Luke Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers have a LaVar Ball problem, and the only fix is for the organization and the fans to ignore it.
On Sunday, ESPN ran a story from Jeff Goodman, who interviewed LaVar Ball in Lithuania. Goodman is in Europe because the youngest Ball kids, LiAngelo and LaMelo, are playing professionally in that country. The distance, however, hasn’t shut LaVar’s mouth. His outspokenness is something we’ve come to expect. During the discussion, the ever-bombastic patriarch of the Ball clan blurted out that Luke Walton had lost the Los Angeles Lakers and seemed to assert that he wasn’t worthy of coaching them.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” said LaVar. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him. That’s a good team. Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player; he’s not connecting with not one player.”
Ball has been critical of every coach that has had one of his sons on their team. Starting in Chino Hills, his bloviating has been just as incessant in Hollywood. The only time it’s going to stop is when those teams begin to win. And who knows if that’s going to be enough.
The column drew the ire of Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who slammed the media giant for publishing it:
“As president of the Coaches Association, I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace quite honestly. Luke Walton is a terrific young coach who is bringing along a young team and it’s a difficult task. If you don’t believe it, just ask me. We’re going through it now, we’ve been through it last year.
“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. Part of that partnership. … the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews and all those kinds of things. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust. It erodes the trust we’ve built with ESPN, and our coaches are upset.
“Luke Walton does not deserve that. Two years ago, he took a veteran team and led them to 24 wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. He earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these ignorant distractions is deplorable.”
Walton, whom Ball’s outburst was directed, didn’t care. He laughed it off. He even joked about it, saying he benched Lonzo Ball in the first quarter because “his dad was talking shit.” The reason Ball got subbed out was because he asked for a breather.
A lot is going on with this “beef” between LaVar and Luke and apparently Carlisle and ESPN. First, I want to make something clear — I have no hatred toward any of the parties involved. I enjoy the NBA. I enjoy basketball. I’m also in the sports media business, and I see no reason to cover LaVar because the clicks aren’t worth it. He’s white noise. He hasn’t been the central focus of a story from us since last August, and that only came about because former commissioner David Stern was joking about playing him in one-on-one.
ESPN, however, operates differently. It’s their job to be on top of anything and everything that’s hot, and LaVar is a trending topic. Quitting the coverage of him cold turkey is going to upset the portion of their fans who enjoy it, and continuing it will only anger those who don’t. It’s a lose-lose situation for the company, but it also allows us to speculate that there are a fair amount of people who enjoy LaVar. Is ESPN doing it for the clicks? Yes, they want people to visit their website, but, depending on the advertising agreement, those viewers don’t necessarily translate to dollars. Instead, they’re publishing that story for the people who care.
I believe it’s vital for writers and analysts to always side with the coaches and players when they’re doing battle with outside forces. However, there’s nothing wrong with critiquing someone’s performance as long as there’s substance behind your argument. This situation is different. Carlisle seemed well-intentioned with his statement, but why does he give a shit about what LaVar said to ESPN? His words hold no weight. They’re just letters and syllables.
ESPN has the right to run any story that they feel has credibility and journalistic integrity. The piece wasn’t analytically-driven. The company didn’t slander Luke Walton. Neither did Jeff Goodman. LaVar Ball was the only one who disparaged the Lakers head coach. His opinion, like yours and mine, doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — matter to those at the professional level.
Anyone employed by an NBA franchise doesn’t concern themselves with what the outside world has to say because nobody has a complete grasp of what’s going on behind closed doors. Journalists have sources, but they say only so much. LaVar is nothing more than a talking head, a fan and a father. Magic Johnson didn’t pick him to run player development or basketball operations. And if he did, there’s no way anyone would tolerate that explosive language. The culture inside the organization would become toxic, and the team would let him go. It’s as simple as that.
Carlisle’s monologue was also fascinating because this isn’t the first time a coach is criticized while his team isn’t performing well. When LaVar began elaborating about how Walton had lost his team, the Lakers dropped 11 of their last 12 games and were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. (They snapped it on Sunday night.) Anyone who’s played organized basketball knows that teams become frustrated when the wins don’t come. That forges tension in the locker room. Players begin to harbor disgust for themselves and everyone around them. It’s normal. Those feelings are amplified with younger players because, more often than not, they’re coming from schools where they beat up on lesser opponents. More experienced teams know how to lose and also have the talent to end the streak sooner. Walton, as the coach, can only do so much.
Before you continue reading, look at the Lakers roster.
Great! You’re back. Now, how’s anyone supposed to compete with that roster? The Lakers youth is biting them in the butt, but teams rebuild because they’re looking toward the future. LaVar sounds like he’s seeking instant gratification.
It’s easy to throw Luke Walton’s success with the Golden State Warriors in his face, but it’s also foolish to do so because the circumstances are different. The Warriors were more talented because they had a collection of guys who developed alongside each other. Players with more talent and better chemistry will execute better than those with lesser talent and little chemistry. Walton is likely instilling the same philosophies he did while in the Bay, but it falls on the players to go out and win games. At this juncture, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green give you a better chance of victory than Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. It’s how it is.
Additionally, Rick Carlisle should know better than anyone else that people are going to criticize any coach who’s doing poorly. He’s coached for twenty-seven seasons. In 2011, he led the Dallas Mavericks to a title and is now struggling with a young team. Carlisle has reached the pinnacle of NBA success and has also hit rock bottom.
That brings me back to this — stop giving a damn about what LaVar has to say. Nothing that has come out of his mouth about basketball has been insightful.
For as long as Lonzo Ball is in the NBA, LaVar Ball will be talking. It doesn’t matter what team he’s on or who the coach is. It doesn’t phase Luke Walton. And it shouldn’t. The Los Angeles Lakers also knew what they were getting into. They could’ve passed on Lonzo on draft night and taken Jayson Tatum. They didn’t and now must deal with the consequences.
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