Magic Johnson can save himself one massive – and chronic – headache by trading Lonzo Ball.
Any flickering hope that LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers would humble, or at least quiet, Lonzo’s carnival barker father, LaVar, has been doused the past few days. There was his ridiculous assertion that the Los Angeles Lakers would win two titles once “all my boys on the Lakers with” James. Never mind that his middle son, LiAngelo, has a better chance of becoming a retail security consultant than making an NBA roster.
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There also was LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo wouldn’t play off the ball in deference to James, who has been his team’s assists leader in all but his rookie season. But my personal favorite was LaVar’s braying that Lonzo would somehow make James, the greatest player of his generation, “better.”
“Lonzo makes everybody better, including (LeBron),” LaVar Ball told Overtime. “Lonzo’s gonna orchestrate it, and (LeBron’s) gonna be fine with that as long as it results in winning.”
OK, sure. Just like Lonzo Ball was going to take the Lakers to the playoffs last season, right?
The Lakers have insisted they can co-exist with the elder Ball, who fashions himself as the Kris Jenner of the NBA. Johnson is and always will be the face of the Lakers franchise, and the assumption is that even Ball knows not to push him too far.
We saw last season how well that worked.
There isn’t anyone LaVar Ball won’t throw under the bus or disparage by comparison if it suits his needs. Luke Walton still has treadmarks on his back from LaVar’s wholly unsubstantiated claim that the young coach had lost the Lakers locker room. Kyle Kuzma got the brunt of the blame for a back-and-forth rap battle that Lonzo was a full and willing participant in.
So to think that LaVar Ball will be seen and not heard from simply because James is in town is as delusional as his proclamation that all three of his sons will play for the Lakers.
The Lakers are James’ team now, and the spotlight will be focused squarely on him. LaVar Ball needs attention like everyone else needs oxygen, and it’s only a matter of time before he feels snubbed. When that happens – and it’s most definitely when, not if – look out.
James wasn’t shy with his irritation when LaVar Ball took potshots at him last season. Now imagine how awkward and tense things will be when a headline pops up as he’s sitting across the locker room from Lonzo.
At 33 and still chasing titles, James has no time for this nonsense. Thus, neither do the Lakers. But because the Lakers enabled LaVar last season, at least publicly, they will have little leverage with him. It’s a hazmat situation in the making, and there is little Johnson or Jeanie Buss can do.
Except trade Lonzo. LaVar Ball would no doubt respond by putting the Lakers on blast, but sound is muffled from a distance.
Besides, the Lakers no longer need Ball. While Lonzo Ball was second only to Ben Simmons in assists by a rookie last season, even while only playing 52 games, he has not been the difference maker the Lakers hoped when they made him the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft.
He has a shot only an opposing defense can love, and he finished the year shooting a woeful 36 percent from the field. (Just how bad is that? Steph Curry shoots almost 44 percent – from 3-point range). Even worse is that he was 45 percent from the line.
The Lakers have made do before with players who can’t make free throws, but Shaquille O’Neal had a lot more upside than Lonzo Ball does.
By signing James and then Rajon Rondo, the Lakers made Lonzo Ball expendable. Both are upgrades on the floor, and neither will cause the Lakers front office to open Twitter with teeth gritted and one eye closed.
If he’s not already, Johnson should be on the phone with every other team in the league trying to get a player or two or some draft picks for Lonzo Ball. Heck, even a bag of basketballs would do if it means LaVar Ball is somebody else’s problem.
By signing with the Lakers, James brought some respectability back to the proud franchise. It’s only a matter of time before LaVar Ball squanders it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.