LaVar Ball’s comments — all the way from Lithuania — that Luke Walton had lost control of the team and the guys weren’t playing for him set off a firestorm around the Lakers (even though Ball himself softened those comments later). Dallas’ Rick Carlisle came to Walton’s defense saying he’s one of the best young coaches in the game. Stan Van Gundy is cutting back ESPN access (they put the mic in front of Ball in Europe). Golden State’s Steve Kerr said it best, calling Ball “the Kardashians of the NBA” and saying fact that anyone pays attention to LaVar Ball at all speaks to society’s need to be entertained above everything else. (Neil Postman would have been proud.)
But what do the Lakers’ players think?
Lonzo Ball didn’t help matters with a tepid endorsement of Walton, saying he would “play for anyone” when asked about his coach. Lonzo is in an awkward spot, he is pretty good at tuning his father out but everyone around him does not have that gift. Asking Lonzo to tell his father to shut up is both unfair — “hey, Lonzo, choose between your dad and your coach” — nor is it going to work (Luke Walton went through that with his father when Bill Walton was an NBC game analyst back in the day).
“I don’t think that’s the case (guys not wanting to play for Walton),” Kuzma said Monday. “When you lose games, at the end of the day Luke isn’t the one going out and shooting 2-for-15, turning the ball over, having turnovers or missing free throws. That’s us. Can’t blame the coaching staff for everything. It’s mutual, of course. Players mess up, coaches mess up. We as a team have to be more accountable.”
“It’s just a lot of white noise, in a sense,” added Kuzma…. “Luke is my guy. I love playing for him. I’m sure most of us love playing for him too. … We stand by Luke. I know the front office does.”
That much is true — Walton’s job is not in jeopardy. Not now, not this summer.
The Lakers’ recent slide is what you get with a young, rebuilding teams —it’s a roller coaster. Two steps up, one step back (and the recent nine-game losing streak with poor efforts from the Lakers was an unquestioned step back). The Lakers simply are not a good team. Walton deserves a little blame, but the idea he is not doing his job by motivating the team is wrongheaded — these players are pros, they get large paychecks, they have to be self-motivated at this point. They have to be professionals. College is over.
“It’s our job to come in here and listen to our head coach every single day, listen to the assistants. We can’t control what’s on the outside or who’s talking on the outside. We just try to stay within this team and see how we can make each other better. I think it’s important for us to let that stay out of the locker room.”