All the way from Lithuania, LaVar Ball continued to be the biggest story of the day in the NBA world on Sunday. It’s nothing new for the father of Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo, who has made waves in the NBA, NCAA, high school leagues, and summer circuits.
But his words in an ESPN story set off Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and put into question the relationship between Lonzo and his coach, Luke Walton, and everything the Lakers new regime is trying accomplish.
So what did LaVar say?
Ball criticized Walton again, saying “You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
He went on to describe how the Lakers players are not giving high-fives as they exit the game, and he spoke on how Walton is too young to coach the team.
While watching the Lakers game against the Hornets on Friday night, he said Lonzo looked frustrated after he was subbed out and watched a four-point deficit swell to “10 to 15 to 20.” (But the deficit was four points both when he checked out and back in for the first time.)
What else did LaVar say?
Of course, LaVar Ball had more on his mind. He told Goodman that he was confident LeBron James (who he’s never met) was headed to L.A. in the summer.
“LeBron’s coming to L.A. I know he’s coming to L.A.,” Ball told ESPN. “LeBron is not a fool. What’s the only way he can beat Jordan? You can’t get more championships. Only one way: to say every team I’ve gone to I’ve won a championship. Go to Lakers and win a championship, then you’re better than Jordan.”
There’s more isn’t there?
Ball has an idea of what this hypothetical lineup around LeBron and Lonzo should look like (Yeah, it includes another one of his kids.)
“You can’t give my son the best player in the league and don’t expect them not to win. Get rid of everybody. Give him LeBron and Gelo [LiAngelo Ball]. You got a two and a three. And it’s a win. It’s a wrap. Then all you need are two rebounders -- [Julius] Randle and [Larry] Nance Jr.”
But of course, even that team couldn’t be coached by Walton, according to LaVar, even if Paul George were there too.
So what did Lonzo say?
Trapped between contradicting his father’s words and calling out his head coach, Lonzo was in a difficult situation. He avoided saying too much.
Lonzo Ball on whether he is happy with Luke Walton as Lakers head coach: “I’ll play for anybody.” pic.twitter.com/9mSQFmReQo— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 7, 2018
Here’s a partial transcription of what Lonzo said:
Reporter: So what was your reaction to what your dad said?
Lonzo: He’s gonna speak his mind. There’s nothing I can do.
Reporter: Do you think Luke has lost the locker room?
Lonzo: I don’t think so. He’s our head coach, so I’m gonna play for him.
Reporter: Have you ever had a conversation like that with your dad that would lead him to believe there was a problem?
Lonzo: I haven’t talked to him since he’s been to Lithuania. I called him when he landed, but that was about it.
Reporter: This is kind of consistent with some of the things your dad has said about how you need to be coached. Is this something that you’ve heard from him before that he feels like Luke should not be the coach of the Lakers?
Lonzo: He’s coached me my whole life, so he’s definitely going to have a strong opinion about it. That’s about it.
Reporter: Do you like Luke as a coach?
Lonzo: I’ll play for anybody.
What did Luke Walton say?
Walton was poised and affirmed that he does not believe he’s lost his locker room. He also believed his relationship with Lonzo was still positive.
Luke Walton responds to LaVar Ball’s allegation that he has lost the locker room. “I would disagree with that,” he said. pic.twitter.com/dimJr1NEqv— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 7, 2018
Here’s a partial transcription of what he said.
Reporter: Does it bother you that [LaVar] goes on and says stuff like that?
Walton: I’m fine with it. It doesn’t bother me. My only concern with any of it is for Zo. As long as Zo is fine with it and he can come in and play and it doesn’t affect his and my relationship then it doesn’t bother me at all.
Reporter: Do you worry about it ever disrupting what you’re trying to build and the cohesion you have in the locker room with this team?
Walton: I mean, it’s not ideal obviously. The group always has each other and that’s it. When we’re in there and trying to fight off this losing streak and we’re winning games or we’re losing games or people are hurt ... There’s always going to be outside stuff going on. We have to rely on each other, and that’s what being a team’s all about. It should not impact what we’re trying to do and the message we’re trying to get delivered in our locker room.
Walton also made a joke after Sunday’s game about LaVar in relation to Lonzo’s playing time.
Walton: His dad was talking sh*t so I subbed him out early... pic.twitter.com/1wfFUTeug8— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) January 8, 2018
Reporter: “You subbed Lonzo out early in the first and third quarter to get a run with the second unit and then that unit played very well together. Can you talk a little bit about the thought process on that and why you think that unit worked so well?”
Luke Walton: “Um, yeah. His dad was talking sh** so we took him out early. Just kidding.”
What did Kyle Kuzma say?
The other Lakers rookie had his coach’s back, saying “Luke is my guy and I love playing for him. We just gotta stay locked in as a family and listen to the people that really matter in our basketball lives and that’s everybody in our organization.”
He also said he doesn’t believe that the team is losing faith in Walton.
What did the other NBA coaches say?
LaVar Ball isn’t leaving the spotlight any time soon, and his quotes originating all the way from his temporary home in Lithuania prove just that. But now he’s crossing a line, as well as challenging reporters’ relationships with coaches.
President of the National Basketball Coaches Association and Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle is clearly fed up with it. He defended Luke Walton and criticized both LaVar Ball and ESPN, the outlet which published his most recent quotes:
“As president of the Coaches Association, I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace quite honestly,” said Carlisle.
“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. Part of that partnership ... the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews, and all those kinds of things. 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. It erodes the trust we’ve built with ESPN, and our coaches are upset.
“Luke Walton does not deserve that. Two years ago, he took a veteran team and led them to 24 wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. He earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these ignorant distractions is deplorable.”
Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was also not happy with the situation.
#Pistons SVG said he contacted the league office, players association and coaches association president Rick Carlisle about ESPN/Ball situation: "That was a very disrespectful article."— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) January 8, 2018
The NBCA also issued a statement on Monday, and spoke out against ESPN.
Yesterday’s article by Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com regarding Luke Walton was a salacious one-sided story lacking journalistic integrity. The article attacked Coach Walton on the basis of one person’s unsubstantiated opinion. The story failed to provide quotes or perspectives from any players, or from Lakers management, either named or unnamed, verifying the claims made in the story. The article lacks any of the basic fundamental benchmarks and standards of reliable journalism. It is reprehensible and insulting both to our Coaches and to the standards of ESPN.
Steve Kerr also offered his thoughts:
Is there a solution to this mess?
Nothing is in sight. The Lakers have had meetings with LaVar in the past, and that hasn’t worked. They’ve enforced rules that prevent media from mingling with friends and family inside Staples Center. That hasn’t worked either.
Even with LaVar halfway around the world, he’s saying whatever he pleases on whatever platform he desires.
Can the Lakers survive this year-round drama?