Lonzo Ball: LaVar Ball’s notoriety ‘makes it a little bit harder’

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — By now the entire basketball world knows Lonzo Ball is a singular talent with a unique parent.

The UCLA product with preternatural court vision is among the most intriguing prospects in the NBA draft this week. In perhaps the greatest testament to his abilities, his father LaVar Ball’s bombast and $495 shoes and racially insensitive comments don’t appear to be scaring off the Los Angeles Lakers or any other team that believes Lonzo could be the next great point guard.

Because of his headline-magnet father, Ball’s celebrity has already outpaced his talents before he plays his first professional game. Yet ever since his days leading the Big Ballers AAU team set up by his dad, Lonzo has shown nothing but maturity and calm in the face of LaVar’s audacious approaches to hoops, parenting and the business of sports.

“I think it definitely doesn’t help,” Ball said of his father’s notoriety. “Definitely makes it a little bit harder. But any good player is going to have attention on him at all times, and I’m pretty used to it by now.”

Ball’s mental steadiness is another big reason he’s almost certain to be a top-three pick on Thursday. Ever since the Lakers got the No. 2 choice in the lottery last month, most draft observers have believed Ball will wear a gold jersey in the fall, completing a serendipitous match of player and team.

That’s been the dream scenario for the entire Ball family ever since Lonzo showed the first inklings of world-class talent. He was raised in Chino Hills, a suburb about 35 miles east of Staples Center, and LaVar Ball is an ardent fan of the Lakers – and specifically Magic Johnson, the Hall of Fame point guard now running their basketball operations.

After Ball worked out for the Lakers last week, he didn’t mince words about his hopes to make it permanent: “Of course. I want to stay home.”

Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs have produced an incredible portion of the NBA’s top talent of recent years. All three MVP finalists this season – Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard – are from the area, as are Paul George, Klay Thompson, Tyson Chandler, DeMar DeRozan and many others.

Although the Lakers have been his family’s team since before he could walk, Ball said he hasn’t been to many games in person: “My dad didn’t like the seats, because I guess they were too small for him.”

That’s understandable, since father and son are both 6-foot-6. Lonzo watched on television and then emulated the stars from Magic to Kobe Bryant while playing with his brothers at home.

“I patterned my game after (Johnson),” Ball said. “My dad asked me what position I wanted to play. I told him, `Point guard.’ He was like, `All right, if you’re going to play point guard, you’ve got to get the ball up.”‘

That’s what Ball does better than almost any guard in recent college basketball history.

He led the nation in assists (7.7) while turning the Bruins into the highest-scoring team in Division I basketball. The freshman showed astonishing passing ability while orchestrating the UCLA offense, utilizing angles and defensive creases that made him look more like an attacking soccer midfielder than a basketball player.

And if any NBA team is worried about having the ultimate sports parent in the front row, UCLA coach Steve Alford has repeatedly said LaVar wasn’t a problem for him – and Lonzo’s two little brothers are both planning to play in Westwood.

Ball admits his father gives him unwanted notoriety. He also promises he can handle any distraction.

“That was said about me in college, said about me in high school,” he said. “I don’t think it affected me.”

Just a few days away from the decision, Ball still appears to be a splendid fit with the Lakers, whose up-tempo offense under coach Luke Walton looks tailor-made for Ball’s skills. The Lakers just completed the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, but their fans hope that another playmaking superstar will be their reward for the 16-time NBA champions’ misery.

Ball is one of those fans.

“They need a leader,” Ball said after working out for the Lakers recently. “They need a point guard, and I feel like I can fill that hole. … They said they want me to come in – if I get picked – come in and be a leader and play with a lot of pace. So the stuff they were saying was very positive, and it kind of fits my game.”

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.