It’s almost been a year since D’Angelo Russell was traded. Immediately after the trade with Brooklyn, Magic Johnson couldn’t leave the Russell failure in its box. He had to talk about Russell’s lack of leadership as the reason for shipping him east. Magic was making the case, albeit in negative fashion, for drafting Lonzo Ball. But the great irony as we are on the cusp of free agency one year later is that the leadership Johnson was hoping for from Ball, a kind of Russell Wilson Seahawks thing where the rookie instantly is listened to, respected and followed by everyone, just didn’t happen. The introvert Ball was mostly quiet and his game was inconsistent and he is 20 years old and acts like it. He wasn’t exactly as advertised. But he was an upgrade at the position.
D’Angelo Russell is a combo guard, heavy on the shooting part. Lonzo Ball is a true point, disinterested in racking up scoring numbers. But where Russell had this aggressive arrogance on the court many a night, Lonzo was invisible. They have nothing in common as NBA players.
On the court.
Off the court, it seems like D’Angelo all over again. The multiple Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma moments where the two buddies went at it during the season on social media was largely overlooked. There was nothing wrong with it; on a team of kids it was expected that they, you know, act like kids. But in the offseason and the Lakers having free agent plans, and the Finals being put to bed so all NBA gossipy news gets over-exaggerated, the Ball-Kuzma disses hit like a thousand pound rock. Yep. They are kids.
The expectations for the very young Lakers to jump over the learning curve ala Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell just didn’t materialize regardless of their potential. They carried their college habits into a league with men. You have to wait on them to mature. There is nothing inherently wrong with that except the Lakers want Paul George and LeBron James, veterans who are dialed into their careers and aren’t into making jokes.
The Lakers recent history provides a blueprint. If they feel a player is killing their dreams, they will ship that player somewhere else.
What killed D’Angelo Russell in L.A. was not his game as much as the Nick Young social media criminality. Russell probably thought he was being funny. It was a real life illustration how much of a 19 year old kid Russell was, something Nick Young didn’t accurately assess and he paid the price. He had to take a “L” because of Russell stupidity that put his private life on front street.
Getting rid of Russell, in a perfect world, was getting rid of stupid behavior lives here. Lonzo Ball may not out a teammate on Snapchat but he is doing some D’Angelo Russell things.
Ball only played 52 games so you’d think this offseason would not be about a rap diss. Ball shot 34%. He should be in the gym 24-7. But he has Russell-itis and had to go at his teammate and friend on social media. It was as Ball intended. It was hilarious. But it was Ball not thinking of consequences either. Or team. Whether he likes it or not, everything Ball does reflects upon the Los Angeles Lakers. He has a lot to gain and a lot to lose because he’s acting like a 20 year old.
Young kids don’t win in the NBA. That’s a fact. Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell are anomalies. Most young players are like Lonzo Ball. They struggle early. They act their age. There was a valid reason LeBron James made sure Andrew Wiggins was not on his team. The growing pains, on court, off court, was more than a veteran locked in to winning titles wanted to deal with.
Which brings us back to Lonzo Ball. He is young in every way. But the Lakers are trying to lure veteran stars by hiding the age and behavior and basketball realities of Lonzo Ball. Magic is a good salesman but he can’t turn water into wine when Lonzo is out there on social media with diss tracks.
It reeks of D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young even though it is not the same. Both Ball and Kuzma went at each other. There were not victims, no one is losing a fiancée over it.
But. It attaches the Lakers to this biography of young team, young kids. Not ready for LeBron intensity and focus.
The Lakers had their talk with their young stars like any parent would. But as all parents know, you can talk into you are blue in the face. Were the kids listening?