With Lakers' Options Open at No. 2, It's Up to Lonzo Ball to Fulfill His Destiny

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMay 17, 2017

Feb 12, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) looks on during a time out in the second half of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA won 78-60. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — There is a mathematical poetry to the No. 2 Lonzo Ball has worn all of his basketball life and the three consecutive No. 2 picks the Lakers have won in the NBA draft lottery. Their potential pairing was all but preordained.

It's not nearly that simple, with the Lakers front office determined to approach predraft workouts with an open mind toward Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson for that No. 2 pick, according to league sources.

Make no mistake, though: Ball can make his dream of playing for his hometown team come true.

The Lakers went into the lottery Tuesday with the idea at this early stage that Ball might have the slight edge on Fultz and the others, according to sources, even as the club insists on being meticulous throughout the upcoming research process.

Now it's up to Ball as to whether he can seal the deal in his workouts and interviews with the Lakers.

Los Angeles is not at all deterred by the circus that Ball's father, LaVar, is creating around the family. The early feedback about Lonzo is what matters to the Lakers, and their proximity to UCLA has allowed them to get some early intel.

Mar 4, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Lavar Ball embraces his son UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) after the game against the Washington State Cougars at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Those close to the UCLA program are well aware that Lonzo is completely different from his father, perhaps not surprising considering one giant personality leaves little room for other such personalities in a single household.

Not only is Lonzo dissimilar from his father, he is also dissimilar from most 5-star, future pro basketball sensations who arrive on campus feeling as if they are gifts who should be wrapped up in bows.

"Considerate, not entitled" is the description one source used to describe the impression Ball left on everyone around the UCLA basketball program.

Even more important to NBA scouts is Ball's dedication to his craft.

"In the recent years of UCLA basketball, the only player who worked harder on his game was Russ Westbrook the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons," the source said.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 14: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins practices his shooting before their game against the Utah Utes at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on January 14, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

The Lakers, of course, will have to wait and see what the Celtics do at No. 1 first, and whether they want Fultz's scoring or Ball's passing—or something else altogether. Although the public perception is that this draft shapes up as something similar to how Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram stood above all others a year ago, the view from several league executives is that nothing is clear-cut this time.

In that sense, the Lakers escaping Tuesday and beating the 53.1 percent likelihood they would fall out of the top three and convey their pick to Philadelphia was not as big of a boon as keeping their pick last year at No. 2.

The Lakers were higher on Ingram last year than they are on anyone this year right now. That's not to say that during predraft circuit, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka won't fall in love with Ball, Fox, Fultz or Jackson. Any of those four likely would've gone No. 3 overall in the draft last year over the likes of Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray and Dragan Bender, but Simmons and Ingram were already the definite top two options on 2016 lottery night, with the 76ers enthralled with Simmons at No. 1.

If the lottery balls had not bounced the Lakers' way this time, it would not have been worse than losing the pick either of the previous two years, when they had so much less young talent in house.

At least now there is a base with Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac and Larry Nance Jr.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Adding to it with another No. 2 overall pick—and the No. 28 acquired from Houston for Lou Williams—only enhances the Lakers' chances of being relevant again. But the truth is that the Lakers were more obsessed with lottery balls in previous years, when they didn't have a front office to restructure or much young talent already in place.

Keeping the pick Tuesday offered less a of thrill for the Lakers than the satisfaction the franchise already has about its position moving forward. Luke Walton is a rising, young head coach, a new training facility is opening this year and the new front office gets the boost of seeing a first-round pick owed to Orlando dissolving into two second-rounders.

Every big or small break matters, considering how tortuous rebuilding efforts are, and the Lakers got one Tuesday, which means another access point to high-end talent is theirs.

The onus is now on Ball to sell himself to the Lakers on being that talent a month from now.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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