EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Moments after the Los Angeles Lakers selected UCLA guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft, Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar, made a bold proclamation on national television.
“Lonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs in his first year,” LaVar told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.
The Lakers have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, the longest postseason drought in franchise history, and posted the league’s third-worst record last season at 26-56.
“That’s the goal,” Lonzo said when asked about his father’s comments. “You don’t play to lose. That’s definitely the goal. That’s the plan.”
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With his son making the interview rounds in the tunnels of Barclays Center, LaVar excitedly talked about how he had predicted for a long time that his son would go to the Lakers.
“Yes! Yes!” the elder Ball told ESPN not far from where other families and draft picks sat by the stage. “I told you I would speak it into existence. And everybody kept saying what if? What if? I don’t live on what ifs. If I live on what ifs, I will never get to where I am at.
“People always say, ‘LaVar, how come you are always right?’ I say, ‘Because I never get left.’”
When asked about LaVar’s playoffs prediction, Lakers coach Luke Walton smiled.
“I’m a very optimistic person, but I don’t look that far into the future,” Walton said at the team’s practice facility, where a group of season-ticket holders and sponsors gathered for a draft party. “Right now, I’m hoping [Lonzo] leads us to a couple summer league victories, and we’ll take it from there.”
Walton said he expected LaVar’s comments will, at least initially, apply pressure on Lonzo.
2017 NBA draft
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“I think it will make it more challenging, a little bit, but I think every top draft pick that comes in has a target on their back,” Walton said. “The best players in this league want to set the tone with these young players early, to let them know what it’s like here. I know when I was a young player, I had a target on my back from my own teammates because of things my dad [NBA great Bill Walton] said, but it ended up working out.
“What’s incredible is that he’s been, according to [Lonzo], his dad has been great. He’s always been there. He’s supported him. He obviously loves him, and that’s what you want out of a father, so I’m not overly concerned by it.”
Philadelphia 76ers teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons indicated Thursday night that the pressure already is on.
Lonzo, though, downplayed whether the pressure will be greater because of his father’s comments.
“Nah, everybody says I have a target on my back,” he said. “I’m used to it by now. All I can do is go out there and play.”
Does he expect his father to keep a lower profile?
“I don’t know what he’s going to do. It’s going to be a surprise for you [media] and me,” Lonzo said.
Walton was also asked if he just wanted LaVar to stay out of the spotlight.
“He’s his own man,” Walton said. “He’s going to do what he does and we’re going to do what we do and we’re going to get after it here. We’re not going to change anything. I’m sure [Lonzo will] fit into our culture. He’ll help improve our culture with the way he plays, the way he passes, his selfless nature, and that’s why we took him.”
Despite the bluster associated with LaVar Ball, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said spending time with the Ball family at their home helped him to appreciate the patriarch.
“Listen, there can be a sense of bravado with some of the media stuff, but when you get to see the heart of the person and how they treat others, I think that’s when you really get to know them,” Pelinka said. “And all I can say is, we walked away from that time really impressed with the family.”
And while no one knows if LaVar Ball will tone down his talking, Pelinka said the Lakers won’t ask him to do so.
“I think LaVar is going to be LaVar,” Pelinka said. “Lonzo is going to be a Laker, and he’s going to be part of what we do on the court with the other players that we have, but LaVar is his own person.”