The braggadocios LaVar Ball is seeking a 10-year, $1 billion shoe deal for his three sons before they ever play a game in the NBA, but not everyone in the family is all about the money, it seems.
Asked on ESPN’s SportsNation whether he would rather be the No. 1 overall pick or drafted by his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, if the situation presented itself in June, UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball said:
“I’m going to go with the Lakers. All my family is in L.A., so to be able to play in front of them, I think that would mean more to me.”
Despite the organization’s best efforts to tank the rest of the regular season, the Lakers currently own the NBA’s third-worst record with four games left, thanks to consecutive wins against the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs this week. And that’s a problem. As of now, they have a 46.9 percent chance of landing a top-three pick — odds split relatively evenly across each of those picks. That also means there’s a 53.1 percent chance they could slide down to fourth or lower and therefore forfeit their top-three protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of the 2012 trade for Steve Nash.
That scenario would leave the Lakers with only their first-round pick from the Houston Rockets (from the Lou Williams deal this past February), which is currently slotted at 28th. The difference between the No. 1 overall pick and the second, third or 28th picks, respectively, is $3.3, $6.1 and $24 million.
Now, I doubt Lonzo wants to drop to 28th, and there’s no way he ever would — he’s projected to be a top-two pick — but he made it clear he would rather go to the Lakers at Nos. 2 or 3 than, say, the Boston Celtics (via the Brooklyn Nets), Phoenix Suns or any other team in the lottery. And that’s his prerogative. There’s also the possibility the Lakers get the No. 1 pick, draft Ball, and everyone’s happy.
But there are a couple reasons why Ball may be better served keeping quiet, something his father has also found impossible in recent months. First, while teams likely won’t let this prevent them from drafting him, it will at least give them pause about their ability to keep him beyond his rookie deal, for fear he might eventually bolt to L.A.. That could serve as a tiebreaker on a draft board, and maybe that’s what Ball is trying to do here. Still, this is no way to introduce yourself to the fans. Say the Celtics draft Ball. Are Bostonians going to be all in on him knowing he’d rather be a Laker? Maybe they will. Paul Pierce grew up a Lakers fan, and he’ll have his No. 34 retired in the Garden rafters soon.
It may not matter, and Ball is entitled to his preference. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to play in their hometown? Whether the Lakers would want LaVar living so close to Lonzo is another matter. And to be fair, both father and son have conceded they would be fine with whoever drafts Lonzo in June.
Appearing on ESPN’s The Jump the same day he went on SportsNation, Lonzo said of preferring to play for the Lakers, “All my family’s out here. It would be a blessing to play in front of all of them. At the same time, making it to the league is my dream from Day 1, so whatever team picks me I’ll be happy.”
Likewise, LaVar recently told Boston radio station WEEI-FM that the C’s wouldn’t be the worst option:
“I want him to be a Laker. But that’s just my opinion,” the elder Ball said. “It wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh man he gotta go to Boston.’ I’d love him to stay in LA. But that’s just me though. …
“It’s not about me liking [the Celtics] or disliking them. It’s just that we’re west coast guys. I’d love for him to stay on the west coast where his brothers can see him all the time. We’re a real big family. That’s just the only difference. But my son will play for any team on the fact that his goal was to make it to the NBA. So it doesn’t matter what team he plays for.”
While the Ball family would prefer Lonzo stays in L.A. and doesn’t really seem to mind if that means he’s picked second or third, they also seem intent on making sure we know they believe he should be the No. 1 pick over Washington freshman Markelle Fultz. In mid-March, LaVar told TMZ Sports:
“If you got a kid that makes everybody better, you mean to tell me you wouldn’t take him over a guy that’s averaging 40 points but the team’s losing? If you want a winner, you pick my boy. …
“Look what he did to UCLA. They 15-17 last year. You bring one dude and change the culture that’s what you want, it’s not Lonzo’s passing and shooting that’s his great gift, it’s the winning.”
That seemed to be a dig at Fultz, who averaged more points than Ball but played for a team that finished 9-22 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Ball’s UCLA squad lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 a week after his father’s comments, and Fultz followed with this cryptic tweet:
????????— Markelle Fultz (@MarkelleF) March 25, 2017
Days later, Lonzo agreed with his father’s mock draft in an appearance on ESPN Radio’s L.A. affiliate:
“Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him. I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”
Fultz showed up at Tuesday’s game between the Nets and 76ers in Philadelphia, because “I might have a chance to go here.” Asked on the CSN Philly broadcast why he liked several tweets sharing Ball’s comments about being “better than him,” Fultz replied, “I’m a humble guy, and I like what he said. It’s motivating me to work harder.” He then was asked if he felt like he should be drafted ahead of Ball:
“No doubt,” said Fultz, “no doubt. I believe I’m going to be the No. 1 pick, I think I’ve put enough work in to do that.”
To which Lonzo Ball responded on Thursday’s SportsNation:
“I think I can lead a team better than him, and as far as his response, that’s what he should say. He feels he’s the best, I feel I’m the best — leave it at that. I feel like I’m more of a true point guard. I like to get my teammates involved. Obviously, he can, too, but I feel like I do it a little bit better.”
There have been healthy debates about who should be drafted No. 1 overall, like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in 2014 and Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in 2007, but I can’t recall the last time those two players were so openly combative with each other. It seems like this is destined to end with Boston drafting Fultz first and the Lakers taking Ball second, breathing life back into the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
And if you’re Lonzo Ball, who needs a few extra million when you’ve got a billion-dollar shoe deal.