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  • LaVar Ball isn't going anywhere. So what should Lonzo and the Lakers do about his Luke Walton comments and repeated outbursts? The Open Floor podcast discusses the ongoing drama in L.A.
By Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver
January 09, 2018

Rarely does a news cycle pass with LaVar Ball not rearing his head in some way. In his latest eye-catching comments, Ball proclaimed that the Lakers had quit on his son's head coach Luke Walton and that the team needed to make a change in order to move in the right direction.

When pressed for comment on his dad's quotes, Lonzo Ball elected to stay neutral rather than back his coach or father, saying: "I'll play for anybody."

Ben Golliver and Andrew Sharp discussed LaVar and Lonzo's comments on the most recent episode of the Open Floor podcast. Among the topics discussed: Lonzo's decision to pass the buck, Luke Walton's reaction and how L.A. should handle similar LaVar flare-ups going forward. 

To listen to the full episode, subscribe to the Open Floor podcast on iTunes here.  (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).

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Ben Golliver: I don’t come at Lonzo Ball unnecessarily or thoughtlessly; but here’s the thing. I’m sure everyone is caught up to speed. Yes, Lonzo is a rookie. Yes, Lonzo has a very flat affect to him. He’s not trying to make headlines; he’s just trying to chill. There is a lot of talk around the organization right now about Luke Walton’s job status. What does it mean going forward? Is LaVar trying to wedge in between the locker room and the coach? Lonzo’s job here is so simple, it’s so easy, even for a rookie. All he has to do is say: I ride with Luke Walton. That’s all he’s got to do. It’s a very simple job.

And Andrew, he didn’t do that. He had the opportunity to do that and he passed. His comments in response to his dad came off like a guy who’s trying to essentially lead a mutiny. Now I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to do, but that’s how he came off. And when he’s under this kind of scrutiny, he needs to be better than that. He needs to hold himself to a higher standard. He needs to be better to his coach and his teammates. And right now, there are a lot of fingers pointing at Lonzo saying: You need to back your coach, you need to do better.

Andrew Sharp: OK, well you’re right. You and I have not talked about LaVar Ball very often this year. Not necessarily because we’re sanctimonious about it and think it’s just wrong to talk about LaVar Ball, but it has been kind of played out. But the current situation is currently interesting to me, so there are a lot of angles we need to talk through. First of all, though, what did Lonzo say? Because I didn’t see his exact quotes.

Golliver: Well that’s a problem in it of itself. First of all, I want to give a nice shout out to the Lakers beat writers, including Bill Oram, who has been all over this story and done a really good job. Lonzo basically did a two-minute scrum with the Lakers’ media after his father’s quotes broke. And I guess just for background, his father basically questioned whether the Lakers are still playing for Luke Walton. There’s been a nine0game losing streak before their recent win over Atlanta. Does he still have the locker room? That’s pretty incendiary stuff. And by the way, if you go back to our pre-draft podcast, I told you this was going to be an issue. I told you that was the red line.

Sharp: [Laughs] It was pretty clear to everybody that this was going to be an issue!

Golliver: Yeah, but you kind of waffled and said it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal.

Sharp: No, I’m not making fun of you. I’m just saying that literally everyone on the planet saw this coming! This exact scenario was clearly going to happen. If anything, I’m surprised it took this long for LaVar to kind of go off. But you know, this is not a surprise and shouldn’t be surprising to anyone in the Lakers organization.

Golliver: What I’m saying though is this was a red line. They have to have a response ready. You can’t allow your coach to be undermined and have a healthy locker room in the NBA. It’s not possible. And I think some people—and for some reason I have it in my head that you’re in this group—thought we’d kind of just be able to laugh LaVar off when it came to these kind of things. And oh, it’s just LaVar being LaVar. If that’s not how you really felt, my bad. But I think we’ve reached the point where it’s come to a head.

So Lonzo is basically asked by the beat reporters: Where do you stand? His main quote was: “I’ll play for anybody.” They followed up again and said, “What do you mean you’ll play for anybody?” Like, how do you feel about Luke? Essentially, he said he’s a player, he’s not in charge of picking the coaches, he just took a hands off approach. He didn’t really say anything in any meaningful way to back Luke Walton. On top of that, his teammate, Kyle Kuzma, came out to practice on Monday and did back Luke Walton. He basically said we’re riding for him and we have his back. He did say that he thought LaVar’s comments were a little bit upsetting. And then, in all of this, you have the Lakers’ front office not really making a statement yet, hoping it all blows over and not wanting to give credence to what LaVar is doing.

Lonzo is the weak link here! Oh, and by the way, kudos to Luke Walton. He handled it the best he could. He was joking about it after the win.

Sharp: Luke handled it well. His joke post–game was pretty solid, too.

Golliver: Yeah, he was basically pretending he wasn’t giving Lonzo lots of playing time in retribution for what his dad had said. He was obviously kidding about that. That’s the right way to handle it fi you’re Luke Walton. That’s a really sticky situation. But Lonzo is the weak link here. He’s got to be the one that says, “Look, I have to know my place on this team.” He’s a rookie. He’s not the best player on this team. He’s the most famous player on the team, but he’s certainly not the best performer in the court. He owes to his teammates, his coach. And he owes it to his organization to get in line. To be aligned. He doesn’t have to speak for LaVar or get him to be quiet. But Lonzo has to speak for Lonzo and do a better job than say, “Hey, I’ll play for anybody.”

Andrew, imagine if you said, “Hey, we’re going to do a podcast.” And my response was, “Hey, I’ll do a podcast with anybody!” How would you feel? Imagine if your wonderful wife came home, kind of cleared the dinner table off, and asked you, “Hey Andrew, are you hungry for some dinner?” And your response was: “Hey, I’ll eat with anybody!” What’s she going to say? You can’t play it like that, Lonzo. It’s not good enough.

Sharp: But to be clear, you’re not saying he’s intentionally trying to undermine Luke Walton, right?

Golliver: Absolutely. I think he’s trying to keep as low of a profile as possible.

Sharp: Yeah, I think he’s just being awkward there. This is not a Machiavellian move from Lonzo. It’s been awhile, for a month or so, I’ve taken a lot of shots at you. You’ve taken all kinds of losses with all sorts of takes that are now in disarray. Specifically, again this weekend, the Raptors beat the s--- out of Khris Middleton’s Bucks. So it’s been a rough month for you. So I want to compliment you here…

Golliver: You don’t want to go there with me on the Bucks, by the way…

NBA
LaVar Ball Q&A: Lithuania, Lakers and All the Haters

Sharp: [Laughs] Yeah, we’ll get to the Bucks! We’ll get to the Bucks! But there have been all kinds of LaVar discussions over the last 48 hours, probably too many. I would imagine more than half of our podcast audience doesn’t care about any of this and is sick of it already. But you have the most coherent take on any of this. The question that more people should be asking, basically. I’ll go through LaVar’s quote here first: “You can see they’re not playing for Luke anymore. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. That’s a good team, but nobody wants to play for him. I can see it, no high-fives when they’re coming out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s not connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player and se they’re not connecting with him.

First of all, that’s the wrong criticism of Luke Walton. For all the things you can ding him for, I don’t think he’s going to be in a situation when his players don’t like him. So right off the bat, LaVar kind of seems suspect right there. But the Lonzo element, basically any other player in the league would be asked to come out and clarify the situation. But to me, it seems like everyone had their LaVar takes loaded up already and forgot to ask why can’t Lonzo just clarify this and keep it moving and make it simple for everybody? It’s just really, really strange. It just seems like we’ve all accepted that he has no power to change the dynamics of any of this. And I like Lonzo a lot, especially now that he’s shooting well! He’s going to be a really fun player in the sort of NBA universe over the next 5-10 years. And I think everyone should be rooting for him to succeed, but I want him to grow up here. You nailed it. This is a perfect opportunity for him to do something really, really simple and step forward and be like: Look, I ride with Luke Walton. I’m not my dad. And I think that alone would win him all kinds of love around the league.

Golliver: Yeah, Lonzo’s general approach is to be the kid in the back of the classroom who just kind of hides and hopes the teacher doesn’t call on him. And I’m not calling him out for that. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad way to play this, especially when you look at all the forces around him. He almost doesn’t even have to say anything to be as famous as he is and keep that kind of thing going. But in this situation, by playing it the way he’s played it, it looks like he’s taking sides with his dad. Because the normal way everyone else would play it is to just stand up for their coach, even if you didn’t necessarily completely believe it. You’d just say, “Hey, I’m here for my coach. 100%.” Maybe throw in some generic praise about how he’s molded your game or helped you get ready for the NBA level—and you move forward. That is the standard in the NBA. Everyone kind of knows how to play this game. So if Lonzo just doesn’t want to play that game because he feels it’s inauthentic, I guess I could kind of see where he’s coming from? But surely he has some stronger feelings for Luke Walton than he’s let on. And when he lets that be an open question, that’s on him, not his dad. And there’s a difference between saying, “Hey I’m BBB. What LaVar says, I believe.” That’s the extreme version. He could play it the other way! There’s a difference between that and saying, “Look, I’m a Laker. Luke’s a Laker. I listen to him, I respect him. He’s my coach. And going forward I still think he’s going to be my coach.” There’s a wide gap between the possible responses he could give if he stepped forward. But all he’s got to say is: “I ride with Luke.” He doesn’t have to say he’s blossoming under his dad’s influence or say that he’s his own man, he doesn’t have to go there. It’s too far! He doesn’t need to be that weird. He can just say: “I like Luke.”

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