The strategy of the father may pay dividends for the son. Smug LaVar Ball and his “father knows best” speaking the Lakers into existence may not get him laughed out of the NBA after all. The truth is the (Lakers) are on track to be the story on draft night. We’ll know on June 22nd if the LaVar Ball curse or blessing has come true. We will also know if the D’Angelo Russell rope has thinned into a precarious sapling of twine as he is dangled in the wind, floating back and forth in the rumor mill, from Team A to Team B.
The moment Adam Silver speaks Lonzo Ball’s name into the mic on draft night and the camera beholds LaVar’s arrogant told you so as his son and client puts on that gold Lakers cap, D’Angelo Russell’s world will tilt a full 180. The kid who was supposed to be the first point guard since Magic Johnson to make an impact will now have his name and reputation dissected and tossed around like a football as a dozen trade possibilities will rain from the heavens.
D’Angelo was given everything in 2015. Possibly it can be taken away in five seconds on the mic in 2017. Who said life was fair?
On Tuesday, D’Angelo liked a Twitter post that gave him props. The post said the Lakers were “stupid” having a Lonzo Ball romance when they have Russell and his greatness. Conveniently, the tweet didn’t put up for debate the Russell lowlights, the 4th quarter benchings by Luke Walton, the non-point guard plays and not making teammates better in lieu of legitimizing himself. So it was slanted. Russell liking it seemed to demonstrate how Russell is fully aware of what drafting Ball really means for him and none of it is good.
A few months back, when Jeanie Buss pulled off her coup and installed Magic Johnson as the perfect one, Johnson immediately went on a road trip to assess the Lakers young players and their abilities. But it wasn’t just an analysis of skill set Johnson was interested in. He wanted to get a firm grip on what Pat Riley calls “your periperhal opponent”. Those things that block you from success. Media calling you out. Fans trolling. Criticism. No work ethic. Entitlement. A lack of hunger. Blaming teammates instead of looking in the mirror. Magic didn’t issue a report card on each player and so no one knows what he privately thinks of Russell other than his public comments of wanting Russell to be better at leadership, which was Magic’s bread and butter.
But Russell is playing this all wrong. He should be embracing Ball. At the end of last season, the Lakers shifted Russell to shooting guard and he passed the test because Russell knows how to score and he achieves under pressure. Russell should be saying he wants the Lakers to draft Ball so the two of them could have a dynamite backcourt playing with each other.
I get Russell and where he’s coming from. It has nothing to do with Lonzo’s game that threatens him. Yes, Ball is a more talented point. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s gifted. He can make impossible plays. I don’t believe anyone can make the case that Ball will be a better scorer in his career if D’Angelo matures and, as expected, becomes a trusted shot maker.
The complicated part for Russell is that L.A. is up for grabs now. Anyone’s city. Kobe left such a void he is still being talked about reverentially because no one has come in to take the mantel. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss thought it was going to be Julius Randle. Then they thought it was going to be D’Angelo Russell. Then they thought it was going to be Brandon Ingram. Magic is in the house now and is not tipping his hand but the obvious choice is Lonzo Ball.
Stars have been in short supply for the Lakers. What Russell had for a short time was top billing. It was slightly diminished by the potential of Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball makes Russell seem irrelevant. Yes, Russell can shoot the ball but so can a lot of other NBA players.
If Ball is the man on June 22nd, he will be the man nationally, the we got next, the savior, while Russell is relegated to the emperor with no clothes. The B team. The Lakers will be structured around Lonzo Ball. D’Angelo Russell knows this.
He also knows how to count. Every year since he has been on the roster, the Lakers could not win 30 games. Ball may indeed get the credit for development and patience he didn’t earn while D’Angelo Russell is on the outside, both literally and figuratively. His two years as face of the Lakers franchise will be a quick and short memory.
photo via llananba