Don’t look now, but there seems to have been a disturbing change in the leadership of Los Angeles’ most admired sports franchise.
It appears LaVar Ball is now running the Lakers.
That is the only reasonable explanation for why LiAngelo Ball was wearing Lakers practice gear and sprinting around a court at the practice facility Tuesday as one of six players invited to a pre-draft workout.
A night earlier, the younger brother of Lonzo Ball was allowed inside Lakers headquarters for a private practice session, and proceeded to exploit the opportunity by putting on a brief dunk show that was videotaped and aired by TMZ.
LiAngelo is not an NBA prospect. He’s not close to being an NBA prospect. But he’s being handed some of the privileges afforded prospects, which means the Lakers could be gearing to place him on one of their summer league teams ... which could lead to him playing for the developmental G-League team … which would make him one injury from becoming a real Laker.
At that point, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will have doubled down on this ugly Ball business, empowering the meddling and delusional patriarch when it should be attempting to silence him.
By including LiAngelo in a pre-draft workout, even one that contains other non-NBA prospects, the Lakers seem to be placating a dad who has threatened to pull Lonzo off the team in a few years if his brothers haven’t joined him by then. They have appeased him in other ways since making Lonzo the No. 2 overall draft pick last summer, continually embracing him even as he picked them apart.
Seriously, when is somebody over there going to tell this guy no?
No, we’re going to stop bending at the knee to somebody who keeps kneeing us in the gut.
No, we’re not going to do you any favors after you rip our coaching staff, rip our training staff, and attempt to put doubt into our locker room.
No, sorry, LiAngelo is not good enough to overcome the distractions that he would bring, and we’re not going to humor you by pretending he is.
Yes, we’re going to stop acting like a needy expansion team and start behaving like the Lakers.
“We’ve got to see everybody,’’ Johnson exclaimed as the workout ended behind him. “You don’t know where the talent is going to be.”
What kind of message does it send to your Ball-battered employees that you would even consider granting such a gift?
Luke Walton was coaching LiAngelo at the workout. Yet last January, LaVar told ESPN about Walton: “Nobody wants to play for him … he ain’t connecting with them anymore.’’
The Lakers training staff was available for LiAngelo at the workout. Yet last week at Hoopshype.com, LaVar blamed that training staff for Lonzo Ball’s frequent injuries last season, saying of trainer Gunnar Peterson’s methods, “That [bleep] training … that’s what I call it.’’
Players hear those comments. Potential free agents listen to those comments. Even though they are the words of a nutty parent, LaVar has been granted the sort of platform where his perception is often viewed as reality.
Think LeBron James is dying to come to an organization where he believes that management does an outsider’s bidding to mollify one of the players? And not even one of the best players, either, as Lonzo’s rookie season fell markedly short of expectations.
“I don’t worry too much about what my dad is doing,’’ LiAngelo said after Tuesday’s workout. “I know what I am about.’’
Yet even if he didn’t suffer from a familial connection, LiAngelo, 19, still would be a problematic pickup.
He claims he’s 6-foot-5, but, in person, he appears closer to 6-foot-2. He’s not very quick or skilled for a small guard. He can shoot, but scouts feel he can do little else.
Then there’s the well-chronicled issues with his background, since he was one of the three freshmen involved in the UCLA shoplifting scandal in China last fall. He then left school in the middle of a seasonlong suspension because of what his father claimed was unfair treatment.
LiAngelo spent last season gunning it up in a minor league in Lithuania, which, he claims, offered him better schooling than UCLA.
“It prepared me a little better as far as going against grown men that care about their job every day because if you are not producing out there, they will fire you quick,’’ he said. “Every game is hard out there.’’
Equally as hard is recalling his brief UCLA stay, apparently. When I asked what he tells teams who ask about the China scandal, he said, “I really don’t remember too much about that. I mean, that is a closed chapter in my life, so I just moved on.”
He said, for now, he is moving on to an upcoming workout with the Golden State Warriors, and perhaps other teams, and good luck to him with all that.
Just as long as he moves on from the Lakers. As Johnson and Pelinka surely will realize, AT MOST you can play with only one Ball.