Ever since birth, when Lonzo Ball was given a ball, he dreamed of playing for his hometown team he watched and cheered on every night growing up in Southern California. For the 19-year-old guard, being selected by the Lakers as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft Thursday, was literally a dream come true.
Moments after Ball walked up on stage to meet Commissioner Adam Silver and put on a purple Lakers cap, he was welcomed into the Lakers fraternity. His notoriously loudmouth daddy flapped his gums and immediately put on a gold and purple Big Baller Brand cap.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s wearing purple and gold, considering he was arguably the nation’s top baller at UCLA, where he bloomed into a freshman phenom and rose to stardom as he was projected to go high in the first round and land with the Lakers. He is going to make a much bigger impact for a team once again looking to rebuild around youth and shape a championship franchise.
And now that Lonzo has fulfilled his father’s dream that he plays for the Lakers, it’s all on him to make not only his father proud but also an entire city that has been waiting for something good to happen. Fans here in L.A. are thirsty for another NBA title, and Magic Johnson, who put the ball in Lonzo’s court, wants to see the Lakers raise a 17th championship banner.
As good as Ball looked at UCLA in just one year of college hoops, he’s joining a Lakers team that is susceptible to mediocrity and reached a historic level of futility. Make no mistake about it, Johnson couldn’t be happier to have him jump on board the Magic School Bus to be a student of the game and eventually develop into a franchise cornerstone player.
No one can market his son with his words quite like LaVar, but now, because of his marketing strategy, his son has a massive target on his back. What’s more, his boy is playing for an organization wrapped in mystique and will have a tremendous amount of pressure on him. Now that Lonzo is the new face of the Lakers, he is thrust in a position to meet expectations and live up to a standard.
We all know about the five seasons of hell, embarrassing losses, and long droughts with the Lakers — no playoff appearances, no championships. As we are uncertain of what to make of the newcomer, much is expected of Ball when he was a second pick in the draft. An unorthodox player, one of the most exciting guards entering the league can have an immediate impact because of his ability passing the ball and getting his teammates involved. A role that is hard to achieve, as in being a floor general is a tall order indeed, and guiding the Lakers to success well beyond playoff appearances is not likely to happen in his rookie season when he’s still growing and honing his skills, especially now that he’s playing against the big boys.
The Lakers are rebuilding with a new young guard, and they have cap money to spend in the offseason. So while America feasts on the tabloids that have built Ball up in the basketball world, Magic thinks the naturally talented 6-foot-6 point guard prospect provides leadership. He could care less about the distractions and the baggage his talkative father carries, not bothered by the brouhaha and puts all his energy into mentoring players and recruiting free agents and helping the organization determine the direction for growth and success. If the Lakers are moving in the direction of the Showtime Era, the logic is that an unselfish and smart passer allows his teammates to get open shots and easy buckets. Magic is amazed by Ball’s ability to find daylight in traffic as he dishes out dazzling passes.
The kid is Magic’s guy. He marvels at Ball. He is a creator, a facilitator, a humble kid, a floor leader who can woo Paul George to sign with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in 2018. He has phenomenal court vision and unselfishness that will make his young teammates better. He is a great ball handler and makes smart decisions with the ball. He will be the best teammate in the locker room, and an excellent asset.
For all the hype about Lonzo, he can easily justify his father’s grandiose claims, and Magic certainly thinks he will fit in nicely with the Lakers, who haven’t embraced a true point guard since the Magic Man. From a business perspective, the Lakers are evaluating Lonzo, not his dad.
No matter the vitriol that’s been aimed at Ball, the newly-minted general manager Rob Pelinka isn’t worried about the critics or his father. And with Johnson sitting at the helm of the Lakers’ front office, he selected the kid, not because it was his dad’s dream, but because he thinks Ball is an ideal fit at a time in the rebuild. With that in mind, Magic is wary of the media circus he’d create by deciding to make him the face of these young Lakers.
Ball is more of a structural change for a franchise than he is a supplementary piece to a team aiming to qualify playoffs in a few years. The goal isn’t to just make the playoffs, but purely win championships and Lonzo will have much influence on the Lakers success.
It’s Showtime in Hollywood.