Lonzo Ball Says Lakers Need a Leader, but Team Needs His Star Power Even More

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterJune 7, 2017

University of California Los Angeles guard Lonzo Ball takes questions from the media after a closed Los Angeles Lakes pre-draft workout in El Segundo, Calif., Wednesday, Jun. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — When Dwight Howard arrived at media day for the Los Angeles Lakers in October 2012, he was surrounded by a massive throng of reporters.

Similar scrums seemed to follow Kobe Bryant around for years, in moments both big and small.

Bryant was one of the NBA's top superstars throughout his 20-year career. Howard's stay with the Lakers was just a pitstop.

Wednesday's reception for Ball rivaled that of both Bryant and Howard. The 19-year-old prospect spoke to the biggest media turnout the Lakers have ever seen for a predraft workout.

And that matters.

"I'm kind of used to it by now," Ball said. "Probably after my first game at UCLA, after that, it's been kind of like this every time."

The Lakers, who have missed the playoffs every season since 2013, are in need of basketball talent but also star power after Bryant's retirement in 2016. This is the team that has won just 91 games in the past four years, and it's the same team that has failed over and over again to attract the league's top stars in free agency.

Whether it's because of his play for the Bruins, helping the team advance to the Sweet 16 while averaging 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 1.8 steals a game, or because of his father LaVar Ball's media tour promoting his son, Lonzo Ball has generated significant national interest.

For some franchises, LaVar Ball might be a distraction. The Lakers have thrived in circus-like environments dating back to the Showtime Era to Bryant's two multiyear championship runs with Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol.

A bombastic father prone to grandiose statements?

Hello, Bill Walton.

Do the Lakers have a problem with LaVar Ball?

"They said they love him," Lonzo Ball answered.

A star locally at Chino Hills, Ball said he would love to be a Laker at No. 2 in June 22's NBA draft.

"Of course, I want to stay home," Ball said. "They have a lot of good players. They just need a leader, a point guard, and I think I bring that to the team."

He spoke highly of meeting Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the Lakers' president of basketball operations.

"He's the best point guard who ever played and me being a point guard, I looked up to him my whole life," Ball said. "I finally got a chance to meet him. It's just a blessing."

Johnson, along with coach Luke Walton and general manager Rob Pelinka, had dinner with Ball on Tuesday night.

"They just want to know what type of person I am. I never met them, they never met me," Ball said. "I didn't look at them as coaches; I looked at them like friends. It was a lot of fun"

So what kind of person is he?

"Calm, mellow off the court. On the court, all I want to do is win," he answered.

Ball mostly gave short answers to the questions asked. He stayed on point to what he wanted to convey and he never got flustered—not unlike when he plays basketball. If he doesn't end up with the Lakers, he'll help any team in the league that takes him.

He’s never been the most physical defender and his commitment on that end has been at times suspect. But his instincts when focused are strong, his quick hands disrupt players on the perimeter and his length theoretically makes him a threat to defend positions 1 through 3 on any given night.

Ball also said he has no plans to change the unorthodox form on his jumper.

"As long as it works, I'm going to keep using it," he said, having shot 55.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from the college three at UCLA.

The Bruins rarely ran pick-and-roll, an NBA staple, but Ball insisted that's a strength. "I can read the defense pretty well."

Johnson has stressed that the Lakers need a leader on the court. Ball craves stepping into that role.

"I think you're either born a leader or you're not," he said, answering he has indeed been one since birth. "Everything you do, you need to do it for the team, bring a winning atmosphere here, and I think I can do that."

The Boston Celtics have dibs on Ball, should they choose to draft him first. Then it will be up to the Lakers, who might be tempted to take Kansas' Josh Jackson, Duke's Jayson Tatum, Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox or even Washington's Markelle Fultz should Boston choose someone else.

All five will undoubtedly develop into strong NBA players.

Ball may or may not be the best of the class, although he says he is. The Lakers need to decide when the time comes.

It's worth noting the Lakers have a massive television contract with Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable. Team co-owner and executive Jeanie Buss hired Johnson to help guide the franchise back to respectability. While that may be primarily on the court, discount the business side of the equation at your own peril.

The Lakers need the spectacle that Ball can bring to Los Angeles, both as a player and as a young star.

   

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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