on Friday. This is an impressive coup for Magic and the Lakers. Rarely do teams get this kind of access to a player they are considering, unless that player is rated much lower than where the team is picking.

The Balls have been controlling draft workout season tightly — no other team, even the Celtics (who pick No. 1), has been able to bring Lonzo in for a workout. But the Lakers realized they have the power in this dynamic. The Balls are so invested in staying in Los Angeles that Magic’s crew can make essentially any reasonable demand so long as it is an open question as to whether they will actually select Ball No. 2.

Reports suggest Ball’s first Lakers workout last week focused heavily on investigating his shooting form. The biggest question about Lonzo entering the NBA is whether he’ll be able to get his deep shots off quickly enough given the added length and quickness in the pros. Friday’s episode is supposed to reveal Ball’s work habits and fitness. The idea is that it may be easier to fake it for three hours than six. It may also reveal just how involved Lonzo’s father is in the player’s day-to-day development and work.

In the end, the odds are that the Lakers take Lonzo Ball at No. 2. The odds have been there since L.A. won that pick in the lottery. But kudos to the Lakers for playing their cards to maximize their information and take the power away from the Balls in the run-up to the draft. The Lakers front office may be filled with rookies, but they are playing like experienced pros so far.