An attention-craving father feuding with Donald Trump, a brother arrested for shoplifting in China … no NBA rookie deserves Lonzo Ball’s situation
With his father LaVar Ball and brother LiAngelo in the headlines for the wrong reasons, Los Angeles Lakers star Lonzo has to keep pretending the cameras are invisible
In the latest episode of the Lonzo Ball melodrama, the Lakers’ young point guard is trying to shoot his way out of a prolonged funk, while trying to have some fun and ignore the nonsense, while trying to grasp the nuances of this new and demanding and confusing NBA life.
So how is he doing? How would any 20-year-old be doing?
As the second overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft, Lonzo is barely out of his teens and already in the eye of the storm – though not necessarily by choice – and the target of seemingly every camera.
He is coping with all of the above, all of the normal stuff, while dealing with all the abnormalities.
There is his attention-craving father and the ongoing tiff with President Trump, his younger brother LiAngelo’s arrest for shoplifting in China, a reality TV show, ongoing concern about his mother, Tina, who is still recuperating from a stroke, along with the burden that comes with being projected as the Lakers’ saviour.
“Supposed to be,” Ball said with a soft smile, “but it’s an adjustment. The pressure is a little different. The fans wanting us to bring back the programme, and to be honest, I think it just comes with playing in L.A.”
Lonzo screws up or dives headfirst into a slump, and his quirky shot and stoic demeanour are subject to daily cross examination.
What’s wrong with ’Zo? Is he going to restructure his shot? Can he become an elite player if he can’t shoot? Everyone in La La Land wants to know.
The Lakers argue his instincts as a disrupter in the passing lanes and aggressiveness on the boards have been underappreciated. He has recorded two triple-doubles, including a 16-rebound effort against the Denver Nuggets.
Yet his shooting has been abysmal. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 assists and 7.1 rebounds, while converting only 31.3 per cent overall and 22.8 per cent from three-point range.
Additionally, he has periods where he appears tentative, and physically and mentally overwhelmed.
“I think all young players hit stretches where maybe they are not as aggressive as we would like, maybe get a little passive,” said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. “Then they figure out, that in the NBA, you can’t have those moments.”
For slender rookies especially, the physical toll of competing against older, stronger, more experienced opponents can leave bruises.
And it’s not as if Ball doesn’t have other issues in his life. His new normal would not be wished on any rookie.
Only hours after his brother and two UCLA teammates publicly apologised last Wednesday for the shoplifting incident in China, he appeared distracted and out of sorts against the Philadelphia 76ers, and watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
The hits just keep coming. Ball and his family were thrust back into the headlines yet again last weekend when LaVar minimised Trump’s role in securing the release of the three UCLA players and earned a biting response from the White House.
In a Sunday morning tweet, Trump complained Lonzo’s father was “unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Like Lonzo needs this? Like the Lakers need this? Team officials are at least mildly concerned. Coach Luke Walton recently met with Ball for what passed as an informal pep talk.
“He’s got more on his plate than I can ever imagine anyone having, especially at his age,” Walton said. “I don’t know where it gets too much and how he reacts to it. It is our job to be here and let him know we support him and believe in him.”
His shooting woes aside, any player who is such a willing passer is a beloved figure in the locker room. The fact Ball arrived at training camp without a trace of entitlement further endears him to his teammates.
“I was interested to see how he would react,” said Lakers reserve Andrew Bogut. “There is a lot going on. He’s a top-five pick. You’ve got the shoe company [Big Baller Brand]. You’ve got the dad. You’ve got China now. He is soft-spoken, doesn’t say much.
“I try to joke with ’Zo, try to get him out of his shell. On the court every point guard is banging into him, being really physical, trying to ‘big boy’ him. That’s something he has to adjust to. Once he figures it out, he will be fine. But it’s a lot of pressure for a young fellow.”
Ball, who pretends the cameras are invisible and doesn’t care for the constant attention; he tries to block out the white noise. Some days he is more successful than others, he admits, and last week was difficult.
“It’s getting a little harder just because there are so many eyes on the NBA,” he said. “My brother, that was tough. I don’t know why he would do that. He’s going to have to live with it and rebuild his reputation. Unfortunately, you know, our family is really out there. It’s just … a lot of stuff.”